Indiana native Kiermaier pumped for Purdue hoops

Indiana native Kiermaier pumped for Purdue hoops

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Kevin Kiermaier is a Purdue basketball lifer.

On Saturday afternoon, that meant rushing to an Applebee's to see the final minutes of the Boilermakers' 76-59 win over Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.

"I've loved Purdue basketball since I was a little kid," Kiermaier said. "I try not to miss a game."

The Rays' center fielder acknowledged that being a Purdue basketball fan hasn't always been easy.

"They went through a tough stretch there when I was growing up," Kiermaier said. "Then this class at Purdue came in. It was Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore and Chris Kramer. Once those guys got on campus, Purdue started taking off."

Kiermaier, who hails from Fort Wayne, Ind., experienced a thrill this past offseason when the Purdue basketball team welcomed him and his brother and friends as special guests for their win over Vanderbilt.

"I had all access," Kiermaier said. "Went to the shoot-around, did everything. Got to meet a Purdue great, Brian Cardinal, who is a legend there. He's known as 'The Janitor.' Just a scrappy, hard-working guy. I loved the way he played. And for me to get to shoot around with him and my buddies this past offseason was so cool."

Purdue faced Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament final on Sunday afternoon, which explained Kiermaier's Purdue wardrobe on Sunday morning. And though they lost to the Spartans, the Boilermakers are expected to make next week's NCAA Tournament. Kiermaier noted that he has never been a slave to his Purdue allegiance when filling out his brackets, though.

"I stay realistic," Kiermaier said. "It's not one of those things where I'm going to pick them as the champion every year. I'm going to stick true to my expectations, so there are times when I've picked against Purdue. It's a somewhat win-win for me, because if the other team wins, I have a better chance of winning the pool. But at the same time, I'm much happier if Purdue wins. That's kind of how I balance it out."

Kiermaier believes the Boilermakers have as good a chance as any team in this year's tournament, which appears up for grabs.

"That's the great thing about college basketball," Kiermaier said. "There wasn't a dominant team the whole year. That's why I think March Madness is going to be one of the best ever this year. Every March, anything can happen. I can see a 4 or a 5 seed winning it. It just depends on who goes on a run at the right time."

Kiermaier doesn't think the tournament will be wide open enough to facilitate a No. 1 seed losing to a No. 16, but he does believe some No. 13 or No. 14 seeds might do some damage.

"I love it," Kiermaier said. "That first Thursday there are always some good upsets. I can't wait to watch the Selection Sunday Show and have great TV for the next five, six weekends."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.