Shaped by Purdue basketball, Grady Eifert's living his dream
BOSTON — How badly did Grady Eifert want to play college basketball?
As in, any college basketball.
This badly: As a senior at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, he asked his parents for more high school.
He wanted to spend a post-graduate year in prep school.
"To not go away to school when all his buddies were," said Eifert's father, Greg, "that was a pretty strong commitment on his behalf."
Grady Eifert had just morphed from a gangly 6-foot-3 as a junior at Dwenger to pushing 6-6 as a senior and since he was young for his grade, he wanted to see how much additional development he had coming to him.
"I just wanted to play Division I, play at a high level," he said. "That was always one of my dreams growing up."
So Eifert spent a post-grad season playing at Don Bosco Prep in Crown Point in Northwest Indiana, hoping college basketball opportunities would present themselves.
Opportunities came. Smaller schools, some far from home, but opportunities nonetheless.
He turned them down.
"He said, 'Dad, I think I just want to go to Purdue, be a walk-on and see where it goes,'" Greg Eifert remembers. "I said, 'Hey, that's fine with me.'"
While it was Grady Eifert's ambition to play anywhere, it was his dream, he says, to play at Purdue, scholarship or no scholarship. It was the school he grew up around, his family inextricably linked to the place.
Greg played for Gene Keady and met his wife, Julie, there. Their daughter, Morgan, has now graduated from Purdue. Older brother Tyler played football at Notre Dame on his way to the NFL, but "to this day, is a huge Purdue basketball fan," Greg Eifert said.
Grady Eifert grew up attending Purdue football and basketball games, remembering watching Robbie Hummel, E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson, Chris Kramer, etc., play as a kid.
Those teams were some of those that sort of revived the Purdue identity under Matt Painter that Keady had long ago cultivated in West Lafayette, the very culture Greg Eifert was part of in the '80s; Keady would push Greg Eifert to play physically and "sneaky mean," as he remembers it.
"I think Purdue probably shaped him, who he was," Grady Eifert said of his father, "and I guess he learned those values and passed them on to me."
It's sort of fitting then that right now, Grady Eifert is helping Purdue win by being everything Purdue's been.
The 6-6, 220-some-pound junior's effort and reliability put him in position to contribute as a rotation player last season; the Boilermakers' obnoxious depth in the frontcourt stood in the way, however.
This season, though, things cleared out some, and just three games in, Eifert clearly affected an outcome for the better for Purdue. His eight points, four rebounds and two assists amidst Vincent Edwards' foul trouble helped the Boilermakers win at Marquette.
Now, such opportunities have come more frequently.
Edwards' ankle injury late in the regular season pushed Eifert into the starting lineup for two games, both of them wins, and gave him clear momentum heading into the most important games of the season, the "silver lining" to Edwards' injury, you might say.
Now, Isaac Haas' injury has moved pieces around in Purdue's frontcourt enough to where Eifert figures to play an even bigger role from here on out, beyond being Edwards' primary backup at the 4.
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In his role, Eifert is thriving, looking like a player shaped by the basketball culture he grew up around. There's nothing gaudy about his playing style, nothing particularly aesthetically pleasing, but he's become that consummate grinder sort of player Purdue's had many of over the years, the players who seem to be rolling around on the floor as much as they're upright, the sort of player that always seems to strike a particularly strong chord with Purdue fans more than they might other fan bases.
Painter calls it a "football mentality."
Greg Eifert said he's tried over the years to pass down lessons from Keady.
"It's not that you have to go out there and score 20 points when you go in," he said, "but just go out there and make things happen in the little time you get."
That's where Grady Eifert is impacting Purdue — putbacks, rebounds, tap-outs, lunges for loose balls that wind up staying with Purdue, etc.
"When there's a loose ball," center Matt Haarms said after Purdue's win over Butler, "it's 100-percent Grady."
With three minutes to go in the first half against Butler, Haarms missed the back end of a pair of free throws. But Eifert cannon-balled to the wandering long rebound, and when the scrum met its end, the ball had trickled out of bounds off Butler. Off the ensuing possession, directly attributable to Eifert, Carsen Edwards drew a foul and made both free throws to give Purdue its first lead in a game it went on to win, keeping its season alive.
Eifert's impacted the Boilermakers for the better when it's mattered most lately, and he's done it with simple energy and effort above all else.
And the confidence that came with opportunity, among other things.
"I think the confidence he's built over last year and now this year has been unreal and I always attribute it to that senior class," Greg Eifert said. "From Vince to Haas to P.J. to Dakota, they've always embraced Grady since the day he got on campus and really made him feel like he was really a part of the team and not a walk-on. That's so important for a kid like that to feel like he's really part of the team."
In return, Eifert's done his part, "a dream come true," as he calls it.
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