A Program's Rise to the Top

Published On: Jan 1st 2023

ArticleBasketballLeadership

During a recent telecast, Big Ten basketball analyst Andy Katz looked directly into the camera and declared, “This Purdue basketball team is better than last year’s.” Which, OK, Katz declared while the Boilermakers stood undefeated, with wins against both Gonzaga and Duke on their resume, so maybe that doesn’t sound too bold. Except, really, it shouldn’t be possible.

Last year’s Boilermaker squad included a future No. 5 pick in Jaden Ivey and three wily upperclassmen in Trevion Williams, Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter, Jr. This year’s team starts two freshmen.

Yet to watch Purdue play is to see basketball fluidity in motion. The Boilermakers average 16.5 assists on 27 made baskets per game. In a sport where coaches preach about “getting their players on the same page,” those numbers scream near kinetic connectedness and cohesiveness. Some of that is plain old good offense. Head coach Matt Painter draws up some pretty sweet X’s and O’s for the Boilers to execute.

But what the Purdue team is doing, sky-rocketing up the top 25 and leaving opponents in the dust, is simply remarkable, and all the more so considering the players the team lost. If you ask Painter how it happened, he’ll take you back seven or eight years to when the Boilers weren’t on the same page. The frustrated coach desperately went seeking a solution. That’s when he found Profile. “I was searching for anything to help our program,” he says. “Just searching for answers.”

Painter met Profile CEO Chad Brown at a card game. On the backside of back-to-back losing records. Painter was venting his frustration to his buddies, aggravated not only that his team’s results were so disappointing but that he was at a loss as to how to fix them. Brown didn’t know Painter, but said that he might be able to help. He laid out what Profile was - a behavioral tool that bolstered traditional DISC assessment with other tools and created a composite of who a person is, what their motivators are, and how that translates into a positive work, or in this case, team, environment. The company was fairly new, but Brown is a Purdue grad, which helped, and Painter was both curious enough and desperate enough to take a look.

Brown suggested Painter take the test himself, which he did. He then went a step further, looking for more affirmation about how accurate the assessments were, and invited some of his ex-players to serve as guinea pigs. When their results matched their personalities, he thought Profile might be on to something and began to work with Brown in depth.

Painter started integrating Profile into his recruiting, asking prospects to take it to see if their style suited him. He and his staff took it, as did his players. He liked that it helped him understand the makeup of his team - who the natural leaders were, which players needed a more nurturing style, and which could shoulder responsibility. Painter found a deeper connection with his staff, discovering their best motivators and which tasks suited them. He also saw ways he could even adjust schematically. Painter is not a round peg/square hole sort of coach. He is malleable enough to adjust his schemes around the team he has rather than forcing them to play a certain way. “Rather than they’re going to do it my way, I looked at it differently,” he says.

“How can I be flexible to who I am coaching? You have to have some non-negotiables, but you can also flex your coaching toward certain teams. That’s what this brought out.”

Over the years, the assessments proved spot on time and again, but what Painter found especially helpful is how Profile allowed his players to see him more clearly. His is not a one-sided disclosure, where he gets to know everything about his players, and they don’t know anything about him. Instead, each year he invites Brown on campus to go through an exercise where Brown explains the head coach to his current roster. “This is who you decided to play for,” is how Painter summarizes the session. It allows the Boilermakers to understand what sort of mistakes Painter can tolerate and which he won’t accept, how he processes information and why he thinks the way he does. “It has been an exceptional tool for Purdue and for me,” Painter says. “And our players really like it, too.”

Even more importantly, especially to the skeptics who might need to be sold on something outside the norm in college basketball team building: Purdue is proof that Profile works. Not including their perfect start this year, the Boilermakers are 193-70 since they started working with Profile and have made the NCAA Tournament in each of the postseasons that have been contested. Four times they reached the Sweet 16 and once the Elite Eight.

“It’s not going to give you all of the answers,” Painter says. “We all know that recruiting, shaping teams and staff is an inexact science but Profile will help you get close to the answer by getting you to ask the right questions. I would 100% support anybody looking into this trying to shape their team, their company, or improve their product.”