King thrilled to be bound for Final Four with Boilers

Sam King

As the clock ticked down on Purdue’s blowout win against Utah State in the Round of 32, Sam King knew exactly what he needed to do.

The 6-foot-8 sophomore walk-on from Columbus North perfectly positioned himself for a rebound on the left side of the lane, made a move to his right and banked in a layup. Those were the 105th and 106th points, giving the Boilermakers a school record scoring output for an NCAA Tournament game.

It was the only minute King has played in March Madness, but he was prepared.

“I had no clue about the record or anything,” King said. “Honestly, my mind was just focused, and if I got a chance to play at the end of the game and do what our program preaches, which is focusing on our role, I was ready for that. At the end of the game, all of our fans are cheering for the walk-ons, and it gives you a lot of energy. My job is to rebound, and somehow, it ended up in my hands, and I made a play.

“It’s nothing I haven’t done in practice,” he added. “Every day, the walk-ons play against the starting five and second five, so when we do get into games, we all stay calm and do our job. If something happens, and the ball winds up in your hands, you just make something happen just like if you were playing 20 minutes a game.”

But more importantly that any scoring records, Purdue is headed to its first Final Four in 44 years. The Boilermakers left Tuesday night for Arizona, where they will take on North Carolina State in the semifinals at 6:09 p.m. Saturday.

“It has been a little different,” King said. “Mostly, it’s just different because all the hype of the final four. We’ve been getting a little bit more attention lately nationally and around campus. The support staff has been the same. We aren’t going to let the national attention or the local attention or anything like that get in the way. We’ve had a good mental focus this whole season, and we’re just going to continue because of the importance. We just want to continue to do what’s best for us, which is focus, and allow this program to revolve around this culture and win games.”

The Boilers are in a vastly different position than they were at this time last year. They earned a No. 1 seed last season, but were upset in the first round by Fairleigh Dickinson, which became only the second No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1.

This year, Purdue landed a No. 1 seed again, and the Boilers have played like a No. 1 through four consecutive wins.

“Honestly, it’s been the same,” King said. “Winning helps that, but just from a team perspective and being around everybody, we’ve had the same culture from this year to last year. I think there’s a lot of similarities. Last year was amazing. This year is amazing. Just because we lost in the first round doesn’t define the year for us. When you have a program like this when everybody is awesome to you, and every person is a great person, last year, every day was awesome, and this year is awesome. The only difference is the outcome of the postseason so far.”

King, who has played a total of 12 minutes in six games this season, is one of five walk-ons among the 17 players on this year’s Purdue squad. He rooms with point guard Braden Smith and Cam Heide, who is the first guard off the bench. But he said the entire team is super close.

“There isn’t any of us that aren’t close,” King said. “It’s honestly kind of special what we have because we spend so much time together, and we appreciate the time we have together outside of basketball, whether that’s playing poker on away trips or just going out to eat. There’s times where we talk after practice in the locker room where we’re all just hanging out or having a good time. It’s kind of special. One-through-17, everybody is on the same level and playing field.”

The Republic Boys Basketball Player of the Year in 2022, King had offers to play at smaller schools and also had a chance to walk on at Northwestern. But he wanted to play for Purdue, and now, he’s enjoying the ride.

“It’s nothing short of insane and just crazy to think of the position that I would be in right now thinking back three or four years ago when I started my high school career,” King said. “Honestly, it’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid, as have most of the guys on this team. I still can’t wrap my head around it. It doesn’t even seem real. It’s just an amazing experience, especially with all my friends and teammates and everyone who is part of the program. It’s truly amazing.”