WEST LAFAYETTE − Bucky McMillan for two years called schools in the SEC and ACC.
McMillan coaches the Samford Bulldogs, a mid-major basketball program in Birmingham, Alabama, that competes in the SoCon (Southern Conference).
For programs like Samford to survive, it takes fundraising and it relies on payouts from larger schools to come play in their arena and presumably be on the wrong end of a beating.
Those SEC and ACC schools wouldn’t add Samford to the schedule.
But without those games, Samford struggles financially to get by.
Purdue was willing to open the 2023-24 basketball season against Samford in Mackey Arena.
“I really appreciate Purdue and the coaching staff for giving us this opportunity because it really helps our program and it helps us on so many fronts,” McMillan said after the Boilermakers had little trouble in a 98-45 win over Samford Monday night. “One thing I respect about coach (Purdue’s Matt Painter) is he’s always stood up for mid majors. I’ve been to these NCAA meetings and he stood up for mid majors.”
But Samford saw an opportunity to cash in beyond one Purdue buy game.
So the Bulldogs got creative, creating a social media skit series to train 5-foot-7 sophomore guard Dallas Graziani to jump center against Purdue’s 7-4 Zach Edey, last season’s National Player of the Year.
The idea was Graziani needed to get four inches taller each day in anticipation of the showdown.
Props to Samford.
The Bulldogs actually sent Graziani to do the jump ball.
As expected, Edey won the tip.
“We knew whoever we put out there probably wasn’t going to win the tip, right?” McMillan said. “We knew that. Basketball is supposed to be fun, particularly a game like this.”
Edey had fun, too, laughing at the social media posts from Samford’s men’s basketball account.
“We lined up at the free throw line and I told him I guess you didn’t get four inches better today,” Edey said.
Samford isn’t a pushover.
Last year the Bulldogs went 21-11.
But all those calls to SEC and ACC schools went ignored.
The most prominent opponent on Samford’s schedule last season was DePaul, a Big East school that ended up going 10-23.
Two years ago, two major conference schools agreed to host Samford, Oregon State from the Pac-12 and Mississippi from the SEC. Samford beat both of them, which is great for Samford and not great all in the same. Major programs don’t want to risk an embarrassing loss.
Purdue agreed to play Samford, a team Painter caught wind of while looking at a guard he wanted in the transfer portal.
Samford wisely took an opportunity and turned it into a bigger one.
“The reality is we’re in Alabama, which is a major football state,” McMillan said. “We’re fighting for publicity. We had to let everybody know basketball season is here.
“It worked. We already broke the record for ticket sales here a day ago for the season. That was kind of our deal just to let everybody know basketball season is here.”
Sam King covers sports for the Journal & Courier. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samueltking.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Promotion puts Samford in spotlight against Purdue basketball