Hummel puts in extra time, effort to help Purdue
Mackey Arena was nearly empty on a cool Indiana night, the crowd
long gone after a basketball game that was a lot closer than Purdue
fans cared for.
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
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
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
”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,
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