NCAA BASKETBALL: Purdue seniors ready for final NCAA run

GREG FLINT | FOR CNHI SPORTS INDIANAPurdue's Grady Eifert of Purdue drives against Minnesota's Jordan Murphy on Friday during the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.

WEST LAFAYETTE — Caleb Swanigan was the star of Purdue's 2015 recruiting class and lived up to all the hype. He became an All-American for the Boilermakers and now earns a living as an NBA player.

Caleb Swanigan was certainly a "Purdue Guy."

Also in that 2015 class were Carmel's Ryan Cline and walk-on Grady Eifert of Fort Wayne Dwenger. Neither was a heralded recruit. No one knew if either had the tools to compete at the Big Ten level.

It turns out, Cline and Eifert have become the ultimate Purdue Guys.

Since his 2007 class that included four prized recruits, Swanigan is the lone All-American Painter has convinced to play at Purdue. However, last year's senior class of Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson was the first class that signified a shift in Painter's recruiting efforts.

The foursome was talented, no doubt. But it was also tough, smart and unselfish. Finding those types of players — guys who were also likely to stay at Purdue for three or four years — has been a formula that has led to two Big Ten titles in the last three years and five straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

"We recruited guys who are Purdue-type guys," Painter said. "When you're piecing the team together, you have to have guys like Caleb Swanigan or Carsen Edwards or Vince Edwards or Isaac Haas who can carry the load, but it's still a team game. As long as you … have that balance, you're going to win games and be successful."

In today's world of college basketball, it's not always easy to find players who want to fit into a team. Aside from Carsen Edwards, who was an All-Big Ten performer, this year's Purdue team is built on the concept of ball movement, player movement, defensive toughness and sharing the basketball. Purdue will put that method to the test as an NCAA Tournament No. 3 seed beginning Thursday night against Old Dominion at Hartford, Conn.

"Each individual you recruit, they want to know how things are going to work out for them, but then again, they have to be able play within a team concept," Painter said. "It's really a contradiction when it comes down to it. I think being honest and straightforward with your guys builds team chemistry because no one's promised they're going to start or get minutes."

Cline and Eifert certainly don't make up Purdue's most talented class, but the duo has been a big reason for the Boilermakers' success in 2018-19. After coming off the bench for three seasons, Cline was an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection after averaging 11.9 points and 3.3 assists as a senior. Purdue's "glue guy" Eifert is one of the nation's most improved players.

"Our seniors have been really good. Ryan Cline and Grady Eifert have given us great leadership," Painter said. "Ryan Cline and Grady Eifert really understand what's going on here. A lot of times when guys have to play certain roles, a lot of people (perceive) them differently. In reality, those guys really help you win games. Cline and Eifert really have done a good job for us. They've been able to be steady, be consistent and play on both ends."

Cline has always been a shooter, but his shooting style may have thrown most college coaches off his trail. It's a style Painter compared to casting a fishing rod, but Cline has been so successful with it for so long, Painter never saw a reason to mess with it.

"He can make shots on the move. He can make tough shots," Painter said. "Ryan's very good at moving and shooting. If something works, I leave it alone. I've never talked to him one time about the way he shoots. He could make them in high school and be very efficient. It's a different deal."

Eifert played limited minutes as Vince Edwards' backup the last two seasons. This year, he's started all 32 games and shot 54 percent from the field. He's also become a reliable 3-point shooter.

"Grady Eifert is what college basketball is all about," Painter said following Eifert's 16-point performance against Nebraska that garnered "MVP" chants from his classmates in the student section at Mackey Arena. "You get an opportunity, you're promised nothing and that's OK with you. You just want the opportunity to come in and fight and get better and improve and help the team win. You have to be able to work harder than the guy in front of you. He's always working, always going after the basketball."

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