Before he’d turn UCLA into the most storied basketball program in the history of college sports, John Wooden was turning in heads in West Lafayette, Indiana as the star player of the Purdue Boilermakers. A three-time All-American and the 1932 National Player of the Year, Wooden led the school to a monumental national championship win during his senior year. While he’d go on to enjoy incredible success in Los Angeles, that isn’t to suggest that Boilermaker athletics has been without its shining moments since.
In addition to claiming one of the NCAA’s towering titans, Purdue is also one of the few schools to trot out a non-animal mascot. The Boilermaker is an actual locomotive, an homage to the university’s celebrated engineering program. When the football team booked a trip to the 2001 Rose Bowl, the Special came along for the ride. Another frequent sight at sporting contests is Purdue Pete, a burly, hard hat-wearing character who has been patrolling the sidelines and firing up the crowd since 1956, but he's not the only one who can get fans up on their feet. That honor, of course, goes to the school’s resilient hoops crew.
The university first competed on the hardwood in 1896, and three years later, it became one of the founding members of the Big Ten Conference. Prior to the introduction of the NCAA tournament in 1939, the Boilermakers were seen as one of the best programs in the country, routinely posting wins in the double digits. However, the game was still evolving, and Purdue wouldn’t make its mark in the modern era until 1969, the first time it qualified for the Big Dance. Call it beginner’s luck if you like, but in their tourney debut, the Boilermakers motored all the way to the title game. Eleven years later and powered by 7-foot All-American Joe Barry Carroll, Purdue once again advanced to the national semi-finals. Shortly after their championship dreams were dashed, Gene Keady assumed head coaching duties and began to usher in a new golden age of Boilermaker basketball.
Over the course of his 25 years in West Lafayette, Keady won 512 games, nabbed six Big Ten championships, and orchestrated 17 trips to the NCAA tournament. On the national stage, Keady and the Boilermakers would roll to appearances in the Elite Eight in 1994 and 2000. In terms of accolades, he earned National Coach of the Year honors in ‘84, ‘88, ‘94, ‘95, ‘96 and 2000. His lengthy, successful tenure also led to the birth of “The Gene Pool,” the university’s lively student cheering section.
When Keady stepped down in 2005 and was replaced by former player Matt Painter, “The Gene Pool” pivoted accordingly and adopted a new name, “The Paint Crew.” Regardless of the moniker that they go by, Purdue diehards are revered throughout the country for the pummeling levels of noise that they produce within Mackey Arena. After strong Sweet Sixteen showings in ‘09 and ‘10, Boilermaker fans are ready to buckle up for the next wild ride.