Delta retires ‘team guy’ Matt Painter’s number
By DOUG ZALESKI
Matt Painter stood at center court in the Delta High School gym Saturday night looking contemplative, and later admitting he was somewhat embarrassed, as the public address announcer ticked off accolade after accolade detailing his basketball playing career at the school and the accomplishments he reached as a Purdue player and now head coach.
He graduated from Delta in 1989 as the school’s all-time leader in points and assists. Painter holds the record for the most points scored in a single season. He was the school’s first Indiana All-Star selection.
Painter was a steady performer as a player at Purdue and a team captain as a senior. As the Boilermakers head coach, he’s led the team to the NCAA Tournament 11 times, including five times to the Sweet 16. He’s been a national coach of the year.
The mountain of success led to Delta retiring the number he wore during his high school career, and immortalizing him forever on this night with the unveiling of a No. 12 jersey on a wall of the gym.
“I’ve always been a team guy who was about winning,” Painter said. “To me it’s being part of the solution. We were 80-12 in my 4 years at Delta. It’s about your team winning.
“We won three (Delaware) county championships, we won a sectional. You score some points, but what’s it matter if you lose. To me, the joy of winning jumps out.”
Numerous family members, including Painter’s parents, wife and his children, were on hand for the ceremony. So were some of his former teammates and a large crowd of Delta fans, past and present.
“It was special,” Painter admitted. “They didn’t have to do that. You put in a lot of time, and so many people have sacrificed for me so I could live my dream. I try to help other people when I can, especially your players. People you coach get your attention.”
Winning a sectional championship in 1989 was one of Painter’s special memories after the Eagles fell short in 1988 and ‘87.
One game that stands out for him that season was a 1-point victory over rival Yorktown. The Tigers scored a basket at the buzzer on their home court that appeared to win the game. But 1 second was put back on the clock, giving Delta a slim chance.
A baseball pass into the Delta end of the floor flew into Painter’s hands. He turned and fired the ball toward the hoop in one fell swoop, and the 15-foot shot went in for a crazy 1-point victory.
“That was a big deal,” Painter said. “When I got into the Indiana-Purdue rivalry in college, my only experience of playing a rivalry game was playing Yorktown because we weren’t in a conference.”
Painter was offered scholarships by Ball State and Evansville in the November signing period of his senior season but opted to wait until the April signing for a chance of playing in the Big Ten.
He grew up an Indiana fan -- “We were huge Bob Knight fans,” he said -- but an opportunity with the Hoosiers didn’t pan out, despite Painter being friends with Knight’s sons, Tim and Pat.
But Purdue coach Gene Keady was interested and began showing up at a few of Painter’s games.
“When he started recruiting me … I kind of turned my nose to it,” Painter said. “But when I looked into it, I saw (Keady) was a great coach, (Purdue) has great education, they have great people. It just made sense and worked out.
“Even though Gene Keady and Bob Knight are two totally different people, Gene Keady had that same kind of discipline. He had the same thought process of guys going to class and doing what you needed to do. And I needed that. When I was 17, 18 years old, I was squirrely.”
A patient approach worked for Painter 30 years ago, and he’s been paid off handsomely during the past three decades. That 14-year-old kid who grew 9 inches in high school and was, by his own admission not “the next coming,” made it all work.
“I was physically weak, so it took some time (to develop),” he said. “I was fortunate to have the coaching and teammates that I had.”
Painter watched his Eagles improve to 5-1 this season by beating Muncie Central 52-37 Saturday.
Brady Hunt led Delta with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Conner Bedwell scored 10 of his 12 points in the third quarter, and Sam Cox added 10 points. Victor Young led the Bearcats with 16 points, and Dylan Stafford had 10.
The Eagles are re-organizing this season after losing five seniors off last year’s team that was 27-1. Coach Mark Detweiler says the players are eager to make their own identity this season.
“(Last year is) something the players know is there, and that drives you,” he said. “Can we play at the level? That’s been their workman approach throughout the season so far.”