On the heels of their first NCAA tournament appearance in three seasons, Purdue is preparing for a 2015-16 season in which there will be heightened expectations. Of the ten players to average 10.7 minutes or more per contest a season ago nine return, and additions such as grad student Johnny Hill and five-star freshman Caleb Swanigan are expected to have an impact as well.
With that comes increased competition for playing time, and in the Boilermakers’ preseason preparations that’s serving as additional motivation according to Nathan Baird of the Lafayette Journal & Courier. Veterans such as seniors Rapheal Davis and A.J. Hammons, with the former due to be team captain for a third consecutive season, aren’t resting on past accomplishments and neither are their younger teammates.
Because doing so leaves one at risk of finding themselves on the outskirts of Matt Painter’s rotation.
You’ve got to fight day in and day out,” Hammons said. “We’ve got four bigs now, so my spot can get taken at any point. Even though I’ve been here four years and have more experience, it doesn’t really matter, because I know I came in as a freshman and started.”
So did now-sophomore Isaac Haas, who temporarily outplayed Hammons last season and overtook him for starting duties. Hammons adopted the mentality Purdue coach Matt Painter said he wants from his entire roster — that temporary physical pain or mental fatigue are preferable to falling down the depth chart.
Having competition within a roster is definitely a positive, especially if all involved compete while also pushing towards the common goal of winning games. Purdue, which managed to earn a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament, took an important step forward last season and given their talent can do even more in 2015-16.
The question at this stage is just how deep Painter will go in his rotation, with there being a host of possibilities at his disposal. The goal for his players is to make the process a difficult one, by not resting on their laurels and being ready to compete every day.
In 2014-15 Purdue was one team that had good fortune when it came to adding a graduate student to the mix, with former Colorado State guard Jon Octeus being a key player on a young team that reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in three seasons. The hope in West Lafayette is that they’ll have similar luck with Johnny Hill, as the former UT-Arlington guard has decided to use his final year of eligibility at Purdue.
Purdue will be the 6-foot-3 guard’s third college stop, as he played two seasons at Illinois State before deciding to transfer to UT-Arlington following a coaching change at ISU. In his lone season at UT-Arlington, Hill averaged 10.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
Hill played in just 21 of the Mavericks’ 31 games last season due to a wrist injury suffered in a win at Louisiana February 7. Considered one of the Mavericks’ best defenders, Hill made 15 starts and played an average of 26.9 minutes per game.
His addition gives Purdue more depth and experience on the perimeter, with upperclassmen Rapheal Davis and Kendall Stephens and rising sophomores P.J. Thompson and Dakota Mathias being the returnees from last year’s NCAA tournament team. The Boilermakers also add two freshmen to the perimeter mix in Grant Weatherford and Ryan Cline.
Hill’s commitment means that Purdue has one scholarship remaining for the 2015-16 season, with the program among many in the race for former Michigan State commit Caleb Swanigan.
News of Hill’s commitment was first reported by ESPN.com.
With graduate student Jon Octeus being the biggest personnel loss for Purdue at the end of the 2014-15 season, one major question remained unanswered: what would 6-foot-11 center A.J. Hammons do? A second team All-Big Ten selection in 2014-15, the junior was faced with the NBA question for a second consecutive spring.
And just as he did last year, Hammons has decided to return to West Lafayette for another season. Hammons announced the news at halftime of the football team’s spring game.
“Earning my degree is one of the most important goals that I have for myself and returning to Purdue next year will enable me to reach that,” Hammons said in a release sent out by the school. “In addition, I feel that our team has a lot of unfinished business to reach next season and I want to be a part of something special.
“Purdue is an outstanding school with great people and the chance to compete for a Big Ten Championship and more is something I want to experience again with my teammates.”
Hammons and rising sophomore Isaac Haas give Purdue a substantial amount of size in the middle, with the latter developing into a quality option as the 2014-15 season progressed. And they have a host of options on the perimeter as well, with rising sophomores Vince Edwards and Dakota Mathias being joined by veterans such as Rapheal Davis, Kendall Stephens and Basil Smotherman.
If they’re one question for Purdue heading into the summer it’s the point guard spot, and with Octeus out of eligibility the Boilermakers will be young there. P.J. Thompson will be a sophomore, and Grant Weatherford is one of two freshmen joining the program with a talented shooting guard in Ryan Cline being the other.
Purdue may not be placed on the level of Maryland and Michigan State when it comes to assessing the contenders in the Big Ten, but they aren’t to be overlooked either. Hammons’ decision to return for his senior season ensures that Matt Painter’s team will be a factor in the conference race.