- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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A.J. Hammons is big. That's what we knew about him before he arrived at Purdue last fall: Hammons, the No. 82-ranked player in his recruiting class, was 7-feet tall and (at least) 275 pounds and more athletic and mobile than any 7-foot, 275 pound human being has a right to be. Being that big is more advantage than not during recruiting, obviously, but it has its downside — namely, it causes scouts to question whether all that size simply makes a player look dominant in high school in ways he wouldn't be at the next level. Skepticism creeps in.
A year later, Hammons — who averaged 10.6 points, six rebounds and two blocks per game as a freshman — is regarded much differently. That mix of size and athleticism is real; his ability to change college basketball games is a matter of record; the NBA future seems like a no-brainer. There are no more questions about what he can do on the court. Other, more pressing questions have replaced them.
That brings us to Monday's news, announced by Purdue, that Hammons would miss the first three games of Purdue's season — two exhibitions and the Nov. 8 season opener — for undisclosed violations of team rules.
On its face, this is nowhere close to a big deal. Check that: It is the exact opposite of a big deal, full stop. Exhibition games don't matter and the Boilermakers will be just fine against Northern Kentucky on Nov. 8 with or without their center. They'll manage.
But the suspension doesn't bode well in the long view. Hammons' freshman season revealed immeasurable promise — not only physical gifts, but genuine basketball skill, too. Hammons frequently was dominant, even against very good centers (see his work against top-five pick Cody Zeller for reference), through a combination of size, agility and touch around the rim. This summer, as NBA people took stock of a loaded 2014 draft class, it wasn't unusual to hear scouts mention Hammons as a potential first-rounder, even a lottery pick, if his sophomore season continued that pace.
To get there, Hammons needed to trim some more baby fat and add more muscle. He needed to round out his game, improve his footwork, become a better passer and free-throw shooter and hoist approximately 8 quadrillion right-handed baby hooks. He needed to be able to play for more than 23 minutes per game. He needed to truly dive in to the offseason workouts -- in other words, to do all of the little things that sculpt immense talent into an immensely desirable NBA skill set.
By all accounts, Hammons did that. If I had to lay odds, I would guess Hammons is still very much in line for a breakout sophomore season. But a suspension for violating undisclosed team rules undermines that impression. At the very least, it raises eyebrows. Hammons has a chance to be very good, even great. But there is still much work be to done.