A.J. Hammons

Purdue’s A.J. Hammons looking to take leadership role in 2014-15

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After averaging 10.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game as a sophomore, Purdue center A.J. Hammons considered passing up his final two seasons of eligibility to enter the 2014 NBA Draft. Given the Boilermakers’ lack of experience in the paint with Travis Carroll and Errick Peck having both run out of eligibility, Hammons’ departure would have been a major blow for Matt Painter’s team to absorb.

Ultimately Hammons made the decision to return to West Lafayette for his junior season, stating his desire to not only help lead Purdue back to the postseason but also contend for a Big Ten title. With the loss of the two forwards mentioned above, as well as guards Terone and Ronnie Johnson, Hammons will be Purdue’s most productive returnee next season. With that distinction comes the need to be more consistent in the box score, but it will also require more from Hammons from a leadership standpoint.

In an interview with Nathan Baird of the Lafayette Journal & Courier, leadership was one of the topics Hammons discussed with the rising junior noting just how much his play will influence team success.

“Yes, because I kind of noticed it,” Hammons said. “If I don’t go as hard as I need to, my team will probably slack off. So I need to just step up as a leader and show everyone what I can do and show the team and keep them going. I have to step up as a leader this year and do something I’m not used to. I’ve got to step up and try to push my team to go harder.”

Leadership was just one of the issues for Purdue (15-17, 5-13 Big Ten) last season, with many of the players being underclassmen and two of the four seniors graduate transfers (Peck and guard Sterling Carter). Having talent is great, but the intangibles are just as important for teams looking to put together a good season.

In addition to Hammons the Boilermakers will return promising young players such as guards Kendall Stephens and Basil Smotherman, and in the paint incoming freshmen Jacquil Taylor and Isaac Haas will need to contribute given the lack of depth in the paint. And just how much Purdue improves next season will depend largely upon the development of Hammons, as both a player and a leader.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady ‘awake, alert’ after getting stretchered off court

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Wichita State big man Anton Grady was stretchered off of the floor in the second half of a loss to Alabama after a nasty collision with Dazon Ingram.

The video can be seen above. There was nothing malicious about the way that Grady was injured. When he turned to run up the floor after missing a shot in the lane, he went face first into Ingram’s shoulder. He neck bent in an awkward directions and, after stumbling a few steps, he laid motionless on the floor.

It took 10 minutes for the training staff to strap Grady to a backboard and wheel him out of the arena.

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A Wichita State spokesman told NBCSports.com that Grady was taken to a local trauma center for evaluation and that he is “awake, alert and is answering questions appropriately”.

We will have more updates as they come available.

From a basketball perspective, the No. 20 Shockers lost their second game in a row and are now 2-3 on the season.

While for some the Shockers’ résumé is up for questioning following losses to USC and Alabama, two teams projected to finish in the bottom half of their respective leagues, the team’s health is the biggest concern.

Fred VanVleet has been dealing with a hamstring issue since the season began, and an ankle injury limited him in a loss at Tulsa earlier this month. He won’t play again until at least Dec. 5th. and who knows when he’ll be back to full strength. The same can be said for back up point guard and freshman Landry Shamet, who underwent surgery to address a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Their injuries have led to even more being asked of senior guard Ron Baker, and the loss of Grady for any significant amount of time certainly isn’t going to help matters..

These early-season losses won’t help Wichita State when it comes to the NCAA tournament, but it’s important to make note of the circumstances surrounding those defeats. To be shorthanded, with one of the absent players ranking among the nation’s best point guards, has an impact that has to be accounted for when evaluating Wichita State. The Shockers will add Conner Frankamp in mid-December, which will help them on the perimeter.

But with their rotation currently being in flux, it’s tough to make any definitive statements on what Wichita State will have to do in order to make another trip to the NCAA tournament. At this point Gregg Marshall and his staff will look for other contributors, one of whom being Markis McDuffie (14 points, seven rebounds vs. Alabama), to emerge and show themselves capable of picking up the slack.