Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter spent the past 12 months trying to get the most out of Boilermaker sophomore center A.J. Hammons, now he's turning the task over to another coach (Davidson's Bob McKillop). However, that doesn't mean that Painter will have a say in Hammons' immediate future.
Hammons is one of 27 players that begin competition today at training camp for next month's World University Games competition in Kazan, Russia (July 7 to 16), and Painter is a member of the USA National Junior Team selection committee.
“I'm biased towards A.J., but I'm not going to be biased towards the selection,” Painter said. “You have a duty to pick the best team for USA Basketball.”
Painter understands what is at stake in this process having now been part of USA Basketball for the third time in the past five summers.
He first served as an assistant coach for the United States squad in the FIBA U-19 World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand. That American squad captured its first Gold Medal in that tournament since 1991.
“I enjoy it,” Painter said of the experience. “I just want to do what's best for USA Basketball. It's a great avenue for young kids to understand how important it is to represent your country.”
Painter has followed in the steps of former Purdue coaches Gene Keady and Bruce Weber, who both were active in USA Basketball at varying levels, and Painter said that it is a great opportunity, not just for the players, but for the coaches.
“Oh yeah, without question,” Painter answered emphatically when asked if he learns from the opposing teams. “They are very good in ball screen action. They show you some different looks in defending ball screen action. But each country is a little bit different.”
Painter led the USA in the 2011 World University Games in China and despite having the best overall record (7-1) failed to medal due to the timing of that lone defeat.
Hammons and Painter will spend the next three to four days at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. By Thursday, the squad will be pared down to “about 15 or 16 players,” Painter explained, and then the final 12-man group will be announced shortly before leaving for Russia.
Hammons is one of just a couple of true back-to-the-basket post players in the group, so Painter said that helps his odds of making the team, but nothing is guaranteed.
Other notable players vying for a spot on the roster are Indiana's Will Sheehey and Yogi Ferrell, and Notre Dame's Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant.
Another Indiana tie is that longtime Grace College coach Jim Kessler is serving as a court coach during the training camp.
“I'll be out there and be able to watch A.J.,” Painter said. “Hopefully, that will help him with his motivation.”