WEST LAFAYETTE -- It was only three games, and two of them were exhibitions. Still, A.J. Hammons hates being on the bench.
The three-game suspension coach Matt Painter enforced to his sophomore center had the desired effect.
“It’s a wake-up call,” Hammons said on Monday, addressing the media for the first time since he was suspended for violating team rules.
Just days before the season, following an offseason of hope for the promising, inconsistent Hammons, a suspension was handed down. It followed an offseason of commitment to improvement—more than 40 pounds knocked off his seven-foot frame.
All of the praise Hammons had received, it quickly went away. His turnaround was off to a rocky start and the criticism was back. Worse than that for Hammons, he had to earn his teammates’ trust back once again.
How does Hammons accomplish that?
“Show them what I can do on the court,” he said. “Just play as hard as I can.”
Hammons first apologized to his Boilermaker teammates after the punishment was announced, then he backed his words in practice—even in a limited, backup role.
“He handled it pretty well,” said redshirt freshman forward Jay Simpson, who filled in Hammons’ role. “He wasn’t happy with the situation, but he wasn’t down. He came to practice and still worked hard as if he was getting ready for the game.”
Hammons admitted he wasn’t expecting the suspension, but it’s something he had to live with. He missed Purdue’s two exhibition games—both comfortable wins which allowed the younger players to receive playing time. But the real punishment was felt watching the Boilermakers struggle in their opener with Northern Kentucky.
It came down to the wire, with Purdue coming back to earn a 77-76 win over the Norse. However, even Northern Kentucky head coach Dave Bezold conceded Hammons would have pushed the game in the Boilermakers’ favor.
After each timeout, Hammons was the first guy off the bench to offer encouragement. Yet, he admitted on Monday that a loss in that game would have been to blame on himself.
“You just try to cancel out the negativity and move forward with everything you’ve got to do as a team to get better,” said Hammons.
As a freshman, Hammons was wildly inconsistent. He averaged 10.6 points and six rebounds per game, never quite playing up to his potential.
This year, Hammons has worked to slim down and pick up his game. His teammates are eager to see a different player in the middle.
“With how he has gotten better this year, it’s going to be huge for our team,” said senior guard Terone Johnson.
The suspension, while an undesired setback, served its purpose for Hammons. He vows to “stop playing around” and keep his teammates’ trust. He can start on Wednesday night at Mackey Arena, his first game of the season.
“I’m going to get out there and play as hard as I can,” he said, “to make up for my mistakes.”
Boiler Sports Report’s John Ahlenius contributed to this report.