Zach Edey, Kanon Catchings define Purdue basketball's crossroads of culture and NBA talent

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Zach Edey left Purdue men’s basketball after four seasons within reach of NBA draft lottery status.

Kanon Catchings left the Boilermakers before he arrived — spurred at least in part by hesitation over whether the program provided him a similar path. The top-40 prospect will instead pursue an accelerated NBA timeline at BYU.

Those individual scenarios bear no connection beyond the players’ associations with Purdue. The timing, with Catchings backing away only a couple of weeks before the draft, is also coincidental.

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Yet it’s hard not to juxtapose them as reinforcement of Purdue coach Matt Painter’s core philosophy. He promises recruits only that they will receive the minutes they earn — not from the estimation of recruiting services but from the commitment they exhibit after they step onto campus.

Coming off an Edey-led breakthrough to the national championship game, the program and its coach have never been more resolute in the virtue of that philosophy.

Purdue Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter talks with center Zach Edey (15) during the Men's NCAA national championship game against the Connecticut Huskies at State Farm Stadium in Glendale on April 8, 2024.
Purdue Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter talks with center Zach Edey (15) during the Men's NCAA national championship game against the Connecticut Huskies at State Farm Stadium in Glendale on April 8, 2024.

“In my opinion, I think the greatest talent that's ever played is Michael Jordan. He's a culture guy,” Painter said. “So you can't look at culture guys like they're just guys that are underrecruited and tough and gritty and do the little things. No, everybody is a culture guy if you're about winning.”

Painter on Thursday said he was not disappointed in the way Catchings’ situation played out. If a player is unsure whether he belongs at Purdue — even a consensus top-40 prospect — Painter has seen where that fragile foundation often leads. Better to part now than struggle through a prolonged separation.

His philosophy, though, cannot thrive on culture alone. Developing players into upper-tier NBA prospects provides currency in recruiting. Prospects also take note of which programs lack that track record.

Painter, again, remains comfortable with the status quo. “I want to get the same guys we’re getting,” he said. He’s not just talking about try-hard role players, either.

Edey next week will become the 10th NBA draft selection since Painter took over in 2005. He could be the third in seven years to go in the first round and, perhaps, the second lottery pick after Jaden Ivey went No. 5 overall two years ago.

It’s also worth noting Edey will also break a recent draft trend. He represents the stereotypical Boilermaker — a hulking big man dominating the paint as if Purdue Pete underwent some Pinocchio-like animation. Yet the program’s last three draft picks — Ivey, Carsen Edwards and Vincent Edwards — were guards or wings. So was Dakota Mathias, who went undrafted but spent time with three NBA franchises.

BYU claims only four draft picks since Shawn Bradley went No. 2 overall in 1993. The most recent came in 2011, when Jimmer Fredette shot his way into the 10th overall selection.

In Catchings’ case, though, the question apparently was not doubt about the desired destination. It was concern about the length of the journey. His mother, Tauja, told IndyStar last week she initially expected her son to return to Overtime Elite for another season after splitting with Purdue, then take his NBA shot a year later.

New BYU coach Kevin Young spent the prior eight seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, first as an assistant then as associate head coach. Painter can stand on his own record of NBA development. Yet if Catchings’ career will be measured in months rather than years, that doesn’t fit the proven Purdue model.

“Kanon’s goal when he committed to Purdue was just to play college basketball,” Tauja Catchings told IndyStar's Kyle Neddenriep. “His goal now is to play in the NBA. Purdue has been more of a traditional program, which I like. ... But I think Kanon was probably looking for a program that can support his timeline.”

It’s a valid perspective — one born of the talents Catchings has demonstrated to this point in his career. Purdue wanted him for a reason.

Painter’s perspective, though, also has not changed.

“If you have the right people, you can make a lot of mistakes and you're going to be OK,” Painter said. “If you have the wrong people. it just isn't gonna work.”

The latest example of the merits of that philosophy will join the Boilermakers’ NBA roster next week.

Follow IndyStar Purdue Insider Nathan Baird on X at @nwbaird.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Kanon Catchings wants NBA path, Zach Edey proves Purdue culture works