A talented sophomore forward might finally be showing his true potential.
After the first official practice this week, the rest of the team were singing praise for Jacob Lawson.
“He was very good today in the first practice,” head coach Matt Painter said. “I thought he brought a lot of energy. He played hard and was very aggressive. We need him to use his athleticism to transform that into energy. If he does that, he will be pretty productive.”
Many fans know Lawson as the lanky, freak athlete highlight reel waiting to happen. Lawson was given a few chances to show his talent last season but struggled to keep pace with experienced Big Ten big men.
“I think he got thrown into the fire last year,” Painter said. “It was difficult. We wanted to play a certain way and he helped us in a sense and in other areas he was a little bit behind.”
In his first season, the 6-foot-8-inch Lawson averaged 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds in 11.1 minutes per game. Purdue struggled to find a presence in the paint all season with 6-foot-9-inch junior Travis Carroll getting the bulk of the minutes. Carroll averaged just 2.6 points and 2.9 rebounds in 17.1 minutes per game.
Although Lawson is only a sophomore, the feeling around the team seems to be that once he is finally up to speed, he can be a major help to the team’s front-court problem.
Junior guard Terone Johnson is also excited about Lawson’s potential and has immediately noticed a difference in his play, saying “he has a bigger heart this year.” Other players have also taken note of Lawson’s hustle and say it’s only a matter of time until he’s a big contributor.
“Jacob’s a very athletic guy,” redshirt sophomore guard Anthony Johnson said. “Once he fully understands the system, he’s going to be able to help us a lot. He’s going to be able to rebound and also dunk the ball. He just has to get the mental game down first. Once he gets that, the sky’s the limit for him.”
This season, two freshman big men will also have the chance to make an impact. Painter is excited to finally have such depth at the position.
“I like having options,” Painter said. “They’re going to decide who plays. Before, we’ve been a little thin at that position and now we have more guys there. We’re looking forward to that competition and telling us who we should play.”
Freshman 7-footer A.J. Hammons will have the biggest opportunity to emerge as a difference maker with his size. But like most freshman, he has a lot of work to do before stepping into a Big Ten road game and clogging the paint.
“I think he could (be an impact defensively),” Painter said. “It’s still a long way away. He’s got great size and he’s got great feel. Like most big guys, he’s going to have to get into shape and he will also have to learn to concentrate and play through some fatigue.”
Anthony Johnson once again echoed Painters remarks, saying it’s tough to understand the system quick enough to reach full potential in the first year.
“That one year really helps,” Anthony Johnson said. “After that first one you’re able to remember some things and it becomes like second nature.”
Fortunately for Hammons and fellow freshman 6-foot-9-inch forward Jay Simpson, they will be able to get game experience early next month in Italy when the team plays four games during a 10-day trip. A trip abroad is only allowed every four years by the NCAA, making it something Lawson and Johnson weren’t able to experience as freshmen.