Forever Among The Greatest Players In History

Zach Edey’s place among the all-time greatest to play basketball at Purdue was cemented Tuesday by winning his sixth and final 2022-23 National Player of the Year honor, the Wooden Award.

Whether Edey supplants All-American Joe Barry Carroll as the Boilermakers’ center on an all-time team will be left to others. Some will want to use Carroll’s role in Purdue reaching the Final Four and becoming the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick as a tiebreaker, but the pro game has changed dramatically since 1980.

The only thing certain is that the Edey household in Toronto is going to have to find room for a museum-sized trophy case.

Here is just a sample of the dozens of honors Edey has earned this season:

  • National Player of the Year honors (Wooden, Naismith, Oscar Robertson Trophy (United States Basketball Writers Association), Associated Press, National Association of Basketball Coaches, Sporting News)
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award (nation’s top center)
  • Pete Newell Big Man of the Year Award
  • Unanimous first-team All-American
  • Big Ten Player of the Year
  • Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player

Edey is the first Canadian winner of the Wooden Award and the first Purdue player since Glenn Robinson in 1994 to be the recipient.

The 7-4 junior averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists per game. He is the first player in NCAA history with at least 750 points, 400 rebounds, 70 blocked shots and 50 assists in a season.

Edey owns the single-season rebounds record (438) and fell one game shy of matching Caleb Swanigan’s single-season double-doubles record with 27. If Edey decides to return for his senior season, he will have a chance to break Rick Mount’s 53-year-old career scoring record of 2,323 points. Through 99 games, Edey has 1,533 points. The only players to score more points through their junior seasons were Mount, Robinson and Carsen Edwards.

Not to pull a Ford Frick* but Mount played just 72 games and did not have freshman eligibility or a 3-point line. Robinson put up 1,706 points in 62 games as he was academically ineligible by NCAA rules as a freshman and bypassed his senior season for the NBA.

*(Ford Frick was the commissioner of Major League Baseball in 1961 – the first year of the 162-game schedule – when he ruled that a player must hit more than Babe Ruth’s record 60 home runs in his first 154 games in order to be considered the record holder. Roger Maris hit No. 61 in the New York Yankees’ 162nd game but fans and official record keepers ignored Frick and considered Maris the new home run king.)

Edey is Purdue’s third National Player of the Year winner, joining John Wooden (1932) and Robinson.

Like Edey, Robinson was the unanimous selection for National Player of the Year. Wooden presented Robinson with his namesake trophy and was asked about the Big Dog’s place in Purdue history by the Journal & Courier’s Jeff Washburn.

“At his size, Glenn can do more things, probably, than any other player that I know that Purdue has had,” said Wooden, who shared No. 13 with Robinson. “As an all-around player, he is just marvelous.

“As far as his college play, Glenn will go down as the greatest Purdue has had.”

What about Rick Mount, Washburn asked.

“They are entirely different players,” Wooden said. “To put Rick in Glenn’s class, no. But as a scorer, yes.”

High praise also came from Michigan State’s Jud Heathcote, who coached a guy named Magic Johnson in the late 1970s.

“Glenn Robinson is as good a player as the Big Ten probably has ever had,” Heathcote said in 1994.

In my previous career as sports editor of the Journal & Courier, I once wrote that Robinson was the greatest Boilermaker to wear No. 13. Older Purdue fans begged to differ.

Wooden stood 5-9, 10 inches shorter than Robinson. That didn’t stop him from becoming the first player in college basketball history to be named a three-time consensus All-American.

Long before Brian Cardinal became “Citizen Pain,” Wooden earned a nickname of his own. For his so-called suicidal dives on the court, Wooden was referred to as either “The India Rubber Man” or “The Indiana Rubber Man” depending on the source.

Wooden was named the Helms Athletic Foundation Player of the Year in 1932, the same organization that awarded Purdue the national championship that season. At the time when rules called for a jump ball after every made basket, Wooden broke the Big Ten scoring record with 154 points in 12 Big Ten games, a 12.1 average.

“People actually used to call him ‘The Freak,’ ” current Purdue coach Matt Painter said on “Purdue Profiles: John Wooden.” “He was so athletic. People always talked about what a good player he was, how tough he was.”

Wooden excelled off the court as well. During the first semester of his senior year, Wooden’s grade point average ranked 19th in a student body that numbered 4,675.

“If the most brilliant amateur basketball player in the country was to be selected, the name of John Wooden outshines all others,” rival coach Dr. Walter Meanwell of Wisconsin wrote shortly after Wooden’s senior season.

“This boy is a senior, weighs 180 pounds and can do anything with a basketball that anybody else can do and has a number of amazing tricks of his own. Wooden … is the unanimous choice of every critic who has seen him for an honor team.”

Long wait ends

Gene Keady’s election to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame nearly a week ago relieved some fears inside and outside of Mackey Arena.

There were some Purdue faithful who worried that election wouldn’t come until after Keady’s passing, having fallen short in 2004 and 2006. He turns 87 on May 21.

A record seven Big Ten Coach of the Year honors and six National Coach of the Year awards during his 25 years at Purdue. Six Big Ten championships. A Purdue record 512 wins.

All that was missing was a Final Four, a pretty obvious roadblock to election for nearly 20 years. Very few coaches in the Naismith Hall entered without a Final Four on their resume: Lefty Driesell (inducted in 2018). Pete Carril (1997). John Chaney (2001).

“It’s the greatest honor I’ve ever had,” Keady told the Big Ten Network’s Andy Katz. “It means I’m old. I’ve coached at all levels and seen a lot of things. Eddie Sutton was probably the best coach I was ever around at Arkansas. I had great experiences and a lot of good people helped me.”

It was literally half his lifetime ago that Keady came to Purdue from Western Kentucky. He was 43 and still had most of his hair, as indicated in photos taken from his introductory press conference on April 11, 1980.

Keady occasionally travels with the Boilermakers, now coached by his protégé Matt Painter. Keady wore a Purdue jacket and cap when he was introduced at the Final Four in Houston alongside the rest of the Hall of Fame class.

Katz asked Keady what he loved at Purdue.

“They expected good academics, which I always thought was the No. 1 thing,” Keady said. “If you got your degree, you were on my good list. It was in a great league and we always had great attendance at the games. You can’t beat that.”

Painter is the most successful branch of the Keady coaching tree that includes Bruce Weber (497 wins at Southern Illinois, Illinois and Kansas State), Steve Lavin (248 wins at UCLA, St. John’s and San Diego), Kevin Stallings (479 wins at Illinois State, Vanderbilt and Pittsburgh) and Cuonzo Martin (264 wins at Missouri State, Tennessee, California and Missouri).

Painter, who is 99 victories shy of Keady’s record at Purdue, has a special place in his coach’s heart.

“He’s like a son,” Keady told Katz. “He was very coachable. He told his dad that he didn’t know if coach Keady knew what he was doing. His dad told him to shut up and do what he says. Now he’s the coach.”

Keady becomes the fifth Purdue person in the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Crawfordsville’s own, Ward “Piggy” Lambert, was inducted posthumously in 1960 alongside his two greatest players, John Wooden and Charles “Stretch” Murphy. The 1960 United States Olympic gold medal winning basketball team, whose starting lineup included Purdue All-American Terry Dischinger, was honored in 2010.