Nov. 24, 2006
We start off this week's blog with just a slight delay due to travel back from the Maui Invitational. It was an exhausting return that started Thanksgiving Day at 1p.m. Hawaii time and ended about 9:30 a.m. local time Friday. A little over 15 hours for the travel party, but with no delays and all in all, a very smooth trip. The main body of the journey was a nice flight from Kona on the Big Island to Chicago that took only about seven and half hours of flight time. We flew in a United 777 Big, and there were plenty of empty seats making it much more comfortable for the players than on a similar trek out to the islands just a week earlier.
The trip was a huge success for the Boilermakers. I realize that winning the tournament was their intended goal, but returning with two victories in three days against very good competition was very important considering where this team was just a year ago. Coach Matt Painter, his staff and players deserve a big pat on the back for their effort which opened many eyes on this national stage. There certainly was a buzz created by our program, and obviously the results are something to build on as we progress during the pre-conference schedule.
As a member of the working media, I can't stress enough how wonderfully the EA-Sports Maui Invitational is run. Tournament chair Dave Gavitt, a Hall of Fame Inductee, and his staff do a tremendous job of hosting the nation's premier holiday basketball event. I've been a part of it twice, and there is no equal.
Also, a big shout-out to the Purdue contingent on hand. Boilermaker fans helped make it a home court away from home with outstanding support which was greatly appreciated by the team. When you stand toe-to-toe with the University of Kentucky travel party there is a lot to be proud of, and our fans did that. DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright mentioned that for his team it was like playing three true road games, and he had a point.
The only negative of the trip was losing freshman guard Chris Kramer to a knee sprain late in the team's loss to Georgia Tech on opening day. Kramer played brilliantly during that game and helped set the tone for the week with his competitiveness and hustle play. The fact that the team stepped up in his absence over the next two games was a key point leading to their success.
Coach Painter has said over and over again early this season that how well Seniors Carl Landry and David Teague perform will dictate the success of the team. Both excelled in Maui. Landry was an all-tournament selection and ESPN commentator Jay Bilas later revealed that he felt Landry was the top big man in the entire field. And Teague shook off some early shooting woes to finish with 14 points and 11 rebounds in the victory over DePaul.
And there was a coming out party for point guard Tarrance Crump. Logging more minutes because of Kramer's loss, Crump put on a show against the Blue Demons. Stealing a line from Dick Vitale, Crump was a prime-time performer. He played 34 minutes against DePaul scoring 20 points and turning the ball over one time while flying from baseline to baseline the entire game. Former coach Rick Majerus said he was the quickest player in the entire field. Think about it folks, these are our Boilermakers that everyone is talking about.
One final thought. My broadcast partner Rob Blackman and I were discussing the team prior to the first game, and I suggested to him that I felt we could match up with anyone of the teams in the field athletically. Yes, we were smaller, but I felt we could handle our own other than that. He admitted to me after the tourney was over, that I was correct in that evaluation. We are not as physically gifted as some of the other teams and with young post players that will be a hurdle to overcome. But I didn't see anyone backing down this past week, and Gordon Watt is a junkyard dog.
In closing, Purdue didn't win the tournament. UCLA, Memphis, and Georgia Tech are better at this point of the season. Perhaps, they will be for the remainder of the year. As I've mentioned several times, this team will be a work in progress all season, but there's no question that with hard work and improvement this team could be very salty by seasons end. My hunch is it's going to be a fun ride.
Until next week, aloha.