AL HAMNIK: Purdue's Cardinal found his niche among NBA's freaks and phenoms

2013-05-25T18:15:00Z 2013-09-16T19:03:16Z AL HAMNIK: Purdue's Cardinal found his niche among NBA's freaks and phenomsAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
May 25, 2013 6:15 pm  • 

You watch LeBron James take off at midcourt for a windmill dunk or Kevin Durant pull up for a 3, then fall backwards into the third row.

The NBA is a freak show of talent, agreed?

It's like the Marines. Only a few are chosen.

Brian Cardinal was an exception, not just because he stood 6-foot-8.

He played ball at Unity High School in Tolono, Ill., where his stats were off the charts. At Purdue, he had three pretty good coaches in headmaster Gene Keady and assistants Frank Kendrick and Bruce Weber.

Cardinal starred from 1996 to 2000, during which the Boilermakers were 85-31. His teammates included Brad Miller, Chad Austin and Jaraan Cornell.

The only Boilermaker to earn the "Mr. Hustle Award" and "Courage Award" four years in a row, Cardinal was drafted in the second round by Detroit.

Despite a game as flashy as jean shorts and white socks, he enjoyed a nice 12-year NBA career culminating in a championship ring with Dallas in 2011.

Cardinal was nicknamed "The Custodian" because of the way he cleaned the floor diving for loose balls at Purdue.

His break-neck play continued as a key reserve in Detroit, Washington, Golden State, Memphis, Minnesota and Dallas. He had found a niche. He made a good living playing among the freaks and phenoms.

It can be done, you see.

"I appreciated who I was and I got around people who appreciated what I could do," Cardinal said. "I didn't try to do things I wasn't very good at. I was solid at a lot of things. I did some things better than others. I tried to stay within myself."

Cardinal now works for the John Purdue Club and joined the coaches caravan last Thursday at the Radisson. The guy looks like he could still play, which is probably why fans asked for his autograph, figuring he was one of Matt Painter's current stars.

"A lot of people focus on who they're not and get themselves in trouble," Cardinal added. "I understood I was a scrappy guy. That's how I survived at Purdue. That's how I survived in the NBA."

He also developed a dependable 3-point shot to make sure he wasn't a liability.

"There's a lot of guys who struggle and bring only one thing to the table," Cardinal said. "I tried to bring a variety of things."

Purdue certainly appreciated his many contributions to the university, naming the practice court in the Mackey Arena Complex for Cardinal and wife Danielle (Bird), who starred on the Boilers' 1999 women's national championship team.

Looking back now, not bad for a guy who averaged only 4.6 points in 456 games while sharing the court with potential NBA Hall of Famers.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

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