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Hammons returning to Purdue for junior season


– Purdue basketball fans’ stress levels have been eased somewhat after 7-foot center A.J. Hammons announced Wednesday that he will return for his junior season after considering entering the NBA draft.

“I’ve decided to stay and continue my education here at Purdue, and there are a lot of goals I still want to accomplish with my teammates on the court,” Hammons said after a Wednesday meeting with coach Matt Painter.

“First and foremost, we want to get back to the postseason and compete for a Big Ten title. I feel like we owe our fans some better basketball. Purdue is a special place with a lot of great people, and I am excited to continue my education here and be a part of a great community.”

Hammons averaged 10.8 points and 7.4 rebounds to go with 96 blocked shots during a sophomore season in which the Boilermakers finished 15-17.

According to Painter, NBA officials had told him that Hammons likely would be drafted in the mid-to-late second round or might go undrafted if he decided to leave school. That would mean no guaranteed money and a strong possibility of beginning his professional career in Europe or in the D-League.

Painter and Hammons met several times recently to discuss the center’s standing with NBA teams.

“Coach Painter has been fantastic during this process with me,” Hammons said. “We have gone over every report, and I have a good feel for where I stand and what I need to improve on. I know I have things to work on, and there is no better place for me to develop more as a player and as a person.”

Painter said Wednesday he is thrilled by Hammons’ decision.

“We are excited that A.J. has decided to remain in school and continue his education and career here at Purdue,” Painter said. “He is fully dedicated to helping us improve, and he will be an instrumental piece for our program during the 2014-15 season.

“We look for continued development from A.J. and expect him to take on a significant leadership role next season.”

The decision also is good news for returning point guard Bryson Scott.

Now that two-year starting point guard Ronnie Johnson is leaving Purdue, Scott, the former Northrop standout, should be in line to be Johnson’s replacement.

But while Johnson will transfer to a yet-to-be-determined Division I program, Scott, who will be a sophomore next season, will have competition after Painter also announced Wednesday that 5-foot-11 Indianapolis Brebeuf point guard P.J. Thompson has signed a national letter of intent to play for Purdue.

Scott, who averaged 6.2 points and 2.6 rebounds as a Purdue freshman while leading the team in scoring six times, will be given every opportunity to win the spot Johnson vacated.

“It depends on how Bryson progresses and improves,” Painter said. “We hope he gets better with that. It has nothing to do with his physical ability. He has just never been a quintessential point guard. He has been a guy with the ball in his hands and has been an attacker.

“We still want him to attack when it is there, but also, he has got to learn the (point guard) position. He understands that, but it is hard for him. Bryson is unique. He will try to do what you say in the film room and in practice, but when he gets into a game, he reverts back to his old ways. It is hard to break some of those habits. That is what he is going to have to do to help Purdue and to really help himself.”

Scott made two starts during Purdue’s 15-17 season, scoring a career-high 18 points in an Old Spice Classic loss to Oklahoma State in November.

He shot 35.9 percent from the field and 73.9 percent from the free throw line.

One problem area for a potential starting point guard is that Scott had more turnovers (46) than assists (44) as a freshman.

In seeking competition for Scott, Painter likes the fact that Thompson averaged 24 points a game as a Brebeuf senior and plays the position with poise, always trying to involve teammates.

“Throughout the season, as we watched, we needed more consistent play from that spot,” Painter said. “We had stayed in contact with P.J. There’s not a lot of guys out there when you say, ‘Who is left in the spring as a point guard that has the qualities that he does?’

“We were very fortunate that he was still available and that we were able to get him. I feel like we really got a steal.”

Scott said recently that as he looks to improve, he plans to take as many as 1,000 shots a week and to improve his grasp of the point guard role.

Painter also said Wednesday that because he has three scholarships available, he and his staff will spend the spring trying to land one or two fifth-year transfer players who will complete their undergraduate degrees this spring and would be eligible to play in the 2014-15 season.

Guard Sterling Carter and forward Erick Peck were fifth-year transfers this past season, coming to Purdue from Cornell and the University of Seattle, respectively. Painter said each provided a mature presence for a team that lacked upperclassmen.