Legendary Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton wanted his team to play hard, to do all the little things to win games. More than scoring points. It’s about doing everything else — the things often taken for granted.
It’s something that stuck with Gene Keady in his time as an assistant to Sutton at Arkansas, and it’s been a part of Bruce Weber’s coaching philosophy from the start.
When Keady took over at Purdue in 1980, he wanted to find a way to encompass all hustle plays together as a statistic. Along with his assistants, including Weber, he developed the play-hard chart.
Keady, a former Kansas State football player, put the words “Play Hard” on the team’s shorts and used the words “Time to Play Hard,” outside the court entrance to Purdue’s Mackey Arena. Purdue students formed a club and kept the play-hard stats in the crowd. At the end of each season, the coaching staff voted and awarded the player that most embodied the moniker.
A tradition was born.
“We wanted to do something to find out how everyone was doing in all phases of the game,” Keady said in a phone interview last week. “We considered those to be very important to win. We thought it was valuable and at the banquet we would give awards on all those things. It was good in all phases to award people for things that went above the call of duty.”
It should come as no surprise that Weber took the chart with him after 20 years as Keady’s assistant. When Weber was at Illinois, he used it to rejuvenate a struggling program. Now he’s brought the chart to K-State, where it’s referred to as the Purple Passion stats.
The chart is mostly comprised of stats that wouldn’t normally be kept during a game, but has been tweaked by Weber to feature stats that would help the Wildcats win games. It awards one point for deflections, blocks, steals, diving for the ball, going after loose balls, offensive rebounds, and two points for taking charges.
K-State student managers chart both teams throughout games, and more often than not, the team with the higher play-hard score is the team that wins. K-State has lost four games this season, and they’ve been beaten all four times on the play-hard chart.
“They’re all the things that usually aren’t kept as stats, but in the long run they make a difference,” Weber said. “Those are big, and we’ve gotten beat at it.”
Weber said the chart often favors guards, who have a chance to be involved in more plays. The Wildcats’ current leader on the chart is Angel Rodriguez.
“Angel is the leader right now, Will (Spradling’s) up there, Martavious (Irving) has done a nice job,” he said. “Usually the guards have a better chance because they’re quicker, more active.”
When Weber went to Illinois in 2003, he wanted to keep the chart and the postseason award going. Weber said he was touched by the story of former Illinois guard Matt Heldman, who played for the Illini under former K-State coach and player Lon Kruger.
Weber believed Heldman, who was killed in a car crash in 1999, was a player who embodied what the chart was all about.
“He was just a tough, hard-nosed kid that no one thought they should take, and ended up starting on Lon’s team that won a Big Ten championship (in 1998),” he said. “We named the award after him. His nickname was ‘Matto’ so we took the play hard and made it the ‘Matto Award’ to honor guys that do all those little things to make a difference.”
After a 16-19 finish in the 2007-08 season at Illinois, Weber decided to make the use of the Matto play-hard chart public. Soon after, just as students kept the score at Purdue, the play-hard moniker was embraced at Illinois and posted on the scoreboard during timeouts.
Weber said then that the play-hard chart was tough to grasp as a young assistant at Purdue, but over time he learned its potential value.
The K-State coach said initially, the purpose of the chart was to figure out how to compete harder than the best teams on any given night. And now, he said it stands as a way to remind everyone that the game isn’t just about which players score the most points — it’s the plays that occur to get them those points.
“Every game, we talk about it, who’s the leader on the chart, and we’ll give an award at the end of the year,” he said. “We make sure the fans know, hey they maybe didn’t score, but they did all of these things that make a difference.”
The Wildcats put together their best play-hard score of the season Wednesday, scoring 59 in an 83-57 win over Texas. Most amazing to Weber, though, was bench player Omari Lawrence who scored 16 play-hard points for K-State in just 19 minutes on the floor.
Keady said he isn’t surprised that Weber has carried the chart with him all this time. Keady, who is an assistant coach at St. Johns, also said Weber is having the kind of season he expected him to have at his alma mater.
“I watched him on TV the other night and he is a guy I really follow closely,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me he is winning — he’s a smart basketball coach. That’s why we won at Purdue, we had good assistants.”