WEST LAFAYETTE - As he exited Wednesday night's postgame press conference, Matt Painter stopped at the Mackey Arena tunnel entrance where 7-footer A.J. Hammons was devouring a large pizza.
Painter smiled and reached into Hammons box to grab a large slice of pepperoni. "Now, that is how you do it," Painter said, taking a big bite and smiling from ear to ear.
If Hammons plays with the kind of potential he flashed at times Wednesday night in his first game back from a three contest suspension, the Purdue sophomore center will have the funds to buy his coach all the pepperoni pizza Painter ever could desire.
In only 17 minutes of action in the Boilermakers' dominating 109-73 victory against Central Connecticut State, Hammons contributed 12 points, five rebounds and seven blocks, in addition to injecting an obvious boost of confidence into his teammates.
Hammons has the potential to be every bit as good as he wants to be, placing himself in position to earn millions at the next level. But potential is one thing, and maximum productivity is another.
Many times during Hammons' freshman season, he left Painter and his teammates wanting more from him.
Some nights, he was really, really good. Some nights, he performed with an indifference that drove Boilermaker fans crazy.
Then, when Painter suspended Hammons for two exhibition games and this past Friday night's one-point regular-season opening victory against Northern Kentulcky, many wondered if Hammons was sincere about his desire to perform at a championship level.
He took several giant steps in the right direction Wednesday night, making it much easier for his teammates to stop opponents' drives to the basket. That is Hammons' territory, and intruders were not welcomed.
"I've just been ready to play since coming off the suspension," Hammons said. "It was about being prepared. I pretty much tried to block shots and get my team ready.
"I love playing defense and blocking shots. I was glad I was able to do that. If we can stop teams, we can do great things."
Senior guard Terone Johnson, who led Purdue with 17 points, said Hammons' presence around the rim changed the game, especially in the first half.
"Obviously, it was really felt," Johnson said. "The first couple of plays we're kind of like last game in that guys were driving right past us, but when we sent them into big AJ., they were in trouble. He was playing straight up, wasn't reaching and was getting us a lot of blocks. Having him in there was a huge advantage for us."
Painter is eager to see Hammons bring that dominating game the center has to the court each night.
"Obviously, he helped us at the rim," Painter said. "He blocked seven shots and altered a handful of others. That is where his impact really helps us.
"He also can score with his back to the basket. He had three or four opportunities where he still should have scored. I thought he was ready to play at the start of the game, but he wasn't ready when I subbed him in at the end of the first half and at the start of the second half. We have to get him ready each time he subs in."
Hammons has lots of room for growth. If he does, this will be a much improved Purdue basketball team. And if Hammons does, Painter should be set with pizza for the rest of his life.