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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 28 Digital 3

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Page 53 of 81

GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 28, ISSUE 3 54 But Haarms is actually two inches taller and not one to back down from anyone, as shown time and again during this, his redshirt freshman season for the Boil- ermakers. Ayton turned, faded and shot. Haarms rose, closed and swatted the shot out of bounds. Then, he clapped his hands together and yelped in celebration, as he's known to do. It was all there in the span of just a few seconds, Haarms flashing the game-changing defense that's transformed Purdue at that end of the floor and helped make it one of the better teams in college basketball to this point, and showing the sort of exuberance and competitiveness Purdue has come to love and crowds at traditional Big Ten snakepits in Bloomington and East Lansing and Madison will inevitably come to loathe. Haarms is a towering 20-year-old who could pass for 17, a 250-pounder who could pass for 210. He looks young and he looks skinny, but his impact has belied those optics and then some for a Boilermaker team that as of the first week of January was riding a 10-game winning streak and surging toward the top 10 nationally, a run that began with that Arizona game. It wouldn't be overstatement to call Haarms one of the most impactful newcomers in college basketball. Maybe not the one with the best numbers or the greatest name recognition, but one who's been of the most value to his team, for certain. Purdue came into 2017-18 with uncertainty at center behind Isaac Haas, exacerbated by veteran Jacquil Tay- lor idling in October over injury concerns. Haarms has erased the question, turned it into an ex- clamation point actually. Additionally, he's almost single-handedly taken Pur- due from one level to another defensively. He's averaging better than three blocked shots per game, and because of it, it took Purdue just a dozen games to exceed its blocked-shots total from all of last season. "It's the A.J. effect," point guard P.J. Thompson said, referring to former Big Ten Defensive Player-of- the-Year A.J. Hammons. "I don't know if he's quite as good defensively as (Hammons) was yet, but he's pretty freaking close." Meanwhile, Haarms' mobility and activity and length have served as ideal counterbalances to areas defen- sively where the enormous Haas struggles due to the re- alities of his dimensions. Haarms runs and slides later- ally like a player a foot shorter, to the point that Purdue will use him to switch screens, with length enough to envelope opposing ball-handlers if they're not careful. In effect, Haarms has completed Purdue, covering up a question mark on the depth chart and a vulnerability on defense. Purdue might be fine on defense without Haarms playing at this level; it would not rank in the top 10 nationally in efficiency, a development that couldn't have been expected but has certainly been welcomed, the same way Haarms' impact couldn't have been ex- pected, but has certainly been welcomed. He enrolled mid-year last January after his career at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas was cut short by eligibility issues stemming from his age. When Purdue learned his eligibility clock had been set off, he sat out Charles Jischke As of the start of January, Matt Haarms was well on pace to break Joe Barry Carroll's Purdue freshman record of 82 blocks.

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