By CLIFF BRUNT
I combed through the record books for about half an hour on Tuesday evening and came to the conclusion that A.J. Hammons has just produced one of the best freshman seasons in Purdue history.
Here are the numbers for the 7-foot, 280-pound center this season: 10.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game with 50 percent shooting from the field.
Hummel set the bar in recent history for freshmen. He averaged 11.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in 2007-08 and was named first-team all-Big Ten. E’Twaun Moore averaged 12.9 points that same year and was a second-team all-conference pick.
Hammons’ statistics are in the ballpark with those posted by both Hummel and Moore. But surely, the other big names that have come through West Lafayette had better freshman years than Hammons, right?
In most cases, wrong.
Let’s compare his production to other successful Purdue post players.
Brian Cardinal’s freshman stats and Hammons’ first-year numbers are almost identical. He averaged 10.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while shooting .455 from the field in 1996-97. Brad Miller? He averaged 6.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 1994-95. JaJuan Johnson? Just 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per contest in 2007-08.
You’d have to go back to Russell Cross in 1980-81 to find a post player who was clearly more productive than Hammons as a freshman. Cross, a 6-foot-10 center from Chicago Manley, averaged 16.9 points and 6.3 rebounds his first year. He shot 57 percent from the field and blocked 60 shots in 32 games. He was the sixth overall pick in the 1983 NBA draft. Another freshman phenom, Walter Jordan, averaged 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds in 1974-75.
Some of the freshman scoring averages of the biggest names in Purdue history don’t measure up. Chad Austin (5.7), Woody Austin (2.2), Cuonzo Martin (5.8) and Joe Barry Carroll (7.9) didn’t carry nearly Hammons’ load.
Troy Lewis’ 10.4 points per game as a freshman in 1984-85 bears mention. So do the freshman seasons for Jaraan Cornell (10.2 ppg in 1996-97), Lewis Jackson (5.9 ppg, 118 assists in 36 games), Chris Lutz (9.2 ppg in 2005-06), Melvin McCants (10.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg in 1985-86), Chris Kramer (7.2 ppg, 75, asst., 64 steals) and Bruce Parkinson (9.7 ppg in 1972-73). Kelsey Barlow was on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team in 2010.
There have been better first-year players. Some of Purdue’s best all-time players, such as Rick Mount and Terry Dischinger, couldn’t play as freshmen because of NCAA eligibility rules. Mount averaged 28.4 points as a sophomore in 1967-68. Dischinger averaged 26.3 points and 14.3 rebounds in his first year as a sophomore in 1959-60 and averaged 30.3 as a senior two years later. Glenn Robinson was ineligible as a freshman, but he averaged 24.1 points as a sophomore in 1992-93. Carl Landry was a junior college transfer who averaged 18.2 points and 7.1 rebounds as a junior in his first year at Purdue in 2004-05.
You could say that stats don’t tell the whole story for Hammons, and you’d be right. Each situation listed above was different. And Hammons had quite a slump that only recently ended. But the numbers say this: Hammons compares favorably as a freshman to the very best to ever wear the old gold and black. Whether you like him or not, whether you think he reached his potential or not, the production cannot be successfully argued against.
He’s getting better. He has lottery-caliber talent. So enjoy him while he’s here, before he does what Russell Cross did 30 years ago — leave early for greener pastures.