For those who didn’t know the back story, it was certainly unexpected on Nov. 9 to see Purdue’s basketball student section – the Paint Crew – waving signs supporting a player on the opposing team.
There was even an oversized banner hanging from the front row of the Paint Crew bleachers declaring that this opponent, Texas guard Andrew Jones, was unstoppable.
It was unusual, yes, but the four Boilermakers who made the banner – three of whom are College of Liberal Arts students – offered a simple explanation: Some things are bigger than basketball.
You see, Jones was not just any opponent. He was playing in just his second game back with the Longhorns after missing most of the last two seasons while undergoing treatment for leukemia. What better reason for fans on both sides to celebrate?
“We talked about it the night we made the sign that if we were him and we saw that sign, that would pump you up so much for the game and give you some courage for it,” said Hannah Rollins, a sophomore in visual communication design and communication, who made the banner with Kappa Delta sorority sisters Amanda Schafer, Shelby Novitski, and Ana Maksimovich. Their warm reception seemed to have the desired effect. Jones told Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel afterward that it was “amazing” to have opposing fans receive him like that. Longhorns coach Shaka Smart was also touched by the gesture, calling Purdue “a class place.”
“A big reason why I chose Purdue was that sports aspect, but also the aspect of if any school was going to do that, I think it’s Purdue,” Rollins said.
“It’s a very great representation of how our fans are and how our school is,” added Maksimovich, a sophomore in mechanical engineering.
The banner also had personal meaning for Rollins.
Like most folks, she has had close friends and family members affected by cancer. Kathleen Soller, her best friend since kindergarten, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma during high school and beat the disease. She now plays lacrosse at Saint Mary’s College. And this summer, Rollins’ father was diagnosed with appendix cancer.
“He’s perfectly fine now,” Rollins said. “I think when Kathleen was diagnosed her junior year, that was [tough]. I had lost quite a few people in my life to cancer already by that point, but she was the first really close person to me that it ever affected. So it was just a different context of it, and then this summer, that was a whole other context of it.”
Those concerns are nearly a universal experience, which the students wanted to symbolize in their banner design. On one side is the Texas Longhorn logo. On the opposite side is Purdue’s Boilermaker Special. Connecting the two logos in the center is an orange ribbon symbolizing leukemia awareness.
“We’re really proud of the graphics,” said Schafer, a sophomore in industrial design. “I think it was Ana’s idea because we wanted to show how it was more than sports – so the coming together of the Longhorn and the train, connected by the leukemia ribbon.”
The group also obsessed over the phrasing of their message, eventually settling on text that read, “Andrew Jones is unstoppable.”
“The idea process I think took us the longest,” said Novitski, a junior in visual communication design. “We had to figure out what words worked the best for what we wanted to do.”
Rollins first suggested making the banner on Friday night, about 24 hours before the next day’s Purdue-Texas game. Once the group settled on a design around 8 p.m., they purchased supplies and worked on the banner for several hours before finally completing it around 3 a.m.
It was hanging in a prominent place along the baseline at gametime, just below the Paint Crew’s “Defense Lives Here” sign that keeps a running tally of opponent turnovers. And when Jones checked in about five minutes into the game, Purdue’s students greeted him with more than just the banner. They also waved dozens of orange signs that said, “Welcome back AJ.”
“I think everyone gets caught up in the competitiveness, which is really awesome,” Maksimovich said, “but then something like this kind of makes you realize, ‘OK, we’re all here and in it together.’ ”
The Longhorns guard went on to help Texas rally for a 70-66 win, converting all four of his free-throw attempts in the game’s final 21 seconds. He told Doyel after the game that it was the first time during his comeback that fans had made a banner honoring him – a sign that the students gave to a Texas assistant coach afterward in hopes that he would deliver it to Jones.
“After the game, we were taking down the sign, so we were on the court untying it and some Texas fans approached us,” Schafer said. “I think they were the parents of one of the assistant coaches who had coached for Michigan before, so they were familiar with the Big Ten environment and travel to a lot of basketball games.
“They said, ‘This is just one of the most loving and supportive arenas to be in – even if you’re on the opposite team. You can feel not only the love for Purdue, but the love for the game and the spirit and hype that comes with it.’ It was really cool hearing that from our opponents.”
Like the students said, sometimes it really is about more than just a game.