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.