Keady truly is head of this coaching family

Keady truly is head of this coaching family

To check out beat writer Paul Klee's prediction for Sunday's game, click here.

CHAMPAIGN – The score was tied – Purdue 56, Illinois 56 – as JaJuan Johnson dribbled, dribbled, and lofted a free throw that would have won the game in regulation.

The ball hit the front of the rim, the back of the rim and missed. The 14,000-plus inside Mackey Arena groaned.

Watching from above the court that bears his name, Gene Keady rustled in his seat, uncomfortable with the prospect of overtime. The Purdue legend jokes about it, how matchups between his former assistants, Bruce Weber and Matt Painter, aren't stress-inducing.

"I don't get stressed," he said. "I give stress."

But Keady would prefer if Weber and Painter play less often, not five extra minutes.

"I just don't like my guys getting beat. It's kind of hurtful because you see one of your favorite people get beat. That's not fun."

As the Keady coaching tree spreads its roots through different corners of the Midwest, clashes within this basketball family are a minor inconvenience. This weekend shows how games involving members of the tree are becoming more common.

Today's matchup between Painter's 12th-ranked Boilermakers and Weber's 23rd-ranked Illini at the Assembly Hall isn't the only game between members of the coaching tree (Noon, CBS). On Saturday, two more branches crossed each other. SIU and coach Chris Lowery (a former Weber assistant) played – and beat – Missouri State and coach Cuonzo Martin (a former Keady and Painter assistant).

"I think their philosophies, when you get down to it, have all struck me as being pretty similar," said Mike Reis, the radio voice of the Salukis for 30 seasons, who has covered three branches of the Keady tree at SIU (Weber, Painter, Lowery). "Whether it's making a decision for a team, a player, a recruit or in a game, they all fall back on the system. That's probably a credit to the tree."

* * *

Though Keady took over at Purdue in 1980, the roots of his coaching tree are relatively young. Former Purdue assistant Kevin Stallings landed his first head coaching job in 1993 at Illinois State. (Stallings also has roots in the Roy Williams tree, having served as a Kansas assistant after working at Purdue.) And former Purdue assistant Steve Lavin served as UCLA's coach in the 1990s.

But it wasn't until Weber landed his first head coaching gig that the tree really began to take shape. In 19 seasons on Keady's staff, Weber had applied for countless jobs without a taker.

"But I didn't like him to apply too many places," Keady said. "Toledo, Southeast Missouri, he didn't need to apply to those places. There were some people that I didn't understand why they wouldn't hire him. He was a good coach. It didn't make sense to me."

A new branch was extended when Keady traveled to the west coast as a member of an NCAA research committee studying "the best route for kids to go pro," he said. Keady met up with friend Jim Hart, then the athletics director at SIU. Both had football backgrounds – Hart as the St. Louis Cardinals' quarterback; Keady played at Kansas State and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers – and Keady lobbed Weber's name in Hart's direction.

"We were having dinner at Pebble Beach and I told Jim Hart, 'If you ever need a great coach, I got one in Bruce Weber,' " Keady said.

Strangely, the basketball coaching tree spread its roots on a golf course, by two men with football ties.

"If you think about it, maybe the tree doesn't really start branching unless Gene Keady has a football background," Reis said. "Jim Hart leaned on Keady. The start of their relationship was based on football.

"Really, when Bruce was hired at Southern, that's when the tree started branching. Up until that point it was just Stallings (as a head coach)."

* * *

Keady acknowledged there is a sense of pride in watching his former aides – and their former aides – run their own programs. That's true whether the subject is Weber (at Illinois), Stallings (at Vanderbilt), Painter (at Purdue), Lowery (at SIU) or Martin (at Missouri State).

But he isn't particularly fond of the phrase "the Gene Keady coaching tree," because it doesn't include those who influenced him.

"I think that stuff's overblown. I mean, I did a lot of things that (coaching innovator) Tex Winter did," Keady said. "These guys have developed their own philosophies. They do some basic stuff that we did. The main thing is they play defense like we did.

"You try to do what things you know the best, and you keep using things that work. I think all of them try to play good defense. They take good shots, play hard, be smart about how they play."

There are differences, sure, but there are far more similarities. At an Illinois, Purdue or SIU practice, you will hear coaches hollering at players to "close out (on defense) with your hands up!" and the coaches might retire before switching to a zone.

"He instilled roles and he instilled toughness," Weber said of Keady. "I bet we won more road games than anybody else (in the Big Ten because of that toughness)."

When their motion offense is running smoothly, it can be a joy to watch, such as in Illinois' 38-point first half against Ohio State on Jan. 20. When the offense is disjointed, it is painful to watch, such as when Illinois scored 36 points, total, last week at Minnesota.

"I just don't see dramatic differences (in the coaches)," Reis said. "I think they're all high-character people. I think they all prefer to have high-character people in their program. They all abhor cheating. They all abhor the quick route. That's why they always go the juco (junior college) route as the last resort."

* * *

Those in the Keady tree lean on each other often, whether it's in a job search or a rough patch during the season.

This season Lowery considered Weber's idea of mini-practices to enhance skill development, for example. And when the SIU coach attended an Illinois practice last season, Lowery told Weber the Illini weren't using a basic defensive principle – closing out with your hands up.

"Obviously, the coaches are similar in how they do things," said UI sophomore Mike Tisdale, who said his top three choices, not surprisingly, were Illinois, Purdue and SIU.

Keady is still very much in the picture. He came to C-U in the offseason to play golf with UI assistant Jay Price, one of his assistants at Purdue. Martin said he spoke to Keady as recently as Thursday.

"I talk to him as often as I can," Martin said.

Just as Keady lobbied Hart on Weber's behalf, Keady and Weber plugged Martin for the Missouri State job. A star player under Keady at Purdue, Martin became Missouri State's coach last March, extending the tree another branch.

And it's a coaching tree that stays within the family and is only starting to grow. Weber's 2002 team at SIU, for example, featured six players or coaches that are now head coaches or assistants in the Big Ten or Missouri Valley conferences. Painter's staff includes a pair of assistants – Paul Lusk and Jack Owens – that once coached at SIU. One of Martin's assistants at Missouri State, Kent Williams, was a star player under Weber at SIU. The beat goes on, and on.

* * *

One day in practice when Weber and Painter were coaching together at SIU, the assistant poked fun at the head coach's tight-fitting jogging suit.

"He wore that when I was playing," Painter said then.

Keady cast an almost-intimidating figure when he roamed the Purdue sideline. But there's a sense of humor throughout the tree, and it starts with him.

"My golf game's good," Keady said last summer, adding dryly, "But I play with crooks."

"When you're playing for him, he'd say stuff that was funny but you didn't know if you could laugh or not," Martin said. "When I started working for him, I would laugh all the time."

Weber's sense of humor too often is hidden during the stresses of a season. But after one of his family's dogs went missing a month ago, he explained, in that voice, how his dogs consistently failed obedience school.

"Coach Weber would bring a bag of Jolly Rancher suckers to every film session," said SIU assistant Brad Korn, who played under Weber and Painter and now coaches with Lowery. "If we won he would bring two bags."

There won't be any laughing today, and the postgame handshake will be quick. Close friends Weber and Painter go head-to-head for the seventh time (the series is 3-3, of course) and the last two meetings required overtime. That includes the 71-67 Illinois win Dec. 30 that made Keady anxious in his seat.

"When you have good personnel on both sides, you're going to have some good games," Painter said.

"I want to beat them because they're good and Matt's a good coach and they're a good program and they're the top-rated (team in the Big Ten)," Weber said. "I guess I'd be lying if there's not a little extra emotion because it's Purdue."

And the man at the top of the tree will be at the Big Ten Network studios, in the less-stressful role of an analyst.

"Wish I could be there," Keady said. "I'll be watching, though."

A look at the Gene Keady coaching tree

Gene Keady, patriarch, advanced to 19 NCAA tournaments in 27 seasons at Western Kentucky and Purdue, named Big Ten Coach of the Year seven times, serves as Big Ten Network analyst and faithfully watches Desperate Housewives.

Bruce Weber, Illinois, has advanced to six NCAA tournaments in 11 seasons at SIU and Illinois, guided Illini to back-to-back Big Ten titles (2004, 2005) and NCAA runner-up finish (2005), takes his two dogs to obedience school and is a veteran scuba diver.

Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt, has 308 wins in 16 seasons at Illinois State and Vanderbilt, has taken the Commodores to five straight NCAA tournaments, Collinsville native used to play competitive tennis matches against Weber.

Matt Painter, Purdue, is two shy of 100 career wins in five seasons at SIU and Purdue, named 2008 Big Ten Coach of the Year and rebuilt Boilers with savvy recruiting, attended Illini basketball camps as a youth and is an encyclopedia when it comes to basketball facts.

Chris Lowery, Southern Illinois, has guided SIU to two NCAA tournaments as a point guard (1993, 1994), two as an assistant (2002, 2003), and three as coach (2005, 2006, 2007), reveled in Super Bowl triumph as longtime Steelers fan and wife Erika makes delicious nachos.

Cuonzo Martin, Missouri State, is in first season as Missouri State’s coach, continued coaching-tree tradition by hiring former SIU star Kent Williams as an assistant, overachieving with limited talent on Missouri State roster, drafted by Hawks in 1995.