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October 24, 2013

Hammons capable of so much

You don't have to look very hard to figure out that A.J. Hammons has a chance to play basketball for a very, very long time and make a nice living for himself doing it one day.

And it's kind of a known secret around West Lafayette these days that if the Boilermaker center enjoys the sort of season those around him believe he's more than capable of, that day could come sooner rather than later.

"I'm not even thinking about that right now," Hammons says of a potential NBA future. "That's something you have to worry about when the season is over. The season is just about to start, so I'm not even worrying about it.

"(The NBA) is my goal eventually. Right now, I don't think I'm where I need to be to even think about that."

Someday soon, though, maybe.

Hammons is giant, a legitimate 7-footer who runs atypically well for his size, with soft hands, nimble feet and a sharp understanding of the game.

But there's one significant hurdle still holding the big man back: Consistency.

Hammons was good enough as a freshman to be one of the most productive and influential rookies in the Big Ten last season, earning a spot on the league's five-man All-Freshman team.

But while there were many good days, there were bad ones, as well.

Teammates admit now how frustrated they grew with the freshman during the latter, knowing how much the team needed from its most promising player.

By every account, though, Hammons has now made progress enough this past offseason in every phase of his game and life to find that better equilibrium, that steadiness he lacked last season, when he might dominate one game, then disappear the next.

"What happened last year, that was last year and that's not important now," senior Travis Carroll said. "What's important now is that he's changed and is better this year. It's exciting for me to see how he's starting to reach his potential."

Coach Matt Painter called Hammons a player "you always want more from," not because he's not providing enough but because of how much he is capable of.

"You always expect more from talent," Painter often says.

But Painter hopes Hammons will keep his focus squarely on the moment he's in.

"I think there's a process, one where guys can skip steps," Painter said, discussing Hammons' future. "He's got to be very careful that he touches each one of those steps and embraces each one of those steps or it could really hurt him down the line. But I really feel like it's about him just winning the day. When he wins the day, it's so much easier for him. His improvement can be seen when he just keeps a simple focus.

"My goal for him is for his production to reach his talent, because I have a responsibility to get it from him. As you go on and form a relationship and form that trust I think it's really important that I do my part in always telling the truth and try to tell it to him in a manner that's not talking down to him, because it gets frustrating at times when you know how talented he is, but that's my job to get that figured out and help him. And when he doesn't, I feel responsible. I truly believe that his consistency will lead to his production and his talent. And when he does I feel he can be one of the best big guys in the country and not just in our conference."

For much more on Hammons and the 2013-14 Purdue basketball season to come, order your copy of our Gold and Black 2013-14 Purdue Basketball Preview today. Order here.

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