When you are 7-feet tall, everyone has high expectations for you on a basketball court. In the case of Purdue freshman center A.J. Hammons, a lot is expected of him by Boilermaker fans, his coaches, and according to Purdue coach Matt Painter, even Hammons himself.
Purdue (9-8) will host West Virginia (8-8) today at 2 p.m. (CBS).
“His goal is not to make the NBA,” Painter said of Hammons. “His goal is to stay in the NBA.”
Painter said that Hammons has “a long way to go” before he can begin to entertain thoughts of playing at the next level. However, the coach also acknowledged that Hammons “does have pro potential.”
Hammons has been given the body and athleticism to play in the NBA a long time. However, there are a lot of basketball players that have a foundation for a professional career, yet fail to put in the necessary work to have a career of any length.
“He's made improvements and gotten better,” Painter said. “The thing for him is coming every day and trying to get better. He's really improved in that area.”
Hammons has made an immediate impact for Purdue this season. He is averaging over 10 points per game, as well as 6.4 rebounds per outing. At 7-feet, he's made his presence felt defensively and leads the Big Ten in blocks at 3.4 per game. However, Painter expects more from Hammons.
“He's going to have to learn to sprint every single time (down the floor),” Painter explained. “He's going to have to learn to play post defense better. He's going to have to learn to play ball screen defense better. He's going to have to cut down on his turnovers. If he can keep doing those things, he's a big part of what we do.”
Painter said too many times, young players don't set their focus where they need to when it relates to the NBA.
“A lot of kids, they get lost,” Painter said. “They're like 'Hey, I can't wait for draft night.' Who cares about draft night? It really doesn't matter. Your start doesn't matter. I would rather keep him focused on life skills, work ethic, and habits. So now when he gets there, he knows what to do, so he stays there.”
Painter is concentrating on the here and now with Hammons, and trying to maximize what the player can accomplish in West Lafayette before he worries about the future of Hammons.
“Let's not put the cart before the horse,” Painter said. “Let's have a good academic year. Let's try to help Purdue win. Anytime you can keep the focus right there, you are going to make improvements and you are going to make strides.”