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Frustration at being No. 3 in his own state—Notre Dame won't even play Purdue: Digger Phelps, witty as ever, claims that "there are no roads between South Bend and West Lafayette"—has led Keady to flirt with other coaching jobs; he almost bolted to Arizona State last March. "But hell, I wouldn't get to play golf for three years," he says. "I'd just be back here recruiting Chicago."
"Year in, year out, Gene does the best job of all of us," says Heathcote. "He takes good players and turns them into great teams."
But how good, really?
Scheffler grew up in Ada, Mich., where he was primed for football. He says he decided to play for the Boilermakers because he "knew their reputation for turning no-talent big men into something." Jones, who upon graduating this spring with a degree in aviation technology, will be licensed to fly a 727, remembers that an Indiana assistant came to watch him once in high school in Fort Wayne and was apparently so unimpressed that no member of the Hoosier staff ever checked him out again. Ryan Berning, Purdue's other senior mainstay, was and is a 6'9" over-achiever who looks terrific in airports.
Fact is, the Boilermakers' most famous player sits at the end of the bench—freshman Rich (son of Rick) Mount, who got in at the end of the Long Beach State game and promptly coughed up the ball, costing Purdue a 70-69 defeat.
Keady cleansed his soul of last year's un-Boilerlike 15-16 record by running off a quartet of bad attitudes—"I just told them they were out of here," he says—and by coaching the gold-medal-winning U.S. team (including Scheffler and Jones) in the World University Games in Germany last summer. It was the first U.S. gold in international competition in three years, and even Scheffler, who once stood up in a Purdue team meeting to question "why it was so important to win," got excited.
"I think I hated basketball as recently as my sophomore year here," says Scheffler, whose bent for philosophy Keady could do without. "When I figured out I had the freedom not to play, I started to love to play."
And no, that's not Scheffler's dyslexia rearing up. "It doesn't affect me on the court," he says of his affliction. "Mostly, I have trouble reading aloud and with memorization. Like, I never mastered the holidays or the order of months. I know when Christmas is, but Thanksgiving? Forget it."
Surely Scheffler knows when the Final Four is played.
"They talk about March Madness," he says. "So it must be sometime then. But when is March? I don't have a clue."