How Zach Edey was recruited to Purdue

b8vTr9Hoby:Mike Carmin03/10/24
Post-Wisconsin — Purdue's Zach Edey, Mason Gillis And Lance Jones

One of the perks of attending IMG Academy in Florida for Julia Edey was her son’s wardrobe.

Growing up and living in Toronto, shorts were never the top option, at least from a year round standpoint. In Florida, it’s a different story and Julia couldn’t have been happier.

“I didn’t have to buy him pants anymore,” Julia said. “Best thing ever.”

Go back to mid-October 2019 – the weekend following Columbus Day and Canadian Thanksgiving – when Edey arrives at the Indianapolis Airport from Florida ready for his 48-hour official visit to Purdue.

He’ll attend the team’s Fan Day event at Mackey Arena, hang out with the players, eat two plates of sushi for dinner at Maru’s in West Lafayette, enjoy ice cream with Matt Haarms and Matt Painter, and watch the annual intrasquad scrimmage before heading back to IMG.

Julia traveled from Toronto, and Steve Lutz, one of Painter’s assistants, were waiting near the security area. This was Edey’s third official visit after trips to Baylor during Labor Day weekend and Santa Clara. With national signing day approaching, a decision on his college future was looming, and his list narrowed to three.

The weather in Indiana wasn’t cold by Canadian standards but chilly enough that one might question why Edey was wearing shorts.

And Julia did.

“He got off the plane and I looked at him. He’s wearing shorts,” Julia recalled. “It’s October and I’m shaking my head and looked at Zach and said, ‘Buddy, it’s really cold here.’ He said, ‘I forgot what state I’m in.’

The conversation continued, and Julia asked Zach about living in a region with four seasons again instead of the summer-like climate in the Sunshine State during his two years at IMG.

“He’s a Canadian boy and said, ‘Yeah, I kind of miss winter,’ ” Julia remembered.

Edey committed to Purdue three weeks later – the same day Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell made his first career start at Northwestern – not because of the weather. His storybook journey continues, adding impressive chapter after impressive chapter. He’s led the Boilermakers to back-to-back Big Ten championships and looks to repeat as conference tournament champions this weekend in Minneapolis.

He’s positioned to sweep the National Player of the Year awards for the second consecutive year, becoming the first repeat winner since Virginia’s Ralph Sampson more than 40 years ago.

Why are the shorts, the timeline of his arrival in Indiana and the weather details an important anecdote in retracing the steps of Edey’s recruitment?

He nearly didn’t make it to Purdue.

“I was really close to being a Baylor Bear,” Edey said. “If my mom didn’t talk me out of it on the visit, I probably would’ve gone. At the time, I had no Purdue offer and they weren’t really in the picture.”


Although Edey arrived at IMG at 7-foot-2 – he would add two inches to his frame before settling in at Purdue – he was an unknown commodity in the recruiting world.

He had played basketball for one year after focusing on baseball and hockey and was part of the Northern Kings AAU program in Toronto that wasn’t highly visible in the United States.

Vidal Massiah is the executive director of Northern Kings. He played at St. Bonaventure for then-assistant coach Brian Nash, who joined IMG in 2016 as the Director of Basketball.

“That’s how the connection started,” said Nash, who took over as IMG’s vice president of athletics in February. 

Edey didn’t play on IMG’s national team his first season because Nash wanted to build his confidence and see him log plenty of minutes instead of joining the top group where his time would’ve been limited. This was the time for Edey to grow and develop.

College coaches regularly visit IMG, looking for high-level talent, which the academy usually has plenty of. The list of NBA players who attended IMG is long. They noticed Edey and would ask about him, but “evaluating him and offering a scholarship is always a big jump,” Nash said.

Not many programs were ready to go in that direction.

“He was kind of an afterthought,” Nash continued. “He wasn’t the main reason they were coming here. If they came to practice and they saw him, they would say, ‘Tell me about this kid.’ They weren’t knocking the door down.”

Baylor was the first high-major program to show interest and continued to pursue Edey, but others didn’t jump in immediately. As Edey improved, in part due to who he was playing against every day – current North Carolina star Armando Bacot, Charlotte Hornets center Mark Williams, and Jaden Springer, who attended Tennessee and is now with the Boston Celtics – his skillset became more basketball-centric.

“Since he played baseball and hockey, his movements weren’t awkward, but he didn’t have a lot of time under his belt because he’d been playing for three or four years. Everything was new,” Nash said. It’s not like you were getting a kid who had been playing since he was 8, 9, or 10 years old.  

“You could tell his motor skills were good – good eye-hand coordination and good hands, good feet. It was a matter of getting reps with him and getting confidence.”

After Edey reclassified prior to the start of his senior season, moving from the 2021 class to 2020, the interest picked up to where Purdue was a significant player and other programs started to take notice in the fall of 2019.

“There was a strong push of schools in mid-to-late October when the word started to get out about him,” Nash said. “It’s somewhat of a copycat recruiting thing because the first thing college coaches ask – ‘Who’s recruiting him?’ All of sudden, you name some high-level schools that are coming to see him, that created some additional interest.”

But by then, it was too late. Edey had settled on three schools.


Lutz was the first Purdue coach to see Edey in person, traveling to the initial NCAA College Basketball Academy in Houston in 2018. Edey, a junior at IMG Academy, attended with a group of players from Toronto since the NCAA opened the event to international teams and players.

Lutz wasn’t in attendance just to evaluate Edey. Other prospects were on his radar. But once Lutz saw him, the reaction was priceless.

“I see Zach and I’m like, ‘Holy sh__.’ He’s big, pretty good athlete,” Lutz said. “I said to myself, ‘I really like him.’  I called Paint and Paint is normal Paint: ‘Sounds good; go ahead and recruit him.’ ”

Although the staff moved forward in pursuing Edey, they were also looking at other big men – Hunter Dickinson, Ryan Kalkbrenner, and Colin Castleton in the same recruiting class. Dickinson and Castleton signed with Michigan and Kalkbrenner is at Creighton.

“And we got Zach,” Lutz said.

While prospects enjoy the constant attention of the recruiting experience – text messages, social media posts, etc. – the Edeys are different. The less, the better. They were trying to handle this new space and deal with the steady stream of communication coming from coaches.

“Although it’s really cool, it’s exhausting,” Julia said. “It’s not the way I’m built, or Zach is built. Just that constant, they’re calling you and we would tell the coaches – ‘if you want to build a relationship, call me less. Don’t call me more.’ ”

Initially, Purdue was looking at Edey as a 2021 recruit but once the decision to reclassify was made, Painter and his staff moved quickly to pursue him in the 2020 class.

Members of the coaching staff flew to Toronto to have dinner with the Edeys and they were trying to an arrange an official visit to campus. The first idea was to bring Edey to Purdue for a game with a sellout crowd, giving him a chance to experience the environment, soak up the atmosphere of the Paint Crew and the surroundings.

But it didn’t work with Edey’s timeline.

“We said, ‘If we wait, the decision is going to be done. You better decide if it’s OK for us to come to an intrasquad scrimmage,’ ” Julia said. “They were trying to figure out the other recruits. We were blown away by the intrasquad scrimmage because in Canada this isn’t normal.”

Edey stayed in the background when it came to the details of his recruiting. He let his family and IMG coaches handle most of the process. Who was interested? Who was coming to watch him practice or attend a game? Who was offering a scholarship?

“I tried to stay out of my recruiting as much as possible. It was distracting for me,” Edey said. The decision would be mine, but until I was ready to make it, I wanted to stay out of it a little bit.”

Purdue was always on Edey’s wish list. Julia played basketball in Toronto in the mid-1980s and remembers Purdue as one of the top programs in the United States. The school always stuck with her.

The same was true for Zach, who, after doing research, respected Painter’s development of big men over the years. He was interested, but the Boilermakers had yet to offer. Edey’s reclassification changed that.

Nash asked if there were other schools Edey wanted to consider. He mentioned Purdue and Gonzaga.

“Within the week, coach Paint called me, and I had reclassified at that time,” Edey said. “Paint called and talked to me, sent down Lutz, and he liked what he saw, and then we scheduled a visit. Within a week of calling me, I was on an official visit with Purdue.

“I really liked it, I enjoyed the guys and then within two weeks, I committed to Purdue. It was pretty quick.”

It’s clear that if Edey doesn’t reclassify, Purdue isn’t showing immediate interest. With the rate of improvement he’s showing, who knows where his recruiting will go during his senior season at IMG? Painter and his staff likely would have to battle more programs looking to sign Edey.

While his three main schools were Purdue, Baylor, and Santa Clara, Minnesota and Seton Hall were also in the mix. The list would’ve grown if he hadn’t made a decision before his senior season.

“It seemed to be on that trend,” Edey said. “I don’t know how much it would’ve blown up, but I definitely would’ve gotten a little more exposure and a few more offers.”


Julia was also at the NCAA Basketball Academy, watching her son compete and learning about what was next in the recruiting landscape. She had questions in her mind: Should Zach do a post-graduate year or possibly redshirt in college?

A text message pops up on her phone.

“I’m sitting there and Baylor messages me – ‘We’re here looking at your son,’ ” she said. “I’m like, ‘Who’s Baylor?’ ”

The conversation accelerated on the visit to Baylor. Julia was gathering as much information as possible to help make an informed decision. There were pros and cons.

“They said, ‘If you’re thinking about reclassifying him, we would take him and we would be happy. He may or may not redshirt but we would take him as a 2020,”  Julia recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘Now I see what this space is about.’

“Zach and I talked about it. If you do another year or a post-grad year, you’ll probably get 30-40 offers but is that what you want? He said, ‘Not at all.’ I’m happy with the ones that I got even though there are a few sitting in the bush that might come in. If they come, they come. If they don’t come, they don’t come. I’m ready to narrow it down.’ ”  

The visit to Baylor was informative and started to help shape the decision process.

Scott Drew is the program’s head coach and one of his assistants – now Kansas State head coach Jerome Tang – and the rest of the staff are leaving quite the impression.

This was Edey’s first trip to a campus after the NCAA changed its rules allowing juniors to take official visits. Edey, though, wasn’t considered a top prospect. Far from it. He was ranked No. 436 among high school players in the 2020 class, according to one website.

Drew was charming, put on the full-court press, and was eager to lure Edey and his talents to Waco. So much so that Edey was ready to commit and end his somewhat under-the-radar recruiting process.

“Zach said: ‘I want to come here.’ I can see why,” Julia said. “The main thing was the coaching staff was great, everything was great, but I said to coach Drew: ‘I need Zach to have something to compare it too. I don’t want him to marry the very first girl he falls in love with. And this is that situation. You may be the girl that he marries but he needs to have a comparison.’ ”

In typical Canadian fashion, Julia also used a hockey analogy to drive the point home. It’s best to speak the language everyone is familiar with.

“In hockey, there’s a 24-hour rule,” Julia explains. “If you’re upset because of something that’s happened, do not go to the coach for 24 hours. Just don’t do it.  I told Zach, ‘I would like to see you use a 48-hour rule if you can. When you get back to IMG and you still feel like you want to in two or three days and a week if you can manage it, yeah, do it.’

“I have nothing against Baylor, but I just want you to have time to think about it.”

Zach did think about it and obviously digested his Baylor visit, but he wanted to compare the school and basketball program to others. He meshed well with Drew and the coaching staff. He liked the campus. Baylor was extremely appealing.

He waited. Purdue became more involved and was an attractive option, based on the program’s overall history and Painter’s development of big men. A scholarship offer came from Painter, who always delivers that news personally.

“It didn’t feel like the right fit,” Zach said of Baylor. Purdue had a 7-footer on their roster, and they had a string of 7-footers, and Baylor had to bring out clips from 5-10 years ago. They had some good 7-footers, but they didn’t have any recently.”

But it wasn’t that easy.

Lutz said Edey “is a practical thinker – that’s the way I look at him.”

Painter sat down with Edey and walked him through the program’s philosophy of developing post players, using numbers and statistics to back up his points of emphasis.

“Paint is fantastic at this,” said Lutz, now the head coach at Western Kentucky after a stint at Texas A&M Corpus-Christi. “He goes through all the NCAA stats. ‘OK, these are the top five teams that have the most post touches and walks them through it.

‘All these people are going to tell you they’re going to utilize you, all these people tell you they’re going to throw the ball to the post, but these numbers say differently.’ ” 

Edey is different from any other player who’s come through the program. His development at IMG, followed by more improvement at Purdue under the tutelage of Painter and assistant coach Brandon Brantley, has sharpened his skills to the point that he’s been the best player in the country for two straight years.

It’s hard to imagine it happening anywhere else.

“Quite honestly, at most D-1 schools, the education is going to be reasonable but the three he was looking at, all solid choices,” Julia said. “But Purdue is neat. When we were looking, people did say you have seen West Lafayette – it’s a real college town. I got here and I thought, ‘It’s a college town. Let’s do it.’ ”


No one could have predicted how Edey’s college career would play out, and he didn’t have a bad choice among his final schools.

Baylor won the national championship when Edey was a freshman but has no regrets about bypassing the Bears. He certainly would’ve raised Santa Clara’s profile in the West Coast Conference.

In the Edey’s minds, Purdue had the total package, not only from a program standpoint but playing in the Big Ten, a marquee nonconference schedule and TV/media exposure is among the best in the country. The emphasis on playing through the post, surrounding their centers with shooters, a consistent culture that is unmatched by many programs fueled by the loyal and passionate fan base that embraced him.

As a Boilermaker, Edey put together dominating performances, won Big Ten and national awards, captured conference championships, played before sellout crowds – and unfortunately too many court storms on the road – and remained a steady spotlight in the national landscape and guided the program to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history.

He needs 41 points to surpass Rick Mount as the program’s all-time leading scorer and already holds the record for career rebounds. He’s done it in about three years since Edey split time with Trevion Williams as a freshman. Those are just the tip of his accomplishments and he’s certainly Hall of Fame worthy when the time comes.

Edey’s decision was monumental, program-changing and it’s an enormous challenge to put all of it in perspective as his career comes to end.

The simplest way is to return to Sunday during the Senior Day ceremonies.

At the top of the ramp leading to the tunnel in Mackey Arena, Edey and his family are waiting to be introduced. Fans, even a couple of cheerleaders, approach him seeking a picture or an autograph. He would later sign one of the Senior Day gold t-shirts for an admirer. He’s not bothered or put out. This is what Edey’s fame and stardom has created, and he’s accepted the role as the face of the program. He’s stayed after several games, often up to an hour or more, signing autographs.

Back to Sunday. A fan walks toward Edey with the same objective near the tunnel. But first, he tilts his head up, attempts to look Edey in the eye, and says, “Thank you.”

That’s a sentiment shared by the entire Purdue community.

More: Zach Edey and his leadership

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