FORT WAYNE – Purdue center A.J. Hammons and forward Jay Simpson are a year older, a year wiser and about 30 pounds lighter than when they came to West Lafayette last season.
All those things are good news for coach Matt Painter and the Boilermakers.
They put themselves in better shape, and they can stay up with a game now. Theyre not always behind plays, Painter said. And Im not saying theyre in the best shape in the world, but they both came in around 280, 285 – theyre both at 250. Their ability to run and help us on the defensive end, I think, have been major improvements for them.
Hammons, a 7-foot center and Indiana native, averaged 10.6 points, six rebounds and two blocks per game for Purdue during his freshman season. Simpson, hobbled by health issues and a foot injury, took a redshirt year and worked to get down to his current 6-9, 251-pound frame.
Both, senior forward Travis Carroll said, have made huge strides in their effort on the court and discipline off it with what they eat and how they prepare themselves.
They got a year under their belt – especially with that redshirt for Jay, that helped him a lot, Carroll said.
Simpson, in particular, could help turn the Boilers into a very different team than they were during a 16-18 campaign a year ago. He can play inside and out on offense, and his abilities in halfcourt sets, Painter said, are tremendous.
But the big man was too big before. He had high blood pressure, asthma and that injury that cost him his freshman year. Now, with renewed energy and a better build, hes ready to help Purdue put together a turnaround year.
I was being kind of lazy, but now Im more motivated, Simpson said. Im in the gym, Im doing extra running, just trying to do whatever I can to help my team win this year.
I try not to eat anything sweet. I try to eat all baked, broiled meats. I dont eat anything after like 9 (p.m.).
Simpson indulges in fried food every once in awhile, he admitted. But for him and Hammons, the difference in effort and focus is noticeable.
That can be said from the eye test off the court and the results on it during practice.
Familiarity helps, Hammons said.
I know what I need to do, the Oak Hill (Va.) Academy graduate said. Coach doesnt have to tell me what I mess up on. I already know how to get it fixed, so I can jump right back into the drill and get it fixed.
The willingness to jump right back in and get it corrected – thats a big step for the sophomore and his redshirt freshman counterpart, too.
Painter said Hammons was once an every-other-day guy. His 2012-13 season fluctuated as a result.
He and Simpson arent at their peaks physically, and the full-throttle effort isnt there all the time yet, but theyre getting to that point. If they make those adjustments, the Boilermakers could be a surprise player in the Big Ten.
Painter didnt rule out playing both at the same time and bucking the idea that this team will play small at times. It all depends on how much further Hammons and Simpson progress from a fitness standpoint.
Weve just got to do a good job of keeping those guys healthy but also keeping them working hard, Painter said. For them, its just the effort and the consistency. If they can have that right there, then they have the talent and the bodies to get it done.