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Purdue Basketball Recruiting: A.J. Hammons

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Of the four incoming recruits for 2012, I know the least about A.J. Hammons. I have never seen him play in person. I have seen a few YouTube clips, but that is really it when it comes to the extent of how I can evaluate him. Here is what I know.

  1. He's big, as in a legit 7', 260 pounds big.
  2. He's from Carmel, the team that just won the Class 4A Indiana state championship without him.
  3. He played for infamous Oak Hill Academy, a basketball-first high school in Virginia.

Please be patient with me as I try to evaluate Hammons. He was the latest addition to the class of 2012, agreeing to come on board just last October 13th. He is a high three-star according to Rivals that chose Purdue over Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Xavier, Cincinnati, and Georgia Tech. Rivals also gives him a national rating of 123, the lowest in our class.

ESPN is much higher on him, giving him an extra star and putting him 78th in their top 100. They also state that he is best at exactly what we need:

Hammons has great size and impacts the game with his post presence when motivated. He is a big bodied center that runs the floor well and has great hands. He is a huge post target that can score with power drop steps, Jump hooks and drop off passes.

The only troubling phrase in the above paragraph is the dread, "when motivated." We just kicked a guy out of the program for not having his give-a-shit turned on alt all times. In the rumors I have heard about Hammons motivation has been one of his top question marks, but he has all the physical tools needed. More importantly, we know coach Painter will do his best to light a fire under his ass.

Since I haven't seen enough on Hammons personally to give an accurate report on him, here is one from Phenom Hoop Report:

6'11 big man that runs the floor and has good hands is truly a blessing. Hammons has solid fundamentals and has good moves in the paint. He displayed a jump hook using either hand. Hammons has the ability to step out and knock down the mid range jumper, and displays a rather nice soft shooting touch. On the other hand, Hammons needs to improve his "toughness" and play at a higher level on a more consistent basis. Hammons has all the physical tools and a compliment of fundamentals and skill, but definitely needs to develop more passion and heart during an event. Hammons started off the event with a bang, but his play definitely tampered off after each camp game. Hammons best game was his first & second game.

That is a much earlier report from June 23rd, 2010, well before he committed to Purdue. As expected, his toughness, desire, and hustle were the biggest questions, and those all fall under the "give-a-shit" rhetoric. The most recent report, from January of this year, is more complimentary:

With the exception of the game against Miller Grove on national TV, Hammons has excelled in all of Oak Hill's key match-up games against nationally ranked teams. Against Millers Grove, he got whistles for two quick "nickel dime" calls and his foul problems prevented him from playing his normal game. While Hammons does have a tendency to play down to the competition, but he also has a tendency to play up against the best competition and it has been his steady improvement and development that has projected Hammons into a Top 50 player nationally in our opinion. While his overall stats will not "wow" you, it is his presence on the defensive end of the court that is impressive. In the blowout win over Prestonwood, his sheer presence on the interior set the tone for the Warriors of Oak Hill and his play on the second half of the season will help determine the chances/opportunity of giving Coach Steve Smith and Oak Hill its 8th National High School Championship.

I don't know about you, but that makes me incredibly excited to get a player like Hammons. I could care less about the wow factor. As a player like Marquis Teague shows, a wow factor is great on some plays, but when he can't hit a freaking jump shot to save his life he is eventually going to hit a wall. A player like Hammons just goes about his job on the court and lets the rest handle itself. Since we're a defense-first school, his defensive presence will perhaps have the biggest impact. There is something to be said for metronome-like consistency instead of fluctuating between jaw-dropping plays and bone-headed mistakes (a.k.a., the Barlow Syndrome).

This past season we struggled mightily to defend the perimeter, but part of that lies in having to play help defense on the interior away from the perimeter. If players like D.J. Byrd and Terone Johnson are forced to collapse down on a double team because Travis Carroll or Sandi Marcius cannot handle their post man one-on-one it opens things up for the kickout or the swing pass to an open shooter. This is why a team like Indiana was such a horrible matchup for us. They have multiple shooters and a deft passing big man.

It's not going to get any easier next year when Yogi Ferrell gets there. Ferrell made a killing on the drive and kickout three, but if Hammons can protect the rim it should allow our perimeter D to improve.

Offensively, like Jay Simpson, we're getting a player that we can chuck the ball to on the low post and get two points, and they can make each other better simply by being on the court at the same time. His numbers of 7.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks per game with 64% field goal shooting are a massive upgrade over the combined numbers of Carroll/Marcius/Jacob Lawson. In fact, if you combine all three you might get what Hammons had. Hammons also did it against a national schedule of some of the best possible high school talent he could face.

I know it is an old point, but it is still big that Hammons now gives us the depth to move Carroll and Lawson to the four, which is their more natural position. Instead of having our one post player coming 20 feet out from the basket to set screens in our offense we can have one at the top to screen and another to be there for the dish off of drive. We can now play high-low, screen and roll, and even go big to take advantage of smaller lineups. When the law firm of Johnson, Johnson, and Johnson drives they now can have a guy waiting there for the dish and dunk, be it Hammons or Simpson. Hammons is also a good passer, so he can find the open man if he draws a double team himself, unlike Marcius, who can be somewhat of a black hole when he gets the ball on the block. With him, the ball often does not come out until he A., makes a slow turnaround shot, or B. turns it over.

The give-a-shit has to be there though. As we know, if he doesn't play with fire, he won't play. Hammons has the potential to leave the biggest impact of the four incoming players simply because we don't have anyone like him on the roster at the moment. There is a reason that his rankings vary so much from one service to the other though. He has to come in and play with the tenacity that we expect out of Purdue basketball players. If he does, watch out.