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December 18, 2013

Putting things in perspective

Making their way through the aisles of a local Meijer, members of Purdue's men's basketball team and coaching staff weren't concerned with free throw shooting, improving their rebounding numbers or even final exams. Instead, they were on the hunt for action figures, sleds and board games.

For the third year in a row, the Boilermakers worked with Lafayette Family Services and identified 15 underprivileged families in the greater Lafayette area and paired a player with each family to do some holiday shopping.

"I think it's good for our players to help a family and get out," said Coach Matt Painter, pushing a cart full of sleds and other gifts. "I remember how it was as a young kid growing up in Muncie and looking up to those players. It's something they always have to keep in mind, the example they set and the kind of influence they can have on young people."

By a unanimous vote, the players agreed to donate part of their winter break per diem, which went towards each family receiving $300 Meijer gift cards.

"We're so fortunate, given the opportunity we have," senior Travis Carroll said. "It's nice being able to do something like this and giving the community a chance to see who we really are. The opportunities we have as Purdue basketball players, it's crazy. We're super fortunate. This is just a feel-good thing, and it's something we're glad to do."

In the three years partnering with Lafayette Family Services, the basketball program has developed a great relationship with the organization. The players, and the attitude they bring to this annual event have struck a chord with Robbin Lamblin, who helped select the families and coordinate the event with supervisor of basketball operations Elliot Bloom.

"It's been wonderful," Lamblin said. "We find families that aren't getting help anywhere else, who have a couple kids, and could use it. And the families love it. It puts all of us in the Christmas spirit. These guys are so generous, and they've been a joy to work with. They come in with a big smile on their face.

"It is what Christmas is all about. These are such good young men. They are doing the right things; they have the right guys."

Sophomore Stephen Toyra, a Lafayette native, knows first-hand how important it can be for players to interact with members of the community, especially around the holidays.

"That's one of the big reasons I wanted to stay here at Purdue was to be a part of this community and to give back," Toyra said. "It just makes you feel really good and you know you are helping someone out and making their Christmas even better.

"It's really humbling. I think it can be really good to know that people are people and to see the smile on a kid's face when he's picking out a toy or to see the joy on a parent's face when they know they are able to give their kids a good Christmas. It just warms your heart. It makes you happy."

Whether it was freshman Basil Smotherman posing for photos with a family's young child or sophomore A.J. Hammons laughing along with a family as he helped push their cart, the event served as an opportunity to put things in perspective for a group of high-profile athletes. There weren't discussions about that day's practice or the upcoming visit to West Virginia or the previous night's blowout home victory. The morning was about connecting with members of their community on a personal level, and Painter believes that's what it's all about.

"I think it's important from a Christmas standpoint; it should make you feel good to give something back," Painter said. "For everyone who is in this position whether it's players or coaches, there are a lot of people who have helped you get here. You can never lose sight of that.

"It's really important. We all get consumed with our own problems and make them bigger than they are. When you are on scholarship and you are playing at Purdue, it's difficult and it's hard but in the grand scheme of things you are pretty lucky, so hopefully this hits home for them."

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2013. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.

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