Today we take a look a player who plays bigger than he is and is hoping to make a big impact this season and beyond.
P.J. Thompson - So.
Indianapolis, IN (Brebeuf Jesuit Prep)
5'10", 188 pounds
2015-16 Projection: Possible starter at point guard, definite contributor
The least heralded member of the sophomore class, P.J. only started one game last season, against IPFW. This season he should start more often and see the court more as he and Johnny Hill are the only true point guards on the roster. The battle between the two for the starting role appears to have gone to Hill by a narrow margin for now, but that could change by the season opener on Friday. Especially considering Thompson's six assist performance against UNOH in the exhibition.
P.J. is the most overlooked player on Purdue's roster, both literally and figuratively. There isn't anything fancy about his game. He doesn't cross guys up, dunk, or throw no-look passes. He just quietly does his job while the media and the fans marvel at the giants up front. P.J.'s game seems to be about out-working his opponent, and I think that is why a lot of Purdue fans appreciate him despite his pedestrian stat lines.
The list of things that P.J. needs to improve from last season is long, yet so is the list of things that I trust he has improved. That is because he exudes the type of attitude we, as fans, love to see from Purdue players. The same attitude we see from Rapheal Davis. I know P.J. Thompson spent extra time working on his game outside of practice, and I don't know this because he or someone else told the media. I know it because his attitude on and off the court last season tells me he isn't going to be satisfied with how he played last season.
Nothing about 2.4 ppg, 1.1 apg, 33.3% from the field, or 28.6% from deep says that a player will be a capable point guard for a Top 25 team. In fact, it kind of suggests the opposite, yet most Boiler fans are supremely optimistic about P.J. Thompson. Is it blind faith from a fan base grasping at straws? No, our optimism comes from our ability to spot heart. Even from the value seats in section 112, a seasoned Purdue fan can perceive a Boilermaker's spirit. We can see it now because we've watched it before, in Hummel, in Landry, in Kramer, in Rapheal, in Cardinal, and so many others. No fan base respects a player's desire and willingness to work more than us, and we pick it out quicker than anyone. It is why our students count defensive turnovers instead of dunks, why even our practice shorts say "PLAY HARD" and why we swoon every time Hammons shows heart and grumble when he doesn't.
Please forgive me for my hyperbole, and excuse me while I shed a tear...
Thompson has that Purdue heart, and that counts for something. He may not be a clear starter for us, but that is not what is important for our guys. What is important is to compete hard against each other every day in practice, and still come together as a team. I will leave you with a quote that perfectly exemplifies that last point:
Johnny Hill on P.J. Thompson: "At the end of the day, he's always helpful and giving me pointers because he's been here - he's been in the system. It's always nice to have people that that are going to compete, but at the same time, there's no jealousy or enviousness towards one another."