The Long, Long History of Boilermaker “What Ifs” and More

Purdue athletics history is full of “what If” stories. Near the top of the list is Lee Rose and his brief, brilliant two-year stay in West Lafayette.

Rose, 85, died Tuesday. He had been battling Alzheimer’s Disease since 2015. That diagnosis inspired Rose, his wife of more than 60 years Eleanor and Purdue All-American center Joe Barry Carroll to write his autobiography “Coach Lee Rose: On Family and Basketball.”

One of the book’s most controversial chapters detailed that the Purdue-Rose marriage was doomed almost from the moment he signed the four-year contract in 1978. Rose thought it was strange that his predecessor, Fred Schaus, was more involved in bringing him to West Lafayette than athletic director George King. When Rose finally met King, he wrote that the first words out of the athletic director’s mouth were “you’ll never make more money than I do.”

For many years, Purdue had the reputation of thriftiness when it came to paying coaching salaries. According to the Lafayette Journal & Courier, Rose was making $41,000 for the 1979-1980 season, the second year of his deal. Today, $41,000 is less than one week’s reported income for current Purdue coach Matt Painter.

Shortly after the 1980 Final Four that saw Purdue lose to UCLA, a defeat that left Rose bitter more than 30 years later, and topple Iowa in the now-defunct third-place game, rumors surfaced that South Florida was pursuing Rose.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that South Florida was offering a package worth $86,000 a year.

If Rose is to be believed, that was a contract Purdue and King would never come close to matching. Sure enough, when Gene Keady replaced Rose less than two weeks later, his reported salary was the same $41,000.

But, as radio legend Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story.

As easily offended as Rose was by King, the Kentucky native turned off the most important constituents for any college basketball coach: his state’s high school coaches.

An April 4, 1980 column by Bob Scott of the Journal & Courier told the story of Rose chastising the high school coaches for not sending their players to state schools.

Rose was upset that he couldn’t even get a visit from Indiana Mr. Basketball winners Steve Bouchie and Jim Master. Bouchie signed with Indiana, while Master chose Kentucky.

Rose also complained that he had become bogged down by the “negative attitude” of the state’s high school coaches toward Purdue. Scott, who recorded the speech, wrote that Rose “sounded angry and almost evangelical” during his speech. Rose insisted to the coaches they had a duty to send kids to state universities.

More than one high school coach told Scott they were bothered that Rose only signed one in-state player during his two-year tenure, Jon Kitchel of Lewis Cass.

Count this columnist among the Boilermaker fans who were not happy with Rose’s lack of recruiting success. I used to joke that Rose and top assistant Everett Bass couldn’t recruit a third-generation Purdue legacy like me.

Rose went 50-18 in his two seasons but off the court, one opponent proved too tough to beat. In 1980, Bob Knight was at his peak of influence and success. That included recruiting, where Indiana had its pick of players from the state.

Of the other six players signed by Rose, future first-round NBA pick Keith Edmonson of San Antonio and junior college All-American Arnette Hallman (Joliet, Ill.) were starters on his Final Four team. Michael Scearce of Lexington, Ky., and junior college transfer Kevin Stallings (Belleville, Ill.) were key reserves. The others were Atlanta big man Ted Benson and Chicago junior college transfer Lee Cummings.

While Rose’s bank account grew, his reputation as one of the top young college basketball coaches suffered. Rose would later write that promises weren’t kept by South Florida officials to upgrade facilities and increase the emphasis on basketball.

Rose went 106-69 in six seasons with South Florida but never reached the NCAA tournament. When he resigned to become an assistant coach with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, Rose owned the best winning percentage in school history. That remains the case more than 30 years later.

So what if Rose had remained at Purdue?

One would like to think the momentum from the Final Four might have improved recruiting but other than McDonald’s All-American center Russell Cross, Rose’s successor – Gene Keady – had to sign players Knight wasn’t interested in (Ricky Hall, Greg Eifert, Jim Bullock, Curt Clawson, Mark Atkinson) before finally breaking through in 1984 with a class led by Indiana Mr. Basketball Troy Lewis of Anderson, Todd Mitchell and Everette Stephens.

Would Jim Rowinski have blossomed under Rose from a 6-4 skinny walkon to a muscular 6-8 center who became the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1984? Would shooting guard Steve Reid have transferred to Purdue from Kansas State, Keady’s alma mater?

Going even further ahead in time, could Lee Rose have kept Glenn Robinson from leaving the state to join “The Fab Five” at Michigan?

Rose’s coaching history, leaving UNC-Charlotte for Purdue after two seasons and a Final Four when his star player – Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell – left to join the Boston Celtics, is a sign that he wasn’t going to be a long-term coach anywhere.

In the long run, Gene Keady and Matt Painter were better for Purdue basketball’s long-term health.

Mr. Basketball comparison

If Purdue is lucky, Westfield guard Braden Smith and sophomore-to-be Caleb Furst will come close to accomplishing the feats of the only other time the Boilermakers landed back-to-back Indiana Mr. Basketball winners.

Actually, Purdue signed three consecutive Mr. Basketball selections in Lafayette Jeff’s Denny Brady, Billy Keller of Indianapolis Washington and Rick Mount of Lebanon from 1964-66.

Brady averaged just over 10 points a game as a sophomore and a junior (freshmen were ineligible) before signing a professional baseball contract with the Cleveland Indians organization.

Keller and Mount would form the greatest backcourt in Purdue history and lead the Boilermakers to the 1969 NCAA title game against UCLA.

Keller won the first Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award as the nation’s outstanding college player under 6 feet. He was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.

Mount remains Purdue’s all-time leading scorer 52 years after his final game in Mackey Arena. Arguably the greatest shooter in college basketball history, Mount averaged 32.3 points a game on his way to piling up 2,323 in three seasons – all without a 3-point line. He was a two-time consensus All-American and also is a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.

Smith edged future Purdue teammate Fletcher Loyer of Homestead to become the Boilermakers’ 13th Indiana Mr. Basketball. Like Glenn Robinson over Alan Henderson 30 years ago, Smith probably got the edge in balloting when he rallied Westfield past Homestead in a Class 4A regional semifinal at Logansport.

Smith led Westfield to its first sectional championship, averaging 18.3 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds per game. He graduates as Westfield’s all-time scoring (1,629) and assists (453) leader.

Purdue hopes to make it three consecutive Indiana Mr. Basketball winners in 2023 with Heritage Christian forward Myles Colvin.

He’s back

Former Purdue star Carsen Edwards made the most of his return to the NBA on Sunday.

The shorthanded Detroit Pistons signed Edwards to a two-year contract hours before their game Sunday at Indiana. Not only did Edwards make it to the game on time, he put up 13 points and nine assists in 30 minutes to help Detroit prevail 121-117.

Edwards spent two seasons with the Boston Celtics, which drafted him 33rd overall in 2019 before being traded to Memphis this past September. After the Grizzlies waived Edwards, he played 31 games with the Salt Lake City Stars of the G-League. Edwards averaged 26.7 points and 4.2 assists while shooting 38.3 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

Aloha, Purdue

Purdue men’s basketball will be among a who’s who field for the 2023 Maui Invitational.

The Boilermakers will be joined by Gonzaga, Kansas, Marquette, Syracuse, Tennessee, UCLA and host Chaminade. The 40th annual tournament will take place Nov. 20-22 at the Lahaina Civic Center. It will be Purdue’s fourth appearance, having gone 2-1 in each of the previous three trips.

The Maui Invitational will be the second high profile tournament involving Purdue in as many seasons. The Boilermakers are committed to the 2022 Phil Knight Legacy, a field that includes Duke, Gonzaga, Florida, Oregon State, Portland State, West Virginia and Xavier.

– Kenny Thompson is the former sports editor for the Lafayette Journal & Courier and an award-winning journalist. He has covered Purdue athletics for many years.