The Purdue Boilermakers are going to be a very different team in 2012-13, and not just because longtime stars Lewis Jackson and Robbie Hummel are gone. A freshman class ranked in the national top 20 by all of ESPN, Rivals.com and Scout.com will give coach Matt Painter his biggest infusion of talent in several years.
Purdue’s four incoming recruits are all well-regarded, but they’re not all going to shine equally in their first seasons of college ball. Here’s how their performances are likely to stack up next year:
1. A.J. Hammons
Suffice it to say, Purdue won’t be fielding the Big Ten’s most undersized lineup again next season. A.J. Hammons is a legitimate seven-footer (not to mention weighing in at 260 lbs) who immediately becomes the key player in the Boilermaker frontcourt.
Hammons has some skills to go with his size, particularly when it comes to scoring in the paint. He’ll give Purdue a desperately-needed low-post presence, as well as anchoring the defense with his shot-blocking (though he’s no JaJuan Johnson at this stage of his development).
2. Rapheal Davis
Shooting guard is the one position where Purdue returns some appreciable talent, with both Terone Johnson (the leading returning scorer at 9.2 points per game) and sniper D.J. Byrd (.430 long-range shooting) coming back. Even so, Rapheal Davis has the raw scoring ability to force his way into a major role in the Boilermaker backcourt.
The 6’5” Davis is a slasher with strong ballhandling skills, but he’s also a threat with the pull-up jumper when he gets in a rhythm. The biggest question for his season (especially playing for a coach like Painter) is whether he’ll play enough defense to earn starter’s minutes.
3. Ronnie Johnson
The faster Ronnie Johnson acclimates to major-college hoops, the better off Purdue will be. The Boilermakers have no obvious replacement for Lewis Jackson at the point, so freshman Johnson may be thrown into the fire whether he’s ready to handle the starting job or not.
Johnson is a skilled distributor with good quickness, but like Jackson, he’s not exactly built for the bruising Big Ten. At 5’10”, 165 lbs, he’s going to face a significant learning curve matching up with the likes of Michigan State's Keith Appling (6’1”, 190 lbs) or Ohio State's Aaron Craft (6’2”, 190 lbs) on a regular basis.
4. Jay Simpson
He may not be as physically imposing as classmate Hammons, but Jay Simpson is still built like a Big Ten big man. The 6’9”, 235-lb Simpson has the mobility and shooting touch to be an outstanding face-up complement to Hammons’ low-post presence.
That said, Hammons is going to get the lion’s share of the touches in the half-court offense, which is going to limit Simpson’s impact. In addition, Simpson will be fighting for minutes with returnees Sandi Marcius and Travis Carroll, and there are still questions to be answered about his ability to stay focused over a long season.