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.
“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.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.