Throughout his career, A.J. Hammons has heard the questions about his effort and passion for the game.
After the Gary native was selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the No. 46 pick in the NBA draft, he has the opportunity to provide the definitive answers.
“Everybody has their perceptions,” Hammons said during a conference call with Dallas-area reporters Friday. “They have a perception of me being a little lazy here and there. But it’s something I’ve been working on, just to show and get that opinion out of the way.
“I’m just going to keep working all summer, running up and down the court to get a better motor and show everybody here’s what I came to do — to play at a high level.”
The Mavericks believe Hammons can reach those heights. They projected Purdue ‘s 7-foot center as a first-round selection, and jumped when he was available in the middle of the second.
“To see him still there at the 46th pick, we felt pretty lucky,” Mavericks assistant vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley said during a news conference after the draft. “It was a no-brainer when he was on the board.
“You can’t teach size, and he’s a big man. Size along with the skill he brings to the table gives him a good chance of succeeding at the NBA level.”
Finley, who starred at Proviso East and Wisconsin before spending the bulk of his NBA career with the Mavericks, collected information from his contacts around the Big Ten. And he received favorable reports on Hammons.
Finley and Mavericks general manager/president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson both said they expect Hammons to contribute immediately. After four seasons with the Boilermakers, he turns 24 on Aug. 27.
“He has the kind of body we think can come in and potentially have an impact,” Nelson said.
“We’re really, really excited about having him. Everyone knows we have a little bit of a hole at the center spot, so it will be a nice addition. It gives us a nice young piece, but at the same time a four-year college guy who can come in and give us some really nice punch.”
After two-plus productive seasons at Purdue, Hammons turned a corner midway through his junior season. And as a senior, he averaged 15.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots, making the All-Big Ten first team and winning the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
But he still was drafted behind centers against whom he enjoyed head-to-head success, such as Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones and Maryland’s Diamond Stone. Jones went No. 30 to the Golden State Warriors, and Stone No. 40 to the Los Angeles Clippers.
“You have to go out there and play with a chip on your shoulder,” Hammons said.
“I’m just trying to get better and compete every day. I’m just trying to do what I need to do to help our team win.”
Hammons is expected to wear No. 20, the same number he had at Purdue as well as Oak Hill Academy. He should debut in a Mavericks uniform in July’s summer leagues.
Hammons is eager to learn at this “different level,” but also will rely on his college background.
“The maturity is definitely going to help out, being business-ready in general and especially going to an experienced team like the Mavs,” he said.
“I’ll definitely come in and help with the defensive side, just rebounding and blocking shots. But I’ve also been working on my offensive artillery throughout the summer. I’m just going to keep adding to it.”
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