Hummel puts in extra time, effort to help Purdue
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP)
It was 11:30 p.m., and Robbie Hummel was on the court. The star senior cut through the silence with the rhythmic bounce of the basketball and the quiet thump of hip-hop from a small CD player he had placed near the free throw line -- the same spot where he missed two crucial shots hours earlier, before Purdue survived a potential game-winning shot to beat High Point 67-65.
Then came another sound.
Again and again, with no TV cameras on, no coaches pushing him, no adoring fans awaiting autographs.
With each shot, Hummel reinforced the qualities that have long defined him. Hard worker. Strong-willed. Perfectionist. Leader.
He scored 18 points against High Point, but he missed three of his four free throws. It felt like a loss to him.
''They call them free throws, they're free,'' he said. ''There's nobody guarding you.''
As he chatted with friends after the game, the player who shot 90 percent from the free-throw line as a junior was visibly perplexed. Eventually, he responded the only way he knew how. He went to work.
Hummel's decision was typical of the person he has become, the one thousands of fans from basketball-crazy Indiana and beyond believe symbolizes all that is good about the game amid NBA labor strife and me-first antics. It's the same work ethic that has allowed him to come back from two torn ACL injuries and average 19.5 points in his first two games after missing last season.
His road into the hearts of basketball fans hasn't gone as planned.
The versatile 6-foot-8 forward immediately had an impact at Purdue, earning all-conference honors his freshman and sophomore seasons. He averaged 15.7 points and 6.9 rebounds his junior season before tearing the ACL in his right knee on Feb. 24, 2010. Purdue was ranked No. 3 in the nation at the time and had hopes of reaching the Final Four in Indianapolis. Even President Obama said he felt sorry for Purdue after Hummel's injury. He missed the rest of the season, and Purdue lost to Duke in the Sweet 16.
Hummel recovered, and he was touted as one of the nation's best players heading into 2010-11. Many expected him, along with eventual draft picks JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, to help Purdue make a run at a national title. Instead, he reinjured the knee and missed the entire season.
Undaunted, he went back to rehab as intensely as before because the game means that much to him.
''I love playing basketball,'' he said. ''I miss playing. I want to be back on the court. I miss the adrenaline rush of going out here, playing in front of 15,000 people. It's so unique, and you can't get it from anything else.''
His intensity during rehab impressed K.K. Houser, a women's player who also missed last season with a torn ACL.
''That kid works so hard,'' she said. ''I would see him in there rehabbing, and it would be a day where I'm like, `Here we go, it's another day of rehab.' And I would look over, and I would see Robbie just busting his tail, and I'd be like, wow. I need to be like that kid while rehabbing and getting back to where I need to be.''
Word of Hummel's late night free-throw work drew praise on Twitter, with some comparing his work ethic to that of Larry Bird, Indiana's favorite son.
''Rob is kind of the quintessential thinking man's player,'' Purdue coach Matt Painter said. ''He's always thought things through, even to a fault, at times. He's always been that way, kind of a guy who understood, defers to others, makes the extra pass, does the little things.''
Hummel has never been the top scorer on his team. Because he was used to a supporting role in high school, it was easy for him to focus on sharing the ball with Moore and Johnson.
''When you play with two guys, one of them is scoring 2,000 points and the other is a first-team All-American, maybe deferring to them maybe isn't such a bad thing,'' Hummel said. ''I never felt like I passed up open shots or anything like that. We had a really good team, so we could spread it out.''
Painter expects more scoring from Hummel this season.
''I still want him to play in the same role, just be more aggressive,'' Painter said. ''You still want him to make the right play, but I want him to take more shots and play more off a shot fake, play more out of the mid-post.''
Hummel accepts Painter's challenge. He hit a 3-pointer with 20 seconds remaining Thursday to give Purdue a 91-90 victory over Iona.
''I think I can still make other people better and move the ball, but if I need to go in there and score, that's fine with me,'' he said earlier this week.
Hummel looked good in offseason workouts, but his first hard contact in game action came in the exhibition opener against Northern State. He took a hit on a drive to the hoop and made the shot, but Purdue's fans were a bit nervous because they didn't know how he'd hold up. Hummel popped up, and the crowd let loose with something halfway between a collective cheer and a sigh of relief. He converted the 3-point play and finished with 18 points and seven rebounds as Purdue won 78-46.
Hummel pumped his fist while lying on the ground.
''That definitely felt instinctive,'' he said. ''I didn't think about that at all. It was good to come down awkwardly - it was my left (knee) and not my right - but obviously, I had nothing happen. That's always a plus.''
Hummel led the team with 38 minutes against High Point, but it didn't keep him from shooting after the game. No one should have been surprised: Weeks earlier, he offered a view of how he is approaching the season.
''This is my last go-round,'' he said. ''I thought last year was my last go-round. Hopefully, I won't have to go through that again, but there is definitely a sense of urgency with my team, myself.''
Hummel rarely thinks about how he'll be remembered - he's too busy soaking up every moment that doesn't get snatched away by another injury. But for a moment, he pondered it.
''I definitely don't want to be remembered as the guy who just got hurt all the time,'' he said. ''I want to make it through the season. I think I want to finish this year off on a high note and I want to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Hopefully, I'll be remembered as a winner.''
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbruntap