Omaha, Neb. For Purdue senior Robbie Hummel, the road to Omaha has been about much more than putting together a solid season and helping the Boilermakers overcome a sixth-place finish in the Big Ten to get into the NCAA Tournament.
It’s been about overcoming the physical and emotional toll that back-to-back ACL tears can take.
Two years ago, with Purdue ranked No. 3 in the country late in the season, Hummel, a 6-foot-8 athletic forward from Valparaiso, Ind., tore his ACL on a routine jump-stop. Immediately, Purdue’s hopes for a national title were gone, and Hummel, a household name and All-American candidate with an NBA future, was left wondering what would come next.
After a solid session of rehab, Hummel returned a year later and, in large part because of that, the Boilermakers entered the preseason as the No. 2-ranked team in the country. But bad fortune struck again, and Hummel suffered his second ACL tear.
The swingman went to work again and rehabbed the knee. The result this time around was much better, as Hummel started all 34 of Purdue’s games this year and wound up being the team’s leading scorer at 16.1 points per game. Sure, he’s a different player in some ways, but just the fact that he’s playing at all has earned the forward with the suddenly uncertain future a ton of respect.
“First of all, with him, how could you not respect this guy?” said Kansas University coach Bill Self, whose Jayhawks (28-6) will face Hummel’s Boilermakers (22-12) at 7:40 tonight at CenturyLink Center. “To go through what he’s gone through physically and still play at a high level... the guy is averaging over 16 a game, coming off of two ACLs. Stud. Stud.”
Hummel does not see anything he has done as heroic. He’s just a guy who likes basketball and was not ready to stop playing. Now that his college career still has life, he seems pretty content with how it all unfolded and that has helped him enjoy Purdue’s run a little more.
“Definitely,” he said. “It’s something that allows you to kind of look back at things and say, ‘Hey, it’s great to play in this tournament that’s been taken away from me for the last two years.’ I definitely appreciate it more because of that. And I guess I’ll be able to look back when I’m old and say it was pretty fun.”
The right start?
In 34 games this season, the Boilermakers have thrown together nine different starting lineups. When they face KU tonight, they figure to go with one of their more rare looks in an attempt to match-up with the Jayhawks.
“We’ll probably start a bigger lineup,” Hummel said. “I would assume.”
That lineup puts Hummel (6-8) at the power forward spot and sophomore Travis Carroll (6-9) at center.
During Friday’s victory over St. Mary’s, Purdue started its more-regular four-guard lineup, with Hummel, D.J. Byrd (6-5), Terone Johnson (6-2), Lewis Jackson (5-9) and Ryne Smith (6-3) taking the floor for the opening tip.
With so much attention placed on Purdue’s lack of size, the Boilermakers talked about how they, much like Missouri, might be able to use the mismatch to their advantage.
“That’s something to take into account,” Hummel said. “But at the same time, it poses some pretty big match-up problems for us.”
Because of his versatility, Hummel has fared well this season when given the job of guarding big guys or small guys. Asked what must go through the mind of KU center Jeff Withey, when he had faced smaller lineups, Hummel smiled.
“When you’re 7-foot, it’s different when you have to chase around a 6-6 guy,” he said.
One of the reasons the Boilermakers don’t dwell on their lack of big guys is a testament to their head coach.
“One of the main things that coach Painter said to me at the end of last season was, ‘Don’t focus on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have,’” Smith recalled. “We don’t have a lot of size, but we’re gonna try to make up for it in other ways, and that’s by being tough and physical on the defensive end.”