In September coach Gene Keady hung a sign in his team's locker
room: TEAMWORK MEANS MORE WE AND LESS ME. Cornball homily? Sure,
but it fit. During last year's 7-9 Big 10 campaign, Keady's worst
in 19 years at Purdue, the Boilermakers were beset by bickering.
"Players gave up," says guard Jaraan Cornell. "I was like, 'Are
you all playing basketball just to get girls? Because if you are,
then you can be a pimp and do that.'"
Now with guard Gary McQuay and forward Cameron Stephens having
transferred--moves Keady calls "addition by subtraction"--the
Boilermakers are ready to build on last year's surprising run to
the Sweet 16. Five seniors are back, including the sweet-shooting
Cornell, whose 15.2 points a game led the team, and forward Brian
Cardinal, whose nickname is Citizen Pain because of his
propensity for giving and taking elbows. After Keady had
questioned his players' commitment to off-season conditioning
last year, Cornell and Cardinal convened the team at 6:30 a.m.
four days a week this summer for three-mile runs followed by
pickup games and weight training. "We enjoy being around each
other, and we know each other's tendencies a lot better now,"
However, if Purdue is to contend for a Big 10 championship, it
will need the return to form of Mike Robinson and Carson
Cunningham. A slashing forward who averaged 15.3 points in the
'98 NCAA tournament, Robinson averaged only 3.7 points against
Big 10 opponents last season. Cunningham, a 1997 transfer from
Oregon State where he played point guard and was runner-up to
Mike Bibby for Pac-10 freshman of the year honors, never fully
recovered from elbow surgery at the start of the season and had
more turnovers than assists.
Though Keady is worried about his team's shooting (43.9% last
year) and lack of size, he's encouraged by its improved attitude.
Last month, he reveals, he went home happy from a practice for
the first time in three years. Gene Keady smiling? Imagine that.
"We've got some self-driven people on this team," he says.
"Anytime we've had a senior-dominated roster, we've been pretty
POS. HT. CLASS KEY STAT
SF Mike Robinson 6'6" Sr. 7.1 ppg
PF Brian Cardinal 6'8" Sr. 11.4 ppg
C Greg McQuay 6'7" Sr. 10.5 ppg
SG Jaraan Cornell 6'3" Sr. 15.2 ppg
PG Carson Cunningham 6'1" Jr. 6.6 ppg
1998-99 record: 21-13 Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 22