I've spent way too much time analyzing this year's Purdue squad...why they seem to be getting worse since early January, why this many 4-star players play like a 2-star team and why they simply don't compete at times.
I think the answer to this question has a ton of facets...but have said it before, continuity is the very base of all of team's problems.
All that said the ripple effects of one player's effect on the program have been costly and I'll tell you why.
A few years ago, when Kelsey Barlow was being recruited to Purdue, I went to watch him play to get a first-hand account of the player. At that point, I didn't understand his recruitment. He played lazy basketball...he didn't move on offense, was inconsistent on defense and didn't seem to use his length and athleticism effectively-enough on that level. But Painter liked the guy. He probably liked his ability to get under other people's skin...Ironically, that's part of the reason he's no longer on Purdue's team.
At BS, we liked that too...but just as Barlow pissed off IU fans with his antics his Freshman year, Barlow pissed off his teammates at Purdue. If you read him on Twitter, it's tough to tell at times if he's an evil genius, a troubled individual or just an immature kid...might be a little of each. There's no doubt Barlow could have been very good (if not great) for Purdue had he developed differently...but hypotheticals don't matter...things are what they are. Barlow didn't buy into Painter's philosophy and never was a fit.
After a few troubled years, Barlow was officially kicked off of the team one year ago this week. The void he left sent Painter scrambling to find another point guard to fill the void...one which he couldn't fill in time. A few Seniors who were looking to transfer for their final year of eligibility didn't pan out...and this year, Purdue has had one true Freshman PG on the roster and a bunch of shooting guards in disguise trying to direct an offense that has no direction.
How important would another Senior been, especially a versatile, athletic point guard, been on this year's Purdue team? We don't really need to answer that question, do we?
But, Painter simply had to do what he did last winter. The fallout from the tough decision left Barlow in transition as he sat out a year...and Purdue's program in transition as it had no identity.
Ronnie Johnson leads all Freshman in the nation in assists...that's a pretty good stat. Sure, he has a ton of turnovers and shoots at the wrong times...but he's a Freshman...one surrounded by an incomplete, discombobulated team.
Barlow's loss was and is important...but Barlow's dismissal was overdue. Painter couldn't have had a captain that continued to abandon the team when he was needed most...and more importantly, couldn't have a Senior creating disciples with the same philosophy. The long-term effects of leaving a player, ANY player, on the roster for four years who is divisive, can kill a program.
The recruitment, signing and subsequent abridged career of one player was/is important...not because that guy was a super star, but because timing is everything. Purdue's program needs to know what defines it as it moves forward. And everyone who is part of the program needs to be on-board with that definition.
So what makes a team great...or even good?
On paper, the team from '07/'08 was OK...but in three dimensions, they were pretty darned good. Why?
Here are some things that I believe make teams great. Nothing earth shattering...and I'm no rocket surgeon...these are just a few thoughts.
Hard work in the off-season makes a player better and helps build chemistry as everyone focuses on the same goal.
Having players that define the team in positions of earned respect go a long way in making a team a force. Whose team is it? The answer to that question says a lot about a team.
Do players believe the coaches plans and vision for the program? Are they executing these plans, not just in games, but during practice and off the court? Players need to feel like they're fortunate to be playing where they are, with whom they are, right now.
Elite talent obviously covers up a ton of problems...but having talented people in the right places; in key areas, makes everyone else better.
Do the parts mesh? Much of chemistry is about time together- players that have played together and have been together become cohesive. Teams that don't have history often aren't teams at all (what we've seen this year from Purdue). Teams that have great continuity believe in the guy next to them and are willing to play hard for/with him.
Look at the really-good teams in the nation...and those that are on the other side of the coin. Teams like UNC and Kentucky have talent, but have a dearth of leadership...so they have no identity. Leadership doesn't have to come from Juniors/Seniors (but that helps)...but it has to come from someplace; and a coach isn't enough. Coaches need to put leaders in the position to succeed to help them be a focal point for the guys that need to develop.
Sorry...you probably didn't think you were coming to a motivational site, but this stuff has been rattling around my head for a bit and I wanted to put it down someplace.