Matt Waddell Reflects on Basketball Career
Photographer / Justin Sicking
Matt Waddell has fond memories of his time playing basketball at Tipton High School. Though he played his freshman year at Western, his last three years were at Tipton, where his dad was an assistant basketball coach.
“Tipton was a great experience,” Waddell says. “Fans were really supportive and we had a full gym at every home game.”
Following games, he and his teammates would hang out at one of their houses or go to Pizza Shack by the track.
Waddell recalls their games against rival Tri-Central as always being loud. The teams faced off each year around Thanksgiving to vie for the Pilgrim Cup. During his junior and senior year, they played Anderson at the Wigwam in front of a giant crowd.
“I remember walking into gyms like that where they didn’t expect Tipton to be much or bring much, and then showing them what we could do,” Waddell says. “Those were fun games.”
He describes playing for Purdue University’s former Coach Gene Keady as difficult but enjoyable. Keady had a passion and excitement for the game and for his players that was palpable.
“What I appreciated about Coach Keady was that when he walked onto the court there was nobody more competitive, but off the court he had fun,” Waddell says. “He was a practical joker who liked to laugh, make fun of himself and make fun of us. I liked that balance.”
Having Glenn Robinson as a teammate was a dream.
“Playing with Glenn made my job easy because he was so good every single night,” Waddell says. “Our job was to get him the ball in the place he could score.”
As Robinson often got double teamed, Waddell and his teammates needed to be available to hit open shots. That’s precisely what happened during one of Waddell’s all-time favorite matchups – when Purdue played Michigan. It was the second to last game of the 1994 season and the Boilermakers were half a game behind in the Big Ten. At the time, Michigan still had four of the famed Fab Five recruiting class members (Chris Webber had left) and was leading the Big Ten.
“It was a game where we jumped off early and got a bit of a lead,” Waddell says. “They came back and it was tied at halftime. In the second half they jumped out, we were behind 10 to 15 points with three or four minutes to go, and then we went on a run during the last two minutes.”
Waddell hit a couple of three pointers, and Robinson hit one and got fouled. After fighting their way back, Robinson hit a shot with a couple of seconds left to win the game. The Boilermakers won the next game at home against Illinois, securing the Big Ten title that year.
The August before his senior year of college, Waddell was practicing at Mackey Arena when he tore his ACL.
“I lost a lot of opportunities I thought I was going to have after my senior year from a basketball standpoint,” Waddell says regarding the injury. He spent the year trying to recover.
“I wasn’t really healthy until the last 10 games or so, but by the end of the season I was exhausted,” he says. “My senior year was a blur in some respects because I was rehabbing all the time.”
After graduating he was ready to take a breather so his body could heal and his mind could rest.
“It was a stressful but successful senior year,” he says. “I needed to decompress. It can be a jolting experience when you’re accustomed to going 100 miles per hour with training, practices and playing college ball, to transitioning to a full-time job.”
Waddell had always had his sights set on obtaining his pharmacy degree, which is a major reason he chose to study at Purdue. Since then he’s enjoyed a career in the pharmaceutical industry. He worked for a couple of different companies before moving to Eli Lilly, where he’s been since 2002.
In 2017 Waddell was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame alongside Hoosier great Alan Henderson, with whom he played Amateur Athletic Union ball.
Waddell and his wife Kari, a radiologist, have a blended family of five children – Taylor, Brian, Emily, Grace and Jack. These days Waddell gets pleasure from watching his son Brian play for the Boilermakers.
“It’s awesome seeing him take off,” Waddell says. “He’s worked so hard on his game to be where he’s at. He’s earned it.”
Unfortunately, Brian, a redshirt freshman, followed in his dad’s footsteps and blew out his ACL.
“I told him this was the one part of the Waddell experience he could have skipped,” he says.
Waddell played with and briefly roomed with Matt Painter back in college. Now his former roommate is coaching his son.
“I like Matt’s honesty, transparency and directness,” Waddell says. “I just love what he has built and is building at Purdue. He’s not done yet. He’s got great players coming in and he’s got them playing the right way.”