It is almost sacrilegious in Purdue country to criticize Matt Painter but I have a problem with people labeling him a great recruiter. He may be a tireless recruiter, I will give him credit for that because he is always out there looking at prospects but his track record shows he hasn’t been able to consistently land elite players and difference makers for the program. The only reason he is considered such a great recruiter is because he found Chris Kramer in 2006 when nobody else wanted him and when he signed the blockbuster 2007 class of Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, and E’twaun Moore. However, since that group dubbed, “The Big 3” he hasn’t been able to continue that recruiting success and he’s been nothing more than average. This was never more evident than when Hummel went down with his injury last year and the team totally fell apart.
Painter’s 2008 (Ryne Smith, John Hart, and Lewis Jackson) and 2009 classes (D.J. Byrd, Kelsey Barlow, Patrick Bade, and Sandi Marcius) are completely made up of role players; there is not a future star in the bunch. Name one of those guys you trust…yeah not a single one. Thankfully his 2010 class has one sure thing star in guard Terone Johnson (my man-crush for Terone is at an all-time high, just wait for his first 20 point scoring game and I will probably write the most glowing article you’ll ever see on this site) and potentially another in guard Anthony Johnson. The other member of that class is center Travis Carroll and he is basically Patrick Bade 2.0. Recruiting role players to build around three bona-fide stars is fine, but when those gifted players leave, you are left with quite a bare roster, which Purdue is going to find out the hard way in the coming years.
The future recruiting isn’t looking too impressive. Painter missed on all of his top targets for 2011, including the highly touted Gary, Indiana forward Branden Dawson, who is ranked 13th overall by Rivals.com. It was long thought that Dawson would commit to Purdue because he told a newspaper that Coach Painter was like a father figure to him. Unfortunately for Purdue fans, he committed to Michigan State late this summer. Purdue does however have commitments from two 6’8” power forwards in Donnie Hale and Jacob Lawson. They are both very athletic but still raw from a skill standpoint and will take time to develop. Hale was originally a 2010 recruit but is attending prep school this year because all of Purdue’s scholarships were taken (thanks a lot Bade and Hart).
Then there is the 2012 recruiting class, which actually makes me angry every time I think about it and has caused me to scale back my following of recruiting (when the decisions of 16-year olds affects my mood it’s time to find a new hobby). Purdue has 3 commitments: Jay Simpson a 6’8” forward from Champaign, Illinois; Rapheal Davis a 6’5” guard from Fort Wayne, Indiana; and 6’1” point guard Kyle Molock from Dublin, Ohio. All 3 of them committed last fall before playing their sophomore seasons of high school. According to the Rivals.com rankings of the top 150 players for 2012, Simpson is ranked 86th, Davis is ranked 100th, and Molock is ranked 129th. It will be Painter’s best class since 2007 and any other year I would be thrilled with a group like that. But the high school talent level in the state of Indiana for 2012 is unbelievable. There are 9 players from Indiana in the Rivals Top 150.
The two names to remember from 2012 will be Gary Harris and Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell both from Indianapolis. Harris is a 6’4” guard who exploded onto the scene this year and is a 5-star recruit ranked #24 overall. And guess what? His mother played basketball at Purdue. But instead Painter offered Rapheal Davis a scholarship first and he accepted shortly after so Purdue never really became a player for Harris. I’m not sure where Harris is going to go but it will probably be Indiana, Ohio State, or Michigan State. Purdue was one of the first schools to offer point guard Yogi Ferrell and would have been high on his list. But then Painter also offered a scholarship to Molock and he accepted a few days later. Ferrell played spectacular this year and is ranked #17 in the nation. Some people think Ferrell will be too small to make a huge impact but he’s a legitimate 5’11”. While he may never play in the pros, he can still be an elite college point guard. He is a lock to commit to Indiana. If that’s not enough, in August, Molock tore his ACL and his development as a player will be set back a year (yep the curse even reaches the recruits). As the old saying goes “hindsight is 20/20” and you never know if they would have eventually committed to Purdue but there was a great chance to land both Harris and Ferrell and instead Purdue got players who are currently inferior. I hate when Purdue fans say they are fine with Davis and Molock because “they wanted to be Boilers first”. Well it was still really early in the recruiting process so had Painter waited just a few more months, maybe Harris and/or Ferrell would have realized that they wanted to be Boilers. Or we could have found out definitively that Purdue wasn’t going to get them and then Painter could move on. I believe Davis and Molock would both still be available. I’m disappointed because I want the best recruits possible for Purdue and I don’t accept mediocrity. There is still time before these players arrive on campus and they will continue to develop, so this argument is far from final but as it stands right now Coach Painter took chances and flat out made mistakes.
Something rarely talked about is that Terone Johnson is the only star recruit Painter has been able to sign without former assistant coach Cuonzo Martin (now the head coach at Missouri State) who was instrumental in landing JaJuan and E’twaun. I think Cuonzo leaving is a bigger deal than most people realize. Painter can never seem to close the deal. I’ve joked that if coffee is for closers than Matt Painter must be a tea drinker. His second-place finishes for recruits he spent an inordinate amount of time chasing is quite legendary, the list includes: Tyler Zeller, Luke Harangody, Dominic James, Gordon Hayward, and Branden Dawson. The 2013 class of recruits in Indiana is another good one and Purdue ‘leads’ for some of the best players, so Painter better secure some commitments or this is really going to spiral downward.
Coach Painter’s recruiting philosophy is to target young players that he believes will keep developing and get them to commit before the big name schools come calling. I understand that at a school like Purdue you have to do that but I thought the success they’ve been having on the court would allow Painter to be a little more selective with his scholarship offers. I also realize that Purdue just won’t be able to get every player it wants because it doesn’t work that way unless you are Kentucky. Painter recently was quoted as saying he looks at a team like Wisconsin who gets players people may not think are great but they buy into the system and win. Oh fantastic, in that case I can’t wait to underachieve in the NCAA Tournament each year like the Badgers do. Recruiting rankings don’t mean everything but they are a good barometer of talent. Maybe Coach Painter has this perfect plan in place and these recruits will develop into All-Americans. Maybe he will turn out to looking like a genius and I will look like an idiot, but so far his history suggests otherwise. And it’s appearing as though Indiana Coach Tom Crean is taking back control of recruiting in the state of Indiana.