FORT WAYNE – There was no easy way to get there, once upon a time. You lit out west on U.S. 24 and hung a right at Huntington and rode that two-lane snake along the bottomland through Andrews and Lagro – try making that trip at Zero Dark a.m., fog creeping up out of the hollows just about the time your eyelids got heavy – and then it was on to Indiana 25 and more twisting two-lane.
Finally you were there.
Welcome to West Lafayette, voyager.
Ross-Ade Stadium is here. Mackey Arena is here. And, no, it turns out Fort Wayne isn’t the rim of the world you think it is, twisting two-lane or no twisting two-lane.
You knew that the minute you walked into Mackey with Walter Jordan down there, and also Eugene Parker. There’s Ricky Hall in a team photo, and also Greg Eifert. Here’s Tony Jones and Craig Riley and Chris Kramer and Brad Miller, and a pile of others besides.
All these kids from Fort Wayne and surrounding environs, that was your concrete evidence that you could get there from here, and vice-versa. It was concrete evidence that Gene Keady and his staff knew the way to the Fort in particular and northeast Indiana in general, even the tricky parts along the Huntington/Wabash County bottomland.
It’s why you’ll see your share of Purdue black-and-gold hanging around the fringes during the big AAU tournaments at Spiece Fieldhouse this summer. And it’s why you saw Keady’s successor, Matt Painter, one night last week, signing autographs and posing for pictures with the local Boilermaker gentry at Fort Wayne Country Club.
There are, after all, two more natives of the city on his current roster – sophomore Rapheal Davis of South Side and incoming freshman Bryson Scott from Northrop – proving once again that this part of the state remains fertile ground for Purdue no matter how many times it’s been gone over.
Davis, a 6-foot-5 guard, gave Painter 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds in 18.9 minutes per game as a freshman, starting 17 games and giving Painter some big nights – 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting in the second half against Notre Dame, 16 on 5-of-6 shooting against West Virginia, 15 and nine boards against Michigan.
Scott, a 6-foot-2 guard for the Bruins who committed to Purdue when he was a sophomore, brings reinforcements to a backcourt that could sorely use it.
I think Bryson Scott’s coming in at a real critical time for us, because we need somebody that can step into that backcourt and play a lot of minutes, Painter said during a break in the meet-and-greet. He’s gonna have to learn that, but I think he has all the athleticism and the quickness and the work ethic ... to be able to come in and play both guard positions for us. I think he can play alongside some other guys and really give us a lot of athleticism and a lot of quickness.
One of those guys he’ll play alongside, presumably, will be Davis, who struggled at times the way just about every freshman struggles, but who also made those now-familiar trips to Fort Wayne worth it for Painter and his staff.
I thought Rapheal did a very good job for us, Painter said. It’s hard as a freshman to adjust. A lot of times guys get discouraged, and it affects their effort I thought he came in and kept a good attitude, kept working hard, kept battling and just found his way.
Seems like everyone has. One way or another.