He 'changed this program.' Zach Edey's Purdue basketball legacy is in rarified air (2024)

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Zach Edey the person Work wins

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Trey Kaufman-Renn had a message for the media members surrounding his locker after Monday night's NCAA title loss.

"Hopefully you guys appreciate how much you had while he was here," the Purdue basketball redshirt sophom*ore said. "Because you probably won't get another of him, just that level of dominance on a consistent basis and that good of a guy."

No surprise that Kaufman-Renn was talking about Zach Edey, who moments earlier closed his college career with 37 points and 10 rebounds against an all-time great UConn team that supposedly had the best defensive center in college basketball.

More:NCAA title or bust season for Purdue basketball takes Boilermaker program to new heights

It's the most points scored in an NCAA title game by an individual whose team did not win the championship. The Huskies topped Purdue, 75-60, Monday night at State Farm Stadium to win their second-straight national title and sixth in program history.

Edey is a two-time National Player of the Year and seemingly every game he either did something that hadn't been done in a very long time or ever before.

But it's not up to Edey to define what his legacy is.

"Purdue will determine my legacy," Edey said.

Add to his resume a litany of Purdue records, more than 2,500 career points and 1,300 rebounds. As a senior, Edey averaged 25.2 points and 12.2 rebounds on top of all the blocks, assists, steals and just general presence that puts fear into teams.

Others aren't so bashful about pouring their opinion into the Zach Edey legacy.

"He's the best player in the country for a reason. I've said that many times this season," redshirt freshman Camden Heide said. "I will continue to say it. I am not shy about it. He has really changed this program."

More:'That's not like us.' Purdue guards went missing as UConn's 'elite' defense took over.

Zach Edey the person

You may have heard about how well-rounded Edey is, not as a basketball player, but as a human.

For most of the past two years, Edey had every insult under the sun hurled at him.

Asking Ethan Morton about it earlier this week, I gave him a glance like, it does get to him, doesn't it?

Edey is able to compartmentalize all of the insults and hatred he's received from anonymous nobodies on social media to national media outlets.

Turns out, Zach Edey is human after all.

But he never showed that all those hurtful words affected him and he never hurled any retaliation towards them. The resolve it takes to do that, especially for someone who is still maturing, is astounding.

Edey signed every autograph, took every selfie and thanked every fan he could. But that was in the public spotlight. It's easy to be nice when there's a camera watching your every move.

Here's a story where there were no cameras and nothing to gain from being nice and three people saw it: a security member in Purdue's locker room and two reporters.

The media scrums in an open locker room when you are the best player in the sport are intimidating. Wherever Edey goes, he somehow even at 7-foot-4 disappears. Now, imagine what happens to some of us jockeying for position to get our question in.

Open locker rooms at the NCAA Tournament are 30 minutes. Get in as many questions as you can with as many players as you can before being escorted out. If you're lucky, you get your question in with Edey and still have 15 minutes to spare.

Brian Neubert, a Purdue beat writer for On3's GoldandBlack.com site, was one of those shoved against a wall and lost in a sea of cameras, cell phones, arms and microphones swallowing Edey out of eye sight.

When security came to tell reporters to exit the locker room, Neubert hadn't yet got in a question. Edey told the security it was OK, pointed at Neubert and asked, "Did you have a question?"

This wasn't gearing up for a Tuesday night in the Big Ten. It was one day away from the biggest basketball game of Edey's life.

It was the most Matt Painter-like thing and it came from the best player Painter ever coached.

“It’s bigger than basketball. Him being who he is as a person is the best thing about it. Yeah he’s really good at basketball, a two-time national player of the year," said Mason Gillis, who has been Edey's teammate for four years. "All the awards. You could go on forever listing them. But he has stayed who he is. He’s stable. He stays nice with his mother and I think his relationship with his mother is the best thing for him.

"I wish him all the best in the future. I know he’s going to get it because he works and he’s a good person. Somebody that works and is not a good person, they may make it or may not make it. But if you’re a good person and know how to work, you’ll be fine. And for the program, he just raised the bar. The respect that Purdue fans give him is absolutely deserved. He has shown them something that they’ll never see again in their life.”

Work wins

Purdue didn't get to the NCAA Tournament's final game on Edey alone. But the Boilermakers know darn well they weren't there this season without him.

Edey was a game changer who had a statistical tournament for the ages. Now it's up to others to carry that legacy, the one he won't define himself. His 177 points in the NCAA Tournament is the second most in a single March Madness behind only Glen Rice.

He 'changed this program.' Zach Edey's Purdue basketball legacy is in rarified air (2)

Edey set the standard for every Boilermaker in the future to follow.

"I'm just going to follow in his footsteps," point guard Braden Smith said. "Who he was as a leader. Who he is as a person."

Edey may not say what his legacy is, but he'll tell you why others likely put him among the greatest to ever do it.

"You can say anything you want about my game," Edey said. "You can say anything you want about how I play, but I don't think you can ever say I never stepped on the court and didn't give it my 100 percent. I never took a night off. I never took a practice off for four years. I left everything on the court every time I stepped on. That's the only thing I want to be remembered for."

Sam King covers sports for the Journal & Courier. Email him at sking@jconline.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samueltking.

He 'changed this program.' Zach Edey's Purdue basketball legacy is in rarified air (2024)
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