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.

Swish.

Again and again, with no TV cameras on, no coaches pushing him,

no adoring fans awaiting autographs.

Swish.

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