College Hoops

Purdue heads to the Final Four, starting a celebration 44 years in the making

Purdue heads to the Final Four, starting a celebration 44 years in the making

DETROIT — The old Purdue coach took a seat while the celebration roared around him. Gene Keady had labored for this moment for a career and it never came. But now it has, and so he sat there smiling, an 87-year-old man with a piece of the regional championship net tied to the back of his cap. Zach Edey, who was two years old when Keady coached his last game at Purdue, had given it to him.

“I’m just glad to have it,” said Keady, who won 512 games at Purdue, but never this one. And once coached a young Boilermaker named Matt Painter. “It’s kind of like a dream come true.”

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Later, Edey would say, “You’ve always got to pay respect to those that came first. He built this. It doesn’t go over our heads. He helped set this all up. To be able to pay him back and give him a little piece of net, it’s the least I can do.”

Well, that and score 40 points with 16 rebounds.

Nearby, a woman in a black and gold Boilermaker shirt dabbed the tears in her eyes. Meanwhile, Painter watched his team cut down the regional title nets that had always eluded him and explained what was going through his mind.

“What I’ll reflect back on is not having to make that last speech at the end of the season that I have forever. That speech stinks. We’ve all got ‘em. Only one coach doesn’t get to use it,” he said.

“Happy for our players, happy for our fans, and happy for my man Gene Keady. It’s such an advantage to take a job and have a blueprint and have a program and have everything. Times change, schematic things evolve, but there are certain core principles that he instilled in our program that we just had to follow. It’s not easy, but it makes it easier, that’s for damn sure.”

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And that’s the way it was the Easter Sunday Purdue basketball finally came out of its long, long shadow.

Forty-four years. That’s how long it has been since the Boilermakers could say they were going to a Final Four. Until Sunday, that is, when they survived an absolute trial by fire with Tennessee 72-66; a rite of passage so intense and so badly wanted by both sides, there were four jump balls when masses of players went to the floor fighting for the basketball, like football teams trying to recover a fumble. A match made magical by the duel between the Boilermaker center who is national player of the year and the Volunteer guard who is second on…

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