HE'S BACK: AJ Hammons returns to Purdue
He's back! As first reported by...wait for it...the fantastic pros at Gold and Black Illustrated, AJ Hammons will be returning to Purdue for his junior year.
Despite AJ's self-acknowledged flaws, this is the best news Matt Painter has heard in a long while. The Boilers return their most talented player (by a huge margin), become two-deep at the center position (with the addition of Isaac Haas), and have an identity/focal point going in to the 2014-2015 season. AJ's return also means Purdue avoids the darkest-timeline scenario of adding the Hammonstrosity to the already-absurd loss list (Terone and Ronnie Johnson, Errick Peck, Sterling Carter, Travis Carroll, and Jay Simpson).
Most of the analysis is in that post, so I'll spare you the redundancy here. The additional leap I want him to make, however, is as a leader. AJ seems like a very nice, quiet, somewhat reserved guy...which is fine. But I want him to lead by example. I want him to get off of the 'lack of conditioning' crutch he's leaned on during his first two years here, and I want him working his ass off to be on the floor 30+ minutes per game. I want him to enable the coaching staff to build the Boilermaker basketball identity around our 7-footer.
I'm not saying I want AJ giving impassioned halftime speeches, because he's not that dude. But I don't think it's too far outside his personality to be the first guy celebrating a fierce Basil Smotherman baseline dunk, or high-fiving Bryson Scott as he bullies to the rim for a clutch and-one. Quality leadership comes in many different forms, and between Purdue's veterans in Hammons and Ray Davis, I think we're in for a pretty fun year. (For the record...I've been excited about Ray D taking a leadership role and incoming freshman Vince Edwards' swag for way too long now.)
Also...let's not sleep on how big of a risk this is for Hambone. His return means he couldn't get a commitment within the early second round, and most scouts saw him slipping to the end of the second round or going undrafted.
(This is the part of the story where I point to the NCAA's idiotic new draft deadlines, which prevents prospects from conducting work-outs for NBA teams. But the NCAA is so pure and unselfish and not hypocritical in any way, right!?)
Anyway...because Ham Slammich chose to return to God's Country, he's banking on having a huge junior year. If he doesn't, he risks becoming a 23 year old prospect with limited potential, underwhelming athleticism, and not worth an NBA contract. He's putting it all on the line next year, and we all should be excited for the leaps he'll make this summer. I know I'm pretty excited.