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Ben Smith

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Ever the coach, Keady shares his insights


– The man always could work a room. And so hand Gene Keady that microphone there – what the heck, hand him two – and open the floor for questions, here on this gray rain-hammered evening.

Coach, can you give us a Brad Miller story …

Keady grins that lovely Irish grin of his. “I can’t,” he says. “It’s not printable.”

And then laughter booms around the room and Keady grins again, and of course he says a few things about Miller, the former Purdue and NBA star and pride of this Noble County town.

It’s the way this night will go at the Kendallville Events Centre, where Keady is the guest speaker for the Kendallville Chamber Banquet.

First will come the question and then the quip and then the answer, and it will be a full-frontal honest answer, because Keady could not do disingenuous if you yanked out his soul and replaced it with a Washington politician’s.

And so here he was on Miller, after the knee-slapping died down: “Brad was one of those unusual players that when you taught him a play, he knew exactly what to do.” Here he was on his recent election to the college basketball Hall of Fame: “It had a lot to do with the people around me.” And here he was on the NBA’s one-and-done rule: “I don’t like it. I wish they’d change it like football and baseball and have it where you have to stay until your junior year. I think it just hurts the game.”

Another question now, something about the quality of play in college basketball, which some said was truly awful this year.

“Who said that, Vitale?” Keady said.

“I think that was Mike Greenberg from ESPN,” the guy asking the question replied.

Keady shook his head good-naturedly. “Ah, he’s full of it,” he said.

And then: “Mike ever play? I don’t think so. He was a Northwestern student who booed me. He did. Sat up in the crowd and booed me when he was there.”

More laughter now, and Keady grinned again and said he didn’t think the game was any different than it had ever been. The players, in fact, were better now. Only thing that maybe wasn’t was the fundamentals, passing and rebounding and dribbling and getting down in your defensive stance.

“Basketball is a game of habit, and you have to do it over and over and over, just like in golf,” Keady said.

No one can say he hasn’t. He coached 27 seasons at Western Kentucky and Purdue, winning 550 games and six Big Ten titles and six national-coach-of-the-year awards. And still he coaches, now as an assistant to Steve Lavin at St. John’s.

“I think what I like about it is teaching and being around the players, helping them get better and trying to get the coaches to see what it takes win,” said Keady, who’ll be 77 in May. “That part about it I’ve always enjoyed. It’s a tremendous game. It’s been good to me all these years.”

Besides, now that he’s just another guy on the bench, the refs are a lot nicer.

“The referees I work with now are all great friends of mine,” Keady says. “They’re all very friendly during the timeouts. I say, ‘Hey! You’re so nice toward Lavin, you weren’t that way toward me.’

“They said ‘Well, we really liked you but we didn’t want to act like it.’ ”

Laughter. One more time.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.