In the past, we've done a "Senior Profile" on each senior on their special night. But this year, there are just two and, well....you know damn well who they are.
We've all been very lucky to watch these two over the last four years. We've seen them perform earlier than expected as the "Baby Boilers" (much to the chagrin of guys like Terry Hutchens). We've seen them give teams a run for their money in the tourney, including final four and championship teams.
We saw them improve year after year. These guys took a program that was in the basement (16 wins over two seasons) and immediately helped it become a winner. Goals were set. Goals were met.
|In front of a less than packed Mack|
And then last year was hopefully to be the potential coronation. These guys as juniors, along with running mate Rob Hummel, put together with veterans like Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer...and a Final Four slated for Indianapolis. It all fit...perhaps a little too well. We know what happened next. And then what happened again in October.
Rather than fold from the stomach punches they had received, these two seniors -- who had come back for one more run together -- decided that it was still their time.
|Hoping this cowboy finds a
way back to Houston
The first tourney for these guys ended with a second round loss to the Elite Eight-bound Xavier Musketeers.
In year two, they lost in the Round of 16 to Final Four team UConn.
And then last year, despite being considered the smartest bet to lose to a double-digit seed in the first round, the Boilers clawed their way to another Sweet 16, where they did their best to hang with Duke -- the eventual National Champion -- and even were within a point at halftime. However, the shots weren't falling, the team was still finding itself without Rob, Chris Kramer had one of his worst overall games as a Boilermaker (unfortunately, in his final appearance) and, quite frankly, the Dookies were too good.
The JJ and Smooge combo is 5-3 in the NCAA Tournament. They are 105-30 in their nearly four seasons, which is a .778 winning percentage. Take a look around for four-year players who have amassed that kind of record -- the list will be very short.
|One of the sickest dunks I've seen in person.|
One of the greatest things for us in watching these guys is the fact that we've gotten to watch them grow up before our very eyes and actually improve considerably from year to year. This doesn't always happen, especially these days. Often guys don't stay in school long enough or they just don't do the things necessary to get better. Take a guy like Demetrius McCamey at Illinois. Tremendously talented, but seemingly unable to focus for long periods, apparently not interested in listening to coaches, kind of just wants to do whatever he feels like doing. Has he improved? Not much.
Or to take it across sports, look at a guy like Curtis Painter at Purdue. When he came in, we could all see the raw talent. And when he left, he had some impressive numbers. But did he ever develop? Did he ever get better at any part of his game? No, not really.
JaJuan now takes over when his team needs him most, rather than waiting for the game to come to him. E'Twaun does the same thing and when he's not taking over, he's quietly amassing the points needed to put the team over the hump.
Smooge has also demonstrated that he can still be the "red button" and carry this team on his back, as he did against perhaps the best team in the country nine days ago.
These two have also helped to make their teammates better. It's been amazing to see how many open looks Ryne, Kelsey and LewJack are able to find -- partly because they're good, but partly also because opposing teams are most concerned (as they should be) with where JJ and E'Twaun are.
College basketball allows for nights like tonight, where the seniors are paid tribute as they should be. In pro sports, you don't always know when a guy will be playing his last game at home, what with playoffs and things like that. But in college ball, we have a night like tonight, where before the tournament begins and before you really, really can't lose, you have a night to focus on the guys who have made your team what they are.
And make no mistake -- these guys are perhaps the biggest reasons (along with their coach) that this program is back on the map in such a major way. Gene Keady, as beloved as he is, left the program in a pretty sorry state. This senior class has played ball at a .778 clip and put Purdue back to not just respectable, but elite-level good.
Often we complain about a lack of respect that Purdue gets, and more than anything it's because we know just how good these guys are, both as players and as men. We know how much they've done for their school. We know what kind of a situation they came into, yet as teenagers were able to see the potential and believe it could happen -- and that they could be the guys to make it happen.
And here we are. The cusp of an undefeated home season (which would make them 62-6 all time at Mackey, if my quick check is accurate) for two of our favorite Boilermakers of all time. No matter what happens, they'll go down among the Purdue legends, simply for what they did for the program. If they can add a Final Four banner or more to the list, well, I'd suggest a parade in their honor.
In all seriousness, it's a happy day and a bit of a sad one. There will be some moist eyes in the house tonight. If you'll be there, please let them know how much we all love 'em. It's your night, boys.