Matt Painter inspires with truth and honesty. Check that. He inspires those who listen and understand that life changes, challenges occur and you either learn and adapt or fail.
For those Purdue Boilermakers who don't, life is more complex.
In seven years as Purdue's head coach, eight years overall, Painter has compiled a 185-82 record with seven NCAA tourney appearances, in part because players have bought into his team-first approach.
“One thing I try to do is be honest with where players stand as it comes to their behavior, attitude and production,” he said. “Some guys are young and learn a lesson. It's hard to change. At times when I meet with players after the season, I'll tell them they have to change to meet their goals. That's hard to do as a person.
“You want effort and good attitude and trust. I won't say something that won't benefit Purdue. Sometimes I say something different from what the people next to them say. It's a hard dynamic.
“Coaches try to get guys to buy in. Guys who work early and stay late are always successful at Purdue. Sometimes you have guys fight you and not buy in. We've had very little of that. That won't help Purdue win. That's not what we want in the program.”
Painter wants a program that will extend Purdue's streak of six straight NCAA tourney appearances, but beyond that, he wants to win the right way. It starts with strong player leadership. The problem -- next season the Boilers will have just one senior in swingman D.J. Byrd.
“I know D.J. will speak up,” Painter said. “It will be a good situation. He's fully capable of leading the team. He understands what's going on. He's a confident kid. A tough kid.
“Part of leadership is being lonely. You get some resistance from some people. You have to make sure you fight them and get everybody on the page.”
On Thursday night Painter will try to get everybody on the same page as the featured speaker at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne's annual steak and burger dinner at Landmark Conference and Reception Centre.
Painter has had postseason meetings with returning players to assess performance and set goals. One of the more intriguing returners is 6-8, 218-pound freshman forward Jacob Lawson, whose playing time did not match his potential. He ranked ninth on the team in minutes played (11.1) while averaging 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds. In the last 13 games he played a total of 39 minutes.
“Potential is not the issue,” Painter said. “He has the ability to start and be all-conference, or not play a minute. If he wants to play hard and rebound and run and work on his game, he can be all-conference. If he doesn't do those things, he can end up on the bench.
“He's a great kid. He has a lot of athleticism. He comes from a great family. He needs to lock himself in a gym and work on his game. He has to get some toughness and nastiness and show he wants to be a big-time player in this game.
“I hope he does.”
Painter didn't pull any punches about Purdue's home record this season. The Boilers' 26-game Mackey Arena winning streak faded to just a 5-4 Big Ten home mark, including a lopsided loss to rival Indiana.
“I think the most disappointing thing of the season was our record at home,” Painter said. “It had to do with mindset and being ready to play and understanding everyone's strengths. It's not like those teams were so much better than us. We didn't play to our strengths and it took a while to learn some of those things.”
A shaky defense, a rarity under Painter, contributed to the struggles. Purdue ranked ninth in the Big Ten in scoring defense (66.0 points allowed) and field goal percentage defense (44.2 percent).
That has to change, the coach said.
“We have to do a better job on that end of the court. I understand guys work on their offensive game in the offseason, but if you want minutes, anybody who returns has a great opportunity to play if he improves on the defensive end.”
Some of Purdue's struggles were due to health issues involving seniors Rob Hummel (knee) and Lewis Jackson (back), plus the dismissal of junior Kelsey Barlow. But the Boilers regrouped in the NCAA tourney, slowing down high-scoring Saint Mary's and then nearly upsetting eventual national runner-up Kansas to finish 22-13.
“You can call it an up-and-down season,” Painter said, “but a lot of people in college basketball would love to have the season we had.
“The experience is going to help because you are always going to have adversity. It makes you a more mature player.”
And that's the truth.