Exit Interview: Grady Eifert
There's no telling where Purdue might have been this season without Grady Eifert.
In his one and only season as a starter and bulk-minutes contributor, the Boilermaker senior not only stabilized a position in transition, but strengthened it, and by any objective measure won games for Purdue, with his penchant for timely and impactful plays, his ability to make clutch shots, grab big rebounds, whatever it might have been.
For the Boilermaker legacy and former walk-on, it was a season that probably couldn't have been scripted any better.
Eifert, who'll now join Purdue's coaching staff as a graduate assistant, recapped his career a few weeks ago in this GoldandBlack.com Exit Interview.
From the season: Where would Purdue be without Grady Eifert
GoldandBlack.com: Put your season into perspective, particularly related to what it meant to you personally.
Eifert: “I think down the road I will be able to obviously reflect on it, that ... what we were able to do this year no one really thought we would be able to do. I think it will really set in a couple years down the road but just understanding how far we were able to go this year in the Tournament and obviously win the Big Ten was definitely something special.”
Q: For yourself personally, I remember talking to your parents before senior day, they sort of talked about it like your season was sort of a dream come true for your whole family, the way you were playing and the way Purdue was playing. Is that how you felt?
Eifert: “Yeah, I think from the start, from when I got here my parents believed that I was going to be able to do something. Maybe not to this magnitude, but to be able to play at this level. I think my dad always told me, ‘You’ll just wait. It will be your turn.’ So they always had faith in me. It was just really kind of about believing in myself. As I got into practices and as the years went by I really thought that I’d be able to play at this level and then opportunities opened up where I was able to get a shot at it and I think just the opportunity that I was able to get was the biggest thing. Then it was all up to me whether I was going to be able to handle it or really just not let the guys down and the coaches down. That was my biggest thing.”
GoldandBlack.com: At what point in your career did you realize you might have a chance to contribute one day in a really meaningful way?’
Eifert: “I don’t know if there was a certain point. I just think through practices and being able to compete with Biggie and going against Vince every day for the last three years before I got the opportunity, just knowing the hardest thing for freshmen when you come in is kind of learning the system and you’re out there trying not to make mistakes. But once you get all that, you get used to it, get acclimated to it and then you're really just out there playing basketball again. It’s not like you’re focused so much on messing up and I think the first two years when I was here, I was always just trying not to mess up rather than just relax and understand, 'You know what you’re doing out there and just go out and play free' and I think I was able to do that my last two years. I think I was familiar with the system. I knew what Coach Painter wanted from offensive and defensive standpoints so I think that was helpful for me just being able to know what was going on out there.”
Q: Was there a specific moment where it switched from trying not to screw up to being a player?
Eifert: “I think it was my junior year. I think I transitioned my sophomore year and, to be honest, freshman year we had so many guys that I wouldn’t even practice that much. There’d be times when I think I’d talk to (Rapheal Davis) afterwards I’d be like, ‘I think I shot the ball once during the whole practice’ and that’s a given being a walk-on. We had sixteen guys on the roster so it’s like you’ll do the drills, but once it gets competitive they want the best guys on the court. So I think transitioning into sophomore year, we had a scout team-type thing where it was me and some of the younger guys who really just kind of played free and tried to make the first team look bad, which was tough to do. So I think that gave me some confidence.”
GoldandBlack.com: That was a pretty good first team in those days.
Eifert: “I think that just gave me confidence and then junior year I felt like I was going to be able to get some minutes behind Vince. Obviously not a lot but that’s when it was just about, if you’re going to get playing time, you’ve just got to go and play as hard as you can and not really think about making mistakes and stuff.”
GoldandBlack.com: Painter said they thought relatively early on you were a guy that could help them. Did you sense that from them? Did you sense they were invested in you when you were a young player and you had so many other players?
Eifert: “I think I told my parents around Christmastime or a little bit after that, the first couple months I was on campus I didn’t really get yelled at at all. And I kind of took offense to that because it’s like if you’re not getting yelled at that means …”
GoldandBlack.com: They're not coaching you.
Eifert: “Yeah, but after a couple months went by and I was able to get in some of the drills and show some of the things that I could bring, then I started getting yelled at a little bit more. I always thought that was the biggest thing — if you’re getting yelled at that means they care about you and that means they want something out of you. So I mean, the more you get yelled at the more you’re going to feel like you’re part of the team and if you’re just sitting over there on the side and no one’s yelling at you or getting on you, that probably means that you’re not a huge (priority). That might sound crazy."
GoldandBlack.com: Nobody says stuff like that, you know. But it makes perfect sense.
Eifert: “I think I told my parents, ‘I think they’re starting to yell at me a little more.' And it came with being on the court a little more as well. So I think from that point on it was like, 'If he’s coaching me, he’s taking the time to say something to me, that means they’re probably going to think that maybe down the road I can help them out.' So I think that’s when it kind of turned for me and I think that’s when I told my parents, 'Maybe I can, down the road, see some minutes.”
GoldandBlack.com: What made you successful at Purdue?
Eifert: “I think just the daily routine and grind that I tried to go through that not every person wants to get up and attack the day, and I mean obviously you have bad or days you don’t want to get out of bed. You’re like, 'I just don’t want to go to practice.' But I think the consistency of going hard and just trying to make your teammates around you as good as you can was what kind of, I think, helped me succeed down the road. And you know the first few years that was what I just tried to do and then from there I think it kind of paid off and then the last two years I kind of just tried to approach it the same, the same way I did the first two years, going at it with a mindset saying, ‘You’re going to dominate the day. You’re going to win the day.’ Because you can’t really take time off when you’re a walk-on or you might not have as much skill as the other guys, so you've got to be able to outwork the guys in front of you. So I think I just tried to keep doing that each day.”
GoldandBlack.com: It seemed like a lot of people had a strangely difficult time understanding why this team was so successful, and you might have been part of what they didn't get.
Eifert: “In the season, it can be hard to put into words what each person is doing. But I think the biggest thing is like you said, knowing your role and then being really good at your role. I think Coach Painter always talks about that, like there can only be so many superstars but guys being able to do their role the best they can can make up for the lack of that kind of talent. So I think what we did a really good job of was just knowing what we wanted, what we had to do in our role and then Coach Painter putting us in those positions and explaining to us what your role was going to be. He’s not going to tell you, to your face, ‘You can’t shoot a certain shot.' But I I think it’s just a given that in practice and in the way that he coaches you, what he expects from you and what he wants you to do. I think that was our biggest thing and I think from me and Cline’s perspective, that’s just what we wanted to do once we got to be seniors. I think beginning years ... I think the younger guys, all you want to do is play and play as much as you can and try to score as much.
"But once you can get to be a senior and you’re in that final year, really all you want to do is win. I think me and Ryan just both wanted to win. I think playing in that role really fed into the other guys’ understanding that the only way we were going to be able to be successful was for each guy to do their role and do it to the best of their ability. ... I think even if you show a lot of talent, guys should still be doing their roles and doing the best they can. So I think we just did a really good job of buying in and doing what the coaches asked us to do.”
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GoldandBlack.com: You mentioned being a walk-on shaping your approach, but was that ever a qualifier that you were trying to shed, the difference between someone saying, 'He's a good player,' and, 'He's a good player for a walk-on'?
Eifert: “Yeah, but then again if I came as a scholarship player I feel like I would have approached it the same way. A lot of people say, ‘Did you get mad when people say, for a walk on?’ I think if you were a scholarship player, it would have been good as well. As long as you carry yourself the right way and understand that when I was able to get on the scholarship I did the same things I did when I was a walk on. People just really give you the label, but it’s really just within you."
GoldandBlack.com: How do you want to be remembered at Purdue?
Eifert: “Just as a winner, someone who would do anything that the coaches asked to win. I think that was our biggest thing me and Ryan wanted to leave, obviously making it to that Final Four and possibly win that championship, but more importantly doing it the right way and being able to just go out as winners. That was our biggest thing going into the season, proving a lot of people wrong just because you saw the reviews. People were already doubting us from the very beginning when we lost four seniors. So just a winner I guess.”
Q: Best win of your career?
Eifert: "There’s a lot but for myself I would say this year, the Wisconsin win. It kind of turned things around for us. Winning at the Kohl Center is one of the hardest things to do. I think I got five or six texts from former players after we were able to win that when we were struggling, and it kind of gave us, our team and myself, a confidence boost after that. If we can go on the road at the Kohl Center, it’s one of the hardest places to win, and with us struggling like that it was just a huge confidence boost, I think, and kind of changed our whole season around."
GoldandBlack.com: What loss sticks with you longest?
Eifert: "Virginia. It's not even ..."
GoldandBlack.com: The answer to that question probably goes without saying this year.
Eifert: “That one and then probably at Wisconsin last year when we kind of gave it away when if we would have won that, we would have been able to clinch the Big Ten again. But Virginia will (stick). That’s still fresh in the memory a little bit."
GoldandBlack.com: Who was the best player you played with?
Eifert: “From a dominating standpoint I would say Biggie just because I think each and every day you knew what you were getting with him. His consistency with practice and then games throughout the whole season. Just dominating opponents.
"But as far as explosiveness and something you just can’t put your head around, it's definitely Carsen. I've never seen a dude in practice be so unguardable and then just get hot and you're not able to do anything about it. You can put two guys on him, and he’s gonna split it or he’s gonna go around you. We’d work on press break and he’d just take it from one end of the floor to the other and not have to pass it at all so I think they’re two types of players, someone you really can’t guard and plan for, whereas Biggie you can try and plan for him but he’s still going to beat you. So I think those are the two that definitely will go down.”
GoldandBlack.com: Who was the best player you played against?
Eifert: Guys I guarded or just saw?
GoldandBlack.com: Just however you want to do it.
Eifert: “Donovan Mitchell was really good from Louisville.
"But that’s a really good question. I’ll have to go back and look at some guys we went against but, I know Dakota always said D'Angelo Russell. I never got to play against him but heard he was crazy."
GoldandBlack.com: Did you consider playing football?
Eifert: “Yeah it was on the table. But I think it’s just, it’s such a hard transition. More than people think. They think, 'Your brother’s in the NFL, you should be able to do it easily,' but I’d have to put on 25 pounds of muscle and I would jump right into it this summer. So when I was a little banged up from the season I’d take a couple weeks off and still, like I can’t go work out again right now. But no, I mean it was definitely on the table but just after talking over it with my family, brother and stuff, it was just a lot of work and a little bit of time. Maybe if I had some more years to work on it or put some weight on maybe I could do it but then you’ve got to be good at it, too. You can’t just expect you’re going to not play football since sophomore year of high school, then walk out there and be a beast like people might think.”
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