NCAA Tournament

Painter doesn’t wonder what-if after staying at Purdue

This time last year, Purdue coach Matt Painter was about to become one of the most wanted men in Missouri. He was a winner with a spotless resume. Who wouldn’t want that?

Last March, Mizzou coach Mike Anderson left to become coach at Arkansas, leaving the Tigers with an itch that only Painter seemed able to reach. Although he was never officially offered the job, Painter was reported to be Mizzou athletic director Mike Alden’s top choice.

A little more than a year after opting to remain in West Lafayette, Ind., for a seventh season, sure, there are wandering minds. How might things have played out if Painter had fallen for Alden’s advances? Could the Tigers’ dream candidate have done even more with Mizzou, which won 30 games and the Big 12 tournament under Alden’s eventual hire, Frank Haith?

At the time, the appeal of Painter was intoxicating.

“Personally, it was kind of exciting and different,” said Tigers guard Mike Dixon, who was recruited by Painter — and Haith, who at the time was Miami’s coach — out of Lee’s Summit West. “ I, or none of my teammates, can control who we’re going to get. We were going to be happy and ready to listen to whoever was the coach.”

Painter’s Purdue team is 21-12 and won 10 conference games this season, earning a No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region. Mizzou got the No. 2 seed in the West Region. It’s difficult to know what effect Painter would’ve had in Columbia.

Regardless, Painter said Thursday at the CenturyLink Center, he doesn’t play out the scenario in his mind.

“I’m happy for Missouri. I’m a big Mike Alden fan,” Painter said. “I think he’s done a great job at Missouri, but that being said, I think Frank has done an unbelievable job. It’s funny how things work out. I think it’s one of those things that is meant to be, and Frank Haith was meant to be at Missouri with those guys.”

Painter’s name wasn’t the only one considered by Mizzou — or at least by Mizzou fans. Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart, Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobsen, and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall were on fans’ wish lists.

Painter withdrew his name from consideration March 30, and four days later, Haith was Mizzou’s man. The closest Painter came to leading the Tigers was coaching Mizzou guard Marcus Denmon in the World University Games in China. The Tigers’ Kim English also tried out for the team but was cut.

English submitted his name for the NBA draft last year but returned for his senior season.

“When I heard the name Frank Haith I was pleased,” English said Thursday, “because he was the only coach in the nation that I would have come back to Mizzou for.”

Purdue will play Saint Mary’s (Calif.) on Friday, and a victory would match the Boilermakers against the Kansas-Detroit winner on Sunday. Perhaps the bracket would’ve looked different if Painter had taken a leap of faith last season.

“It would’ve been a great experience,” he said. “But I think things happen for a reason, and I’m happy for Missouri and their success.”

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