Painter was the king in West Lafayette, and the face of college basketball in the tradition-rich basketball state of Indiana. Open up a Matt Painter's steakhouse near Purdue's campus and it would be packed with people every night.
Fresh off five consecutive NCAA Tournament berths, and set to embark on its sixth straight, Painter could do no wrong. His approval rating was off the charts. Then, Robbie Hummel left town, and an era saw its abrupt end.
Those decorated Purdue players, honored in the Mackey rafters—Robbie Hummel, JuJaun Johnson, E'Twaun Moore—bought into what Painter was preaching. Win with work ethic, both on Keady Court and Cardinal Court.
Somewhere in the past two years, Painter lost control of his Purdue program. The prisoners began to run the asylum.
Perhaps Painter got a bit too cocky with his recruiting approach. His tremendous ability to develop talent paid off with the Hummels, Johnsons and Moores. But he began recruiting the four- and five-star recruits, veering away from the mantra of Purdue's program, the two words listed in bold over the Cardinal Court practice gym.
Recruiting top-level talent will only pay dividends if it comes with work ethic. These prospects must be committed to their coaches. Painter is a hard-nosed, no-nonsense coach. His team became soft, and there was nothing to change it.
There was no molding these talented players into workhorses. In seeking them out during the recruiting process, he surely believed they could change to fit Purdue's mold. Two losing seasons later, it never happened. Now, the seat is hot.
Next season is do-or-die for Matt Painter's time in West Lafayette. He must get the Boilermakers back to the NCAA Tournament or else he'll get the boot.
There's only one way to bring Purdue back up from the Big Ten's basement: Matt Painter must take back his program.
Five scholarship players remain on Purdue's roster—Bryson Scott, Basil Smotherman, Kendall Stephens, Rapheal Davis and A.J. Hammons. An additional five will join the mix as true freshmen. These guys are about to endure a hellish offseason.
Painter must drive his program back to its blue-collar ways, beginning in summer workouts. If a player doesn't buy in, then he should show them the door. There's no messing around, not with everything on the line.
Fifth-year transfers need to be considered, too. Outgoing Temple forward Anthony Lee would be a great addition, but his list of suitors extends deep. Painter should find the next Errick Peck or Sterling Carter, veteran additions that were of great help during their one season at Purdue.
This isn't about finding top talents, not if they're not ready to work. Landing that diamond in the rough is much more rewarding than a super-skilled slouch.
P.J. Thompson is a prime example of this concept. An under-recruited prospect just a skip and a hop away from West Lafayette, he'll be a Boilermaker next season. Painter began recruiting Thompson in eighth grade, learning quickly he's a kid of character. Purdue took a chance on a kid with no other high-major offers, believing he can bring change to a culture desperate for it.
It will take like-minded players to succeed with Painter. See Rapheal Davis run through a table to save a loose ball, or Kendall Stephens shoot 1,000 free throws after missing in a game. This is how Purdue gets back to prominence.
This has to be Matt Painter's Purdue program. He must take back the team, reviving a crushed culture. It will take that to save his job.