(Sorry for the lateness of this post. The news broke last night as I was going to bed and I had to sub teach away from internet most of the morning. As you read this I am likely driving toward State College, PA)
Our friends in Bloomington were awful proud of themselves a few months ago when Rivals rated them as the #1 recruiting class in the country for 2012. Led by players like Hanner Perea and Kevin Ferrell, they have some talent coming in that will try to lead the program back. Many Hoosier fans perceived their return as a God-given right, and the top recruiting class was evidence of that. They mocked up for our own recruiting efforts of merely being a top 10 class.
As one of their former coaches would say, "Not so fast, my friend."
I use Indiana as an example because, like it or not, we're going to be compared to them in this state even though we're more on par with Michigan State and Ohio State in the conference. We really need to look at this class as Tupac's "Hit ‘em up". "Cody's five stars couldn't stop me, I took it smiled."
You see, the 2012 classes are not solidified. Our original group of Kyle Mollock, Rapheal Davis, and Jay Simpson was a solid class, but we've known about them for awhile. In the past few months alone we have seen Mollock decommit, only we turned him into Ronnie Johnson (younger brother of Terone Johnson). Patrick Bade then decided he would rather sit the bench for football instead of basketball, thus opening another spot for 2012. Last night we turned that scholarship into the big center we have coveted for some time.
I'm sure you know by now because of Twitter and the good folks at Boiled Sports, but we got A.J. Hammons last night. Hammons is nothing less than a true center that when paired with the talent we have returning next season, can be an immediate impact player without the pressure of having to do everything from day one. As much as I want Gary Harris, we needed a big banger in the paint to make this team more versatile. We now have that banger.
You see, that is where we differ from Indiana at the moment. They have excellent talent coming in, but they are being asked to raise a team that has resided in the Big Ten's basement for the last three years. Cody Zeller this year makes them better, but few are expecting them to be an NCAA Tournament team immediately. Hammons, Simpson, Davis, and RJ come into a program that has recently won a Big Ten championship, has been a top four seed for two years running in the NCAA's, and is starting from a much higher place than the Hoosiers.
It is easier to reach the top when you start higher. If you're climbing Everest it's easier if you start at 20,000 feet than 15,000 feet. Right now, Indiana is at about sea level and we're at least on the Tibetan plateau. He will have every advantage that JaJuan Johnson never had. During JJ's four years here is what we had to help him in the post:
Nemanja Calasan - Not a true center and more of a power forward that shot threes for his two seasons.
Chris Reid - a practice player at best.
The Traitor - Left after one year
Robbie Hummel - injured for the last 1.25 seasons.
Carroll - A 6'10" freshman for one season that lacked the definition and experience to bang in the Big Ten.
Marcius - A center who had the size, but little basketball experience for one season.
Bade - Very green as a freshman, saw his minutes deteriorate as a sophomore.
Meanwhile, here is what Hammons will have:
Carroll - with two years of experience and ability to add bulk in the new weight room
Marcius - with two years of experience and hopefully more polish. His European hook shot could be a nice weapon
Lawson - He looks like a prototypical rebound and dunk guy. Just ask Ohio State how much they enjoyed Dallas Lauderdale doing that and only that.
Hale - Robbie 2.0?
Simpson - JJ 2.0?
Hammons gets all of that with him, not scattered across his four years like JJ had. JJ's best year came when he had the most help, but that was only with the limited Hanson Brothers this past season. Hammons will get no less than five other post players.
Of course, the biggest question now regards this entire class and if we are done adding guys. I am of course referring to Gary Harris. It seems like Indiana is botching the final stages of his recruitment in every way possible, and I am unsure of their scholarship situation in the first place. The easiest way to figure out our scholarship situation is to look at what we lose. This year Robbie Hummel, Lewis Jackson, and Ryne Smith will finish their eligibility. We also had an extra scholarship open with the departure of Bade, but it is filled right now by Dru Anthrop, who was rewarded with a scholarship this year because of the opening and his two years as a walk-on. We are technically full, with room for our one oversign.
The key player in the Gary Harris sweepstakes is John Hart, who is in his fourth year in the program, but third in eligibility. There have been rumors that he will graduate and finish his career this year, thus opening a spot for Harris. There is also the very unlikely, but possible, option that Harris throws a curveball and comes to Purdue for football, only to walk-on to the basketball team. His scholarship would then count towards football, not basketball.
On paper this class, with Harris, is virtually perfect and could unseat IU as the #1 class in the nation. We would get a starter caliber player at all five positions on the floor with RJ at the point, Harris as the athletic two, Davis as a solid and versatile three, Simpson at the four, and Hammons at the five. Better yet, Davis and Simpson are playing together this year already at LaLumiere, and they are learning the weaknesses of Perea's game too. Each player would have a talented older mentor for them. I'd imagine a senior Kelsey Barlow would start at the point next year based on experience. TJ will be a junior and likely a starter (and you know RJ knows how to play with him). D.J. Byrd would be a senior starter at the three. The Carroll-Marcius-Hale-Lawson group would be solid players too. I haven't even mentioned Anthony Johnson, a four-star shooting guard and potential three-point assassin that we had the luxury of redshirting. If he can come in and just be the guy that cans open jumper after open jumper because teams are worried about everyone else he will be a dangerous weapon.
One of my favorite things about Painter is that he sees how players fit together as a team. Instead of looking for great individual talent he looks for pieces that will fit within his system. He sees the offense and defense as one functioning unit as opposed to five separate parts. The team he has assembled for 2012-13 has all the pieces in the right place and even depth behind them. With superior talent than anything he has had in his time at Purdue, these guys can accomplish amazing things. Just look at how well the 2009-10 team was playing before That Game in Minneapolis. We had talent, depth, experience, and poise. As a result, we were destroying the competition because everyone was functioning as a single unit. This 2012 class has the ability to be better than that and they have more experienced pieces in place with them. They then can be the experienced guys when a talented 2013 and 2014 class gets there. Realistically, this class can dream of multiple Final Fours if they stick together.