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NIT finalists have rebuilt their programs

NEW YORK — Purdue coach Matt Painter and Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel bumped into each other at their hotel earlier this week, their teams on opposite sides of the bracket in the NIT Season Tip-Off.

They got to reminiscing a bit. It wasn’t long ago that they were at the Maui Invitational, the Boilermakers still trying to get on track after the departure two seasons earlier of longtime coach Gene Keady, and the Sooners growing accustomed to life without Kelvin Sampson.

Both teams lost in the opening round of that tournament — Purdue beat Oklahoma in a consolation game — their rosters bare and the challenge facing two young coaches daunting.

My, how far they’ve come.

Two years later and nearly 5,000 miles to the east, the 10th-ranked Boilermakers (5-0) and No. 11 Oklahoma (5-0) will meet for the preseason NIT championship on Friday.

“We joked how much better our teams are now. Back then we were both new programs and trying to get our guys in there,” Capel said, smiling at the memory. “I’m happy for Matt and the success he’s had at Purdue.”

Indeed, the two coaches followed similar blueprints in their rebuilding.

Painter took over a team that had won just seven games the year before he arrived. But Painter also knew he could sell recruits on the opportunity to play early, and players like E’Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel climbed on board.

“We gave kids a chance to come in here and be a part of the building process,” Painter said. “I think that’s how we sold a lot of our younger guys on coming here.”

“They’re really good,” Capel said. “I got a chance to watch them earlier. They’re so well coached, they’re disciplined, they’re physical, they have such good guards.”

In short, they’re very similar to his own team.

While Purdue returns almost everybody from its best squad in a decade, one that finished second in the Big Ten and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament, Oklahoma returns Blake Griffin, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year who’s so far averaged 27.2 points and 18.8 rebounds per game.

He’s surrounded by a supporting cast that’s hoping to turn things around.

“Oklahoma, they’re definitely a good team,” said Purdue guard Keaton Grant. “There’s not another Blake Griffin in the NCAA. There’s only one of him in the United States, so it’ll definitely be a great challenge playing against them.

“We look forward to it.”

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