February 27, 2009

Hammons doing big things as a freshman

The last time Indiana recruited up at Carmel High School outside of Indianapolis, they returned with two walk-on guards: 6-2 sophomore Brett Finkelmeier and 5-10 freshman Daniel Moore. But this time around, the Hoosiers seem to be focusing on a slightly larger prospect.

A.J. Hammons, a 6-10 freshman, is gaining a reputation around the state for his stellar shot-blocking ability and all-around tough defense. His wide frame (he's listed at 230 pounds) makes him an intimidating factor in the lane, and that size is already garnering interest from the Midwest, including that of IU head coach Tom Crean.

"He went down there (for a visit) and Coach Crean met with him," Carmel head coach Mark Galloway said. "I don't think they have offered though."

Indiana is not the only school in pursuit of the 6-10 freshman.

Hammons has also been hearing from Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State, Xavier and, as of Friday morning, Minnesota. None of the schools have extended a scholarship offer yet.

So what can you expect to see with Hammons?

Well, as all freshman who are 6-10, he seems a bit awkward at first due to his size. But awkward or not, he is a physical specimen down in the trenches on defense. Even if he is not blocking shots, his size is altering them. On Friday night against Brebeuf Jesuit, Hammons garnered nine blocked shots while picking up just one foul.

"Even if he blocks shots like he did tonight, or even if he's not blocking shots, he is changing the game," Galloway said. "He is 6-10 and he's getting a bit more mobile…The fouls are something he has improved on because he has fouled out three games this season."

That mobility has paid dividends for Hammons physically, as he is already dropping some weight from the beginning of the season.

"He has probably lost about 15 pounds," Galloway said. "He is getting trim. He is not in great shape, but for a freshman, he has lost that 15 pounds, so we are excited for him about that. He hasn't started lifting (weights) yet, so this summer, we are going to get him in the weight room to build up his core strength."

Hitting the weight room will also help on the offensive side of the ball. On Friday, Hammons saw a limited number of looks inside and scored just two points on a lob pass in the lane. He finished the game 1-for-3, including a missed put-back attempt and an inside move that was off the mark.

"He's raw offensively," Galloway said. "I do like his hands. He is going to go out and catch it, but he doesn't quite realize where the defense is coming from. They are doubling down on him and he is not used to that. He is used to being bigger and stronger than everyone else. But it will come."

The biggest question mark, though, still relies on his desire. According to his coach, if he puts his mind and effort 100 percent behind basketball, he will be one of the best big men in the state.

"I think it is up to him. We always ask him, 'How good do you want to be?'" Galloway said. "Sometimes he doesn't want the ball. He's got to make sure he uses his body the right way to get the ball...Early in the season, he didn't work hard enough to get tired. Now he is working hard enough.

"He has a lot of work to do. But half the battle is wanting to work hard. And he definitely wants that. He wants to be a player."

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