WEST LAFAYETTE – Nearly four years ago, a pair of Boilermakers had the same decision that AJ Hammons has pondered since the end of the Purdue basketball season.
In that situation, no one might have blamed JaJuan Johnson or E’Twaun Moore for leaving West Lafayette a year early for the NBA. After all the pair led the Boilermakers to a Big Ten regular season and conference championship and back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances.
Yet in the end, they both decided to stay and enjoyed a successful 2010-2011 season before eventually being drafted that June.
It was a little different for Hammons when he made the similar decision official on Wednesday afternoon. The center, who played part of his high school basketball career at Carmel High School, has enjoyed a decent amount of individual success since arriving in West Lafayette but his team hasn’t.
The last two seasons Purdue has failed to make the NCAA Tournament and this past season finished last in the Big Ten. Hence the focus of his comments in his news release by Purdue announcing his return for his junior season were not just about individual goals but rather the team needing to prove something during his era at the school.
“First and foremost, we want to get back to the postseason and compete for a Big Ten title,” said Hammons in a release from the school. “I feel like we owe our fans some better basketball.”
Hammons will be the centerpiece of that effort during the 2014-2015 season as the leading scorer to return to the team since leading scorer Terone Johnson was a senior and Ronnie Johnson announced that he was transferring shortly after the season. The junior-to-be averaged 10.8 points and 9.1 rebounds a game during his sophomore season where again he showed his potential while still trying to find the consistency he needs to be a dominant Big Ten player.
Fouls were again an issue for Hammons as he picked up a team-high 91, which caused him to be used sparingly in some games while also fouling out all together in three contests.
Those may have been apart of the discussions that Hammons said in the release that he had with head coach Matt Painter as he determined whether or not to return to West Lafayette for another year.
“Coach Painter has been fantastic during this process with me,” Hammons said in the release from the school. “We have gone over every report, and I have a good feel for where I stand and what I need to improve on. I know I have things to work on, and there is no better place for me to develop more as a player and as a person.”
Painter believes that is exactly what he’ll do.
“He is fully dedicated to helping us improve and he will be an instrumental piece for our program during the 2014-15 season,” said Painter in the release from the school. “We look for continued development from A.J. and expect him to take on a significant leadership role next season.”
While hoping his play will pay a small debt to the fans who have watched less than stellar Purdue basketball the past two seasons.