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June 19, 2013

GoldandBlack.com's top athletes: No. 8

A national champion, a professional draft pick, all-Americans, All-Big Ten selections and some conference champions highlight our annual list of Purdue's athletes-of-the-year.

Next up on the list is A.J. Hammons, as GoldandBlack.com takes a subjective look at the top 10 Boilermakers from 2012-13.

Bio: A freshman big man who made an immediate impact

Summary: Hammons is "rare," as Matt Painter says.

A true center, at 7 foot, 270 pounds, who showcases a variety of post moves, runs the floor and finishes with a flourish and is the ultimate stopper on defense.

That's what Hammons is his best, at least.

At his best, he's focused, he's aggressive, he's grasping what's asked of him.

At his best, he's making 8 of 12 shots, scoring 20 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking three shots on the road against Michigan State.

At his best, he's sinking 10 of 14 from the field and another 10 of 12 from the line to drop a career-best 30 points on the hated Hoosiers.

Because of his best, Hammons earned a spot on the Big Ten's All-Freshman Team, finishing the season averaging 10.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.

Because of his potential, he'll be trying out for a spot to represent Team USA and travel to Russia next month for the World University Games.

"I think as he matures and learns to give a consistent effort on a daily basis, he'll really start to make improvements," Painter said this week.

And that's the thing - that effort, that potential, that best wasn't always on display in Hammons' first season for the Boilermakers.

Part of that was because Hammons was learning to find what he called a "passion" for the game. He was learning to become someone who comes prepared and ready to perform every minute of practice, let alone every game. He was learning how to listen more intently, instead of tuning out during scouting reports. He was learning to be a player that was counted on, a new role for a guy who had always been a supporting member of teams.

He was maturing.

"It's like he's playing for something," friend and teammate Rapheal Davis said of Hammons during the season. "Before, he was just really out there because he had to be. It's like now he has a why to why he's playing. Before, I really don't think he did."

That sense of purpose could be dangerous, once Hammons truly grasps it.

He rarely thinks he does enough. He may have had 30 points against Indiana, but they came in one of the program's most lopsided losses in Mackey Arena. So all Hammons could talk about soon after was what else he could have done. (Answer: Nothing.)

"To where I know I can be, I don't think I'm doing anything right," he said during the season. "It's just got to click. I've got to want it for myself. I'm still trying to work on it, really."

Analysis: Even without Hammons' inconsistency, he still was Purdue's best player in his first season.

And there's no reason to think he won't be better.

He easily could be a first-team all-conference performer as a sophomore, especially with an expected boost in perimeter shooting from new teammates. And if he does land a spot playing for Team USA, it'd seem likely to think that'll only boost his confidence and help him truly realize his worth.

"With his size and his skill set he has already, when he gets that certain drive to where he understands what he needs to do, both on and off the court, and really makes that his priority and his focus, the sky is the limit for him as far as getting better, getting stronger, getting faster and really understanding the game," former teammate D.J. Byrd said. "If he can do those things, he can go anywhere."

No. 10: Terone Johnson
No. 9: Drey Mingo
No. 8: A.J. Hammons
No. 7: June 20
No. 6: June 21
No. 5: June 24
No. 4: June 25
No. 3: June 26
No. 2: June 27
No. 1: June 28

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2013. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.

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