Our final player review is reserved for the big man himself. A.J. Hammons had an excellent senior season that could be capped tonight if he wins the Kareem Abdul Jabbar Award for the nation's best center. He is one of five finalists, and the award will be announced live on ESPN2 tonight during the College Basketball Awards Show.
It seems odd that we are saying goodbye to AJ. We have seen him morph from shy freshman into A.J. HAMMONS DESTROYER OF WORLDS. He finished this year as a First Team all-Big Ten selection, the B1G Defensive Player of the Year, an honorable mention All-American, and more. In a few months he will be drafted and start his long awaited NBA career. It is just a damn shame he never won an NCAA game.
14.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.1 apg, 2.4 bpg
Hammons leaves Purdue with his fingerprints all over the school record book. With 1,593 points he ranks 17th in scoring, just two points behind Jaraan Cornell. His 930 rebounds is third in school history and also gains him entry into the 1,500-750 club with Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, Brad Miller, Joe Barry Carroll, Walter Jordan, and Terry Dischinger. He is the ninth player to average more than 10 points per game in all four years of his career (the last being Hummel) and he is the eighth player to finish with 300 points or more in all four seasons. His 343 blocks is second all-time and was just 6 short of Joe Barry Carroll's record. In fact, if not for at least six games missed in his career, he gets it. He and Carroll are the lone members of the 1,500-800-300 club for points, rebounds, and blocks. He also finished with 104 assists, making him, by my knowledge, the ONLY member of the 1,500-800-300-100 club.
That's just his career. This season alone he was one of the best players in America, if not the nation's best center. He was hitting field goals at a near 60% clip and even stepped out to hit six threes in 11 attempts. He had a career high for free throw percentage, rebounds, and assists. His blocks were down, but that can be attributed to teams being absolutely terrified to challenge him defensively.
Even in his final game you could see how good he was. At first I didn't think he had a good game. Little Rock sold out to prevent him from getting the ball and he didn't even score a field goal in the final 20 minutes. That alone is a travesty that should have been remedied by Painter by calling timeout with 2 minutes left in regulation, with the lead slipping away, and saying, "I don't care what it takes. Get AJ the ball on every damn possession from here to the end." That didn't happen.
AJ still had a monster game of 16 points, 15 rebounds, 6 blocks, and 3 assists. He was absolutely unstoppable, yet we still didn't use him enough often when it mattered most. This wasn't even his best game. Among the highlights:
- A 24-12 night at Pittsburgh in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge where he basically said, "You can sell out to stop me, but my boy Ryan Cline will bury you. Oh, by the way, you can't stop me."
- An absurd 24-10-7 (blocks) against Vanderbilt against another seven footer that was supposed to challenge him. AJ tore Damian Jones to shreds. They are still finding pieces of Jones all over Mackey.
- Against Nebraska at Mackey he had a 32-11-5-4 in points-rebounds-blocks-assists while going 14 of 17 from the floor. I think I saw Nebraska's team bus flee West Lafayette in terror.
- Against Michigan State he let teammate Rapheal Davis drop 24, but AJ was still unstoppable with 19 points, 13 rebounds, 8 blocks, and 3 assists. It was a true DESTROYER OF WORLDS performance against one of the best teams in the country, and MSU's only loss in the final two months of the season until their shocking upset in the tournament.
- Against Michigan in Indianapolis he gave us a 27-11 while going 11 of 17 from the floor. This included several "you are not going to stop me, so please repent your sins" moments in the second half.
It is games like these that we will miss the most as fans. When AJ was on... oh my goodness he was a rampaging beast! He could roam all over the floor swatting shots with disdain for the mortals that challenged him. On the other end he could come off a screen and dunk with impunity on fools. If he needed a rest we could bring in another, larger monster to wear teams down, too. AJ was the ultimate closer on this team. In many games Purdue would run away at the end (like Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Nebraska, etc.) because our opponent was completely worn down from defending both Hammons and Haas for 35 minutes. That's what makes the ending of the Little Rock game so odd. Purdue was great at leading by 5-7 with 3-5 minutes left and pushing it out because of AJ, but if that lead was to 10-14 and, well, we saw what happened.
It is because of this that I still will never know what the hell Painter was doing on the final possession of the first overtime against Little Rock. You have an undersized team that had no hope of defending Hammons alone. You have 11 seconds left and the ball already in the halfcourt. You also have a second 7-footer on the bench, allowing you to put two extremely tall individuals on the low block, one on each side, and find a way to get either of them the basketball in 11 seconds. You have Hammons, who was unstoppable against great defenses on most days, let alone against a much smaller Little Rock lineup, and Haas as the other guy in case they decide to double or even triple Hammons. Your season is on the line and you need one basket to win the game. In what scenario does this not result in Hammons or Haas getting open and dunking so hard they break the rim and throw the ball through the floor into the earth's core, thus saving our sorry asses from a scare?
I mean seriously, what the fuck was Painter thinking?
That ending will always sour what was a great career for a man that still has a lot of basketball to play professionally. AJ is projected as an early second round pick on most draft boards, but imagine if a team like San Antonio grabbed him late in the second round? What if they could groom him?
It is too delicious to think about.