WEST LAFAYETTE—Disregard the pomp and circumstance, if only for just a moment.
A chance to walk out with the parents is something they'll always remember, so is the roar of the crowd as the come down with their families to be recognized after their final home game in a collegiate uniform.
The white home jersey in a glass case turned around so that all may know who wore that number at that time will make a great place on a living room or den wall someday. But Chris Kramer wants something better, even though physically he'll never have it.
"When you come back to watch a game, you've got kids, you've got family, and you look up and say 'Yeah, I was apart of that Big Ten Championship, I was part of that Big Ten title,'" said the guard, referencing the men's basketball conference championship banners than hang in one corner of Mackey Arena. "That's something no one can ever take away from you."
Injury has already taken so much from Kramer and fellow senior Keaton Grant, and in just a matter of seven days and a couple of hours. It was Purdue who was poised to grab the nation's No. 1 ranking and help to solidify a number one seed for the looming NCAA Tournament, along with, of course, the chance to be an outright Big Ten Champion.
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A slip of the leg, awkward bend of the knee, a tear in the anterior cruciate ligament, and gone is Robbie Hummel for the season. Without the versatile forward, the Boilers barely beat Minnesota, then were beaten badly inside by Michigan State. Gone was a shot at the top-in both rankings and tournament seeding-and teetering was that conference title, which could no longer be won outright.
"I know the loss to Michigan State put a bad taste in everyone's mouth," said head coach Matt Painter. "But your still in that position to play one game and to win a Big Ten championship."
That because mathematically the Boilers were still in the Big Ten championship hunt, even if they couldn't in win the title outright. Two wins over Indiana and Penn State, and a trophy would come to West Lafayette along with that coveted banner. Don't think those seniors didn't take that to heart, especially thinking about their own legacy.
"We got the (Big Ten) tournament title last year, and getting a regular season would be even better," said Grant of getting a championship over 18 games instead of three or four.
That's the final of the conference goals for this group of seniors, which includes reserve and walk-on Mark Wohlford, that came to Purdue in 2006 to a program under a second year head coach in Painter who'd just suffered through a 9-19 campaign. They joined the Boilers believing that better days were ahead and a rise from the bottom to the top was possible.
"I came out here and I loved it, it was a family environment," said Grant on his visit to the school during the 2005-2006 season. "A lot of people was telling me, who knew people that played for Purdue, were telling me that they were going to be good next season."
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With Kramer along for the ride, Grant joined veterans David Teague and Carl Landry in helping produce a 13-win increase in their freshman season and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
"David Teague and coach (Cuanzo) Martin really took me under their wing and taught me how to play defense at this level," said Kramer of his first season-and from there on they ran with it.
When the pair started over without them, the Boilermakers got even better, winning 25 and 27 games games during the next two seasons and advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2009. After a victory over Indiana Wednesday night, the group has 24 in 28 games during the 2009 season, and as a class have 99 victories, the most in Purdue basketball history.
"More than anything they made sacrifices for Purdue to win," said Painter of what standouts about this class beyond the win total. "That's what's gonna really jump out as a coach."
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Grant did in the middle of the Big Ten season, taking a seat in favor of freshman Kelsey Barlow, but proved an asset off the bench and has scored in double digits in three of Purdue's last four games. Kramer also took a seat for a game in January against Illinois, when the team had lost three consecutive games, but he took has seen a spike in his defensive stats in the final stretch of the season.
Oddly enough, though, in order to help get his team one win from a share of a regular season championship, he had to go on the offensive. In that first half stretch, Kramer was 4-for-4 with nine points and finished the game with a season-high 18.
"We were able to get in transition, get some easy buckets, and got in transition where we were able to attack the rim, and when they did help, we were able to kick it out for some easy shots," said Kramer of his offensive outburst.
But for these seniors, it doesn't matter how it gets done, it just matters that it does.
"We had a couple of opportunities where we could have did it (win a Big Ten regular season championship) our sophomore year or last year and it slipped," said Grant of the Big Ten regular season championship. "That's why were not gonna let it happen this time."