It was good to get back in Mackey Arena today. Even against an overmatched opponent it was fun to see Purdue play a sport where it was expected to win big and still exceeded expectations. The tribute to Josh Spiedel was also a very class move by Purdue to honor a kid that would have played for the opposing team. Both Caleb Swanigan and Ryan Cline were Indiana All-Stars with him too, so it is not like he was a complete stranger to our guys.
Of course, the biggest news aside from a pair of wins over teams we were expected to beat was the news that A.J. Hammons was riding the end of the bench for both contests. When one of the top players in America is chained to the bench for two games while being dressed and participating in warm-ups it is a news story. So let's talk about it.
First off, to answer the many who have asked, no, I do not know what is going on behind the scenes. The closest we have is official word from basketball SID Chris Forman:
So yes, he is expected to play. This is a good thing. He has not been lost for the season and it seems like it is a minor, internal thing and not something crazy like he is running a cartel out of the locker room or knocking off Bar Barry's. We don't know what it is, but it is clear there are expectations that need to be met and he will play.
And really, we don't know. In a complete random chance meeting this morning I was in Merrillville after staying overnight in the Chicago area after yesterday's football game. The girl running the drive through noticed my Purdue gear, asked me if I was going to Lafayette for the game, and said she was A.J.'s cousin. So, I asked her, straight up, what she knew because she said she talks to him pretty regularly. She said even she didn't know, but he needed to do what he needs to do and get playing.
That's what makes this so frustrating. A.J. is a senior. He knows what is expected in the locker room by now and it should be easy for a senior to follow. Even Forman elaborated on this:
So there you have it. There are basically two options here:
Hammons does what he needs to do and gets back on the court as early as Wednesday. It is pretty clear we didn't need him to win the first two, so nothing is lost except for some statistical milestones. He comes back, never misses a beat, and Purdue goes on to have an excellent season. He puts up the numbers expected of him and gets drafted somewhere in the first round.
Hammons dallies around and doesn't do what he needs to do. He keeps sitting the bench and Isaac Haas keeps taking his minutes. Purdue shows it can still be very good even without him, as he looked pretty damn good today with the varying lineups it can run with Hammons and Haas. Even Jacquil Taylor gets more minutes in a pinch. When he returns he finds himself far behind in the rotation or his draft stock plummets because of these repeated issues (it is not his first suspension).
Do you really think he is going to not do what needs to be done and cost himself at least $943,300 as the rookie guaranteed minimum if he were picked as low as 30th in the draft? That's an awfully costly mistake if he does.
From all accounts it seems like he has an easy decision. There are clear, easy to meet expectations. If he meets them, he plays. If he doesn't, he sits. I think it would be pretty dumb of him to not do what must be done and throw away millions in salary.