Ward "Piggy" Lambert


Though standing just 5-foot-6, Ward "Piggy" Lambert is one of the largest figures in Purdue basketball history.

Born in Deadwood, S.D., in 1888, Lambert spent his boyhood days on the basketball court of the YMCA after his family moved to Crawfordsville, Ind. Always a student of the game, he learned by watching the Wabash College and Crawfordsville YMCA and high school teams.

Lambert played high school ball at Crawfordsville for Ralph Jones, though he never cracked the starting lineup due to his diminutive stature. However, as a sophomore at Wabash College, again under the tutelage of Jones, later a Purdue coach, he was given the opportunity to start and went on to lead the team in scoring for the season.

Although he never seriously considered a coaching profession while in college, Lambert was forced to take a teaching position in Lebanon, Ind., due to financial difficulties in 1911. To accompany his teaching responsibilities, he became the high school's basketball coach. Four years later, Lambert would become the 10th head coach at Purdue.

In 1916-17, his first season at Purdue, Lambert directed the Boilermakers to an 11-3 record, the first winning season for Purdue in four years. With the outbreak of World War I, Lambert served in the Army from 1917 to 1918, forcing him to vacate his seat on the bench.

Lambert returned to the Purdue campus for the 1918-19 season and suffered through a 6-8 campaign. The losing record would be one of only three the coach would have in over 28-plus years at the helm in West Lafayette, and the only one until the 1942-43 season.

In 1922, Purdue won its first undisputed Big Ten title, posting a 15-3 record. It was Lambert's second league crown in just five years as the school's head coach. He would go on to direct the Boilermakers to 11 Big Ten titles during his tenure, including three in a row from 1934 to 1936.


Ward Lambert addresses his 1933-34 team, which went 17-3 and won the Big Ten Championship.
 
As a rule, Lambert had forged his early Purdue teams around shorter, quicker players and relied on the fast break. He believed that if the team could score 10 points each game on fast breaks, the rest of the contest would take care of itself. That rule was challenged in the 1927-28 season.

Lambert found one of the earliest dominating big men in basketball, forming his team around 6-foot-6 Charles "Stretch" Murphy. Purdue won a share of the league championship that season, and the legend of Boilermaker basketball grew swiftly across the country.

Interest in Lambert's team had grown to the point that, for four games in 1929, Purdue played its home games in Lafayette Jefferson High School's new gymnasium rather than the on- campus Memorial Gym, which was half the size.

In 1930, Lambert directed Purdue to an undefeated conference season, marking the first time the Boilermakers won a Big Ten title with an unblemished record. All-Americans Murphy and John Wooden, a sophomore, helped Purdue win all 10 of its Big Ten games, becoming only the second team in school history to that point to unscathed in league play.

Two years later, Lambert secured his place in Purdue history when he directed the Boilermakers to a 17-1 season and the national championship. Purdue dominated its opposition in 1932, winning its 17 games by an average of more than 16 points. Wooden was named national player of the year, a Boilermaker honor that would be equaled 62 years later by Glenn Robinson.

In the span of the next eight seasons, Lambert's Boilermakers won five Big Ten championships.

Purdue vaulted to the top of the Big Ten again in 1934, and stayed atop the league for three consecutive seasons. During the 1934, 1935 and 1936 seasons, Lambert directed the Boilermakers to a 30-6 conference record, 50-10 overall.

Lambert led Purdue to its 10th Big Ten title in 1938, posting a mark of 18-2 overall and 10-2 in the league. Two years later, the Boilermakers would again win the Big Ten crown, the final title under Lambert.

In 28-plus seasons in direction of Purdue basketball, Lambert mentored 16 All-Americans and 31 first team All-Big Ten selections.

Lambert compiled a career record of 371-152, a .709 winning percentage. His 228 wins in Big Ten play have been bested by only Indiana's Bob Knight (353 in 29 years) and current Purdue head coach Gene Keady (255 in 23 years).

In 1960, two years after his death, Lambert was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. As part of the Hall's second class, Lambert is one of only seven coaches in the history of the Big Ten to be enshrined.