Last week on the Handsome Hour, we had the chance to talk to our pal, Chris Emma from the Boiler Sports Report (Scout.com). He's been impressed with the effort and intensity of the practices that he's seen so far and loves the transformation that both Jay Simpson and A.J. Hammons have gone through in the off-season. They're both leaner, stronger and year wiser. PLUS, it sounds like they're working much harder on the court due to their newfound endurance from the work they put in off the court this summer. Emma believes that Hammons holds the keys to the Boilers' success this season…And goes further in saying he believes that this will be Hammons' last season in the Vegas gold and black (and sometimes silver).
I think Emma is half-right- Like most of you as well, I think we'll need to enjoy watching #20 as much as possible this season, because his time at Purdue will be drawing to a close soon. We've seen less-talented, smaller, weaker and less-skilled 7-footers go the NBA and make a dollar or two…so you can't blame Hammons for thinking seriously about the option of playing professionally in the near future. That said, it'll be tough to see him go whenever he decides to leave.
He's a true back-to-the-basket player unlike any Boiler center since Joe Barry Carroll, really. Plus, their laid-back demeanor makes it tougher not to see parallels between the two seven foot Boilermakers. I think Hammons' importance to the team shouldn't be discounted…but I don't think he'll define Purdue's re-emergence to the top-third of the league.
My belief is that this team's leadership will make or break it in 2014…and the suddenly-experienced Senior class will define the level of success these Boilers enjoy.
Travis Carroll is a great teammate, hard-worker and a player that will do exactly what he's told. Hammons success allows him to play the four, and his ability to shoot the 15-18 footer cold off the bench will earn him extra minutes.
Sterling Carter, one of the two Senior transfers is known for his ability to shoot anywhere inside the gym entrance…and his ability to forget the misses helps him get into rhythm. That said, his on-ball defense might be what earns him extra minutes. According to his teammates, his defensive intensity and quickness has helped him carve out a notch with this team very early.
Errick Peck will be able to play multiple positions in spite of being a bit undersized for the B1G. He can shoot the ball comfortably and consistently out to three point range and is a great facilitator. I think he'll be starting from game one.
Finally, Terone Johnson is leaner and might still be angry about the way last season ended. TJohn got more and more animated as the season drew to close last year and Purdue didn't get notably-better. He was frustrated with the close losses and seemed to be one of the few guys last season who was very bothered by the larger losses. His defensive leadership will set the tone for a vastly-improved backcourt defensive unit that will look to pester and flummox opposing guards by pressuring the point and cutting off the passing lanes. In other words, RonJohn, TJohn, Mr. Carter, and BScott will be getting back to what Purdue used to do…what Painter used to demand- having the defense create offensive opportunity as an extended defense helps protect leads and wear out opponents.
If the Senior class isn't up to the task of leading, I believe Purdue will struggle yet again. After this patchwork class, the Boilers are pretty young as a team…and the while Sophomores and Freshman are clearly very talented, I'm not sure they're ready to lead just yet.
This is Terone Johnson's team. As Purdue's Agent Zero and his classmates go, so will the rest of Matty's Boilers. The one difficulty this group has, of course, is that their chemistry won't be like the typical large Senior class elsewhere in the country…it'll be something that might take a few games as they figure out how to mesh, and Painter and Co. figure out how to use them. But I believe this class will help make Purdue relevent again.
Scrappy play like this will define Purdue again in 2014