Purdue head coach Matt Painter directs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Penn State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 13, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast
March 17, 2015

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) As strange college basketball journeys go, Jon Octeus' is unique.

With a year of eligibility remaining, the former Colorado State point guard was ready to play for UCLA.

But after his graduate school admission was denied in September, Octeus was a basketball player looking for a home. Purdue needed help, Octeus signed on and now he has led the Boilermakers back to the NCAA Tournament.

''This has been a wild ride, for sure,'' he said. ''When I decided to leave Colorado State, I wanted to play in a conference where I would be playing against future NBA players, day in and day out, and against potential Hall of Fame coaches. In that respect, Purdue was a good deal.''

The Boilermakers might have gotten the better end of the bargain.

Octeus has started all 33 games this season, averaging 9.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He is shooting 50 percent from the floor, including 34.8 percent from 3-point range, and 72.4 percent from the free throw line. He leads the team in steals with 34 and is tied for the team lead in assists (88).

Without him, the Boilermakers (21-12) probably wouldn't be playing in the tournament for the first time since 2012. Ninth-seeded Purdue plays eighth-seeded Cincinnati on Thursday night. The winner advances to a likely matchup with unbeaten Kentucky.

''It would have been difficult for us, because Jon is such a key part to our team,'' said Rapheal Davis, the Big Ten defensive player of the year. ''He has been unbelievable, even more than what people see, things that don't show up in a boxscore.''

Octeus didn't have much time to get acclimated to his new team, either.

Classes at UCLA began Sept. 29, but six days earlier, Octeus was denied admission to graduate school after earning his bachelor's degree in communications at Colorado State.

''Everybody in the country knew, but it was just so late in the process, and we were trying to gather information,'' Purdue coach Matt Painter said. ''In reality, we didn't feel like we could get him because it was so late.''

Several other schools wanted Octeus to come at the start of the second semester, but Indiana native and UCLA assistant coach Ed Schilling helped put Painter and Octeus in touch. Octeus was familiar with Purdue, thanks to his junior college coach, and he enjoyed watching the Boilermakers when they had E'Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson.

''Some people tried to tell me that Purdue wasn't supposed to be that good this season, but then I saw a practice, and I was said, `There is no way they won't be good,''' Octeus said. ''It made my decision very easy. It wasn't like Purdue was foreign to me.''

Purdue accepted Octeus into the school of technology master's program. It was a first-time experience for Painter, and certainly for Octeus.

Until then, Octeus had considered playing overseas or in the NBA's D-League.

''We were just in the right place at the right time,'' Painter said. ''It ended up working, and the rest is history. He has a lot of substance. He was able to really help us in that area. We did not have a lot of upperclassmen. He gave us experience and leadership. ... He is not that quintessential point guard, but yet he brings a lot of positive qualities, especially when you get into the halfcourt because of his ability to rebound, defend and make a play.''

Growing up in Miami and then Palm Beach, Florida, Octeus dreamed of playing receiver for his beloved Miami Dolphins.

Until seventh grade, he played only football, finally trying out for the basketball team. Three years later, Octeus stopped playing football to focus on his new favorite sport.

Now, he'll finish his college career by returning to the NCAA Tournament.

''I am very satisfied,'' Octeus said. ''To end up here and to have a successful season at Purdue is a great feeling. I can mesh with a lot of different people.''

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