NBA SOUTHWEST DIVISION REPORT
DALLAS — Upon meeting A. J. Hammons for the very first time, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wasted little time cracking jokes about the NBA rookie’s college alma mater.
“He said, ‘You’re lucky to be here, being a Boilermaker,’ Hammons, a former Purdue University star, said in recalling his initial conversation with Cuban, who’s an Indiana University graduate. “But he said he’s glad I’m here and that I should be ready to get to work.”
For Hammons, finding his way onto the NBA landscape certainly wasn’t an easy transition.
If nothing else, Hammons appearing on professional basketball’s grandest stage came with much discussion and foresight, all of which was accompanied by a slew of rave reviews from Brian Cardinal, a former Purdue forward who retired from the NBA after the 2011-12 season with the Mavericks.
Talk about getting a much-needed job hookup, one that ultimately resulted in Hammons having signed a guaranteed, three-year contract earlier this week with the Mavs.
“Oh yeah, A. J. can play,” Cuban told reporters following the Mavs’ Summer League team’s practice session on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, he played at my (college) rival, Purdue. But we’re fortunate we had a connection with Brian Cardinal, who had nothing but good things to say about him.”
Now that Hammon’s NBA feat has been decided for at least the next three seasons, the biggest mystery now is whether the 7-foot-2, 250-pound center can prove he’s as good as advertised or, in his case, silence the array of critics who weren’t all that sold on him following his stellar collegiate career.
Selected with the 46th pick by Dallas in last month’s draft, Hammons witnessed his stock plummet considerably, in large part because of the constant concerns about his motor, maturity, and age, all of which essentially pushed him farther down draft boards.
A little more than two weeks removed from a somewhat tedious draft night in which Hammons said, “I was a little scared, like, dang, nobody might call my name,” the 23-year-old Gary, Indiana native hinted on Thursday that his pre-draft stock reduction is right where it belongs — behind him.
Asked if he sensed he was overlooked weeks leading to the draft, Hammons said, “Not really. Everything happens for a reason. So you’ve just got to go out there and play with a chip on your shoulder.”
As for the existing concerns about whether Hammons will adjust comfortably and have an immediate impact, the former Oak Hill Academy star said he undoubtedly welcomes the monumental challenges that await him.
The Mavs’ Summer League team held its final practice Friday morning before boarding a plane for Las Vegas.
The team’s opener is Saturday at Cox Pavilion versus Miami at 9 p.m. EST.
“Yeah, I’m tired of (the ongoing criticism),” Hammons said. “But it’s just something you’ve got to work through and just show you’re getting better. I wouldn’t say I was overlooked. I had a couple of questions to come. But like I said, everything happens for a reason.”
Especially a connection with his new boss, who happens to be graduate of Purdue’s intrastate rival.
“He’s got a rep for being a little lackadaisical,” Cuban said of Hammons. “But as Brian said, he’s so competitive when guys start beating on him and then all of that goes away. His skill is undeniable. He can score. He can rebound. He can block shots. I mean, he’s going to have a long NBA career.”
So much for all the Boilermaker jokes.
DALLAS MAVERICKS SUMMER LEAGUE ROSTER
- Justin Anderson (G/F, Virginia)
- Chane Behanan (F, Louisville)
- Vander Blue (G, Marquette)
- Kyle Collinsworth (G, BYU)
- Perry Ellis (F, Kansas)
- Dorian Finney-Smith (F, Florida)
- Jonathan Gibson (G, New Mexico State)
- A.J. Hammons (C, Purdue)
- Isaiah Miles (F, St. Joseph’s)
- McKenzie Moore (G, UTEP)
- Giovan Oniangue (F, Paris-Levallois Basket/Republic of Congo)
- Satnam Singh (C, IMG Academy FL/India)
- Jameel Warney (F, Stony Brook)
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.