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Team USA: The Center(s) of Purdue

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Purdue’s big men have ruled the land for quite a while, this year is no different.

Samford v Purdue Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Cradle of Quarterbacks. The Den of Defensive Ends. The place where people go to school before they walk on the moon and do other outer space things.

Whatever you want to think about Purdue, it’s wrong. This is the place where Centers reign.

It re-started with Jajuan Johnson, but it coalesced with A. J. Hammons. Not because it was just A. J. Hammons blocking shots and controlling rebounds, but because as soon as Isaac Haas joined the Boilermakers to back him up, Purdue didn’t just have the best center in the Big Ten. It probably had the two best centers in the Big Ten.

Then we added Biggie. And for that year, Purdue might have had the three best centers in the Big Ten. Then A. J. graduated and moved onto the NBA and Purdue definitely had the two best centers in the Big Ten. Now Biggie is gone and Purdue is left with just the best center in the Big Ten.

And I don’t just mean, he’s in everyone’s conversation as best center in the Big Ten. I mean, Isaac Haas is the only name that should be brought up. The conversation should be framed: Isaac Haas is the best center in the B10, isn’t it silly to even think anyone else is close?

But he’s not alone. The best part about Purdue’s being selected to represent the country of America is that we get to watch the new comers, the incoming freshman that haven’t played a minute for Purdue in a game that matters.

But the best best bestest part about being Team USA is that we get to see Jacquil Taylor, the human asterisk, and remember why he was such a highly sought after big man coming out of high school.

Taylor will never be the focal point of an offense like Isaac Haas or A. J. Hammons. He will never demand double teams or tear skyscrapers to the ground. But he’s incredibly quick for a big man, with long arms, and the kind of defensive instinct that can anchor a defense. In another way, he’s everything Haas isn’t. He’s the perfect complement to the best offensive player in the B10. If Purdue runs into a team that wants to play small, Taylor is the anti-small-ball big man. He can stick with quicker guys, block shots from anywhere, and still grab boards at an effective rate.

Once again, Purdue will go into a season with the absolute best center situation in the B10.

And that’s only if they get Jacquil Taylor, the defensive stopper. Granted, he still has to stay healthy, but so far so good. And to be honest, it’s even better than that. Taylor offers a different kind of pick and roll game for Purdue’s bevy of guards. He’s the quick jumping cutter that can suck in a defense and allow the ball handler to attack the mid-range or kick out to open shooters. But most encouraging is that Taylor has been effective in international play at passing the ball. He’s done a good job at holding the ball at the elbow and finding the open cutter or shooter. These kinds of skills are invaluable with an offense based on movement.

And the timing is more important than ever. Nojel Eastern is a 6’6” point guard who is as good a pick and roll player that Purdue has had. For a freshman, he has uncanny poise and patience with the ball in his hand. He exposes defenders lunging to get around a pick by cutting back across it. He uses his strength and length at the rim to finish with either hand.

Jacquil could be vital in a more pick and roll heavy offense once this class of seniors leave and the offense is handed over to Carsen and Nojel.

But for now, it’s enough that Jacquil is all the things Haas isn’t, with the potential to be so much more. His jump shot is still surprisingly effective, his length a problem for any player around him, and his quickness the solution to teams playing Haas off the court with small ball lineups.

And next year, he might be the next in a long line of best centers in the Big Ten to play for Purdue.