Healthy Hummel picks up where he left off at Purdue

Colin Becht

With Purdue ranked third in the nation and Robbie Hummel’s sights set on a No. 1 seed in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the forward planted his foot and slipped. Purdue’s postseason hopes did the same.

Eight months later, the Boilermakers’ expectations remained high as they returned Hummel and their two other leading scorers, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. Hummel’s right knee gave out again in a preseason practice and Purdue settled for a third-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.

For the first time since February 2010, Hummel is healthy, having recovered from two tears of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The senior is proving that he remains a force to be reckoned within the Big Ten.

“He’s been able to see the game in a different aspect,” teammate Lewis Jackson said at Big Ten Media Day in October. “He sees a couple of things you don’t see. Him not being able to play helped him become a better coach or just more understanding of the game.”

With the trio of Moore, Johnson and Hummel reduced to just one due to graduation, Purdue’s fate rests squarely on Hummel’s shoulders – and his right knee – more so than ever before. He has responded by scoring 15.4 points and grabbing 6.2 rebounds per game, good for fifth and sixth in the conference, respectively.

At 6-foot-8, Hummel poses a unique challenge as both a presence in the paint and a threat from behind the arc. His 25 blocks on the season are tied for sixth in the Big Ten, while his 41 three pointers are tied for fifth-best. Hummel also is tied for the second-most assists on Purdue.

“A lot of big guys think they can shoot, and they think they can dribble,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “In reality, they can’t in comparison to a guard. (Hummel) really helps us in that regard because he’s such a good decision maker.”

It has been a long road to recovery for Hummel, who never fully recovered from his first ACL tear before he re-injured the ligament.

“I had just been cleared to play, so I didn’t want to hurt my knee a week after that,” Hummel said. “I never really had the chance to get back to that point.”

A big step for Hummel in the final stages of his recovery from his second ACL tear was getting knocked to the floor without getting hurt. The ability to bounce back up helped him clear the mental hurdles of feeling like an injured player.

“It’s honestly felt good to get knocked down because I know that my knee can take that,” Hummel said.

Though Hummel plays forward, Painter said losing him for all of last season was more comparable to losing a point guard because of how much of Purdue’s offense runs through him.

“We had to change a little bit when we lost Rob last year,” Painter said. “We’ve always played through him as our trail, kind of a point-forward.”

The Boilermakers missed an opportunity to have a nationally competitive team last season. Purdue was ranked eighth in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches preseason poll but was upset by 11-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in March Madness.

Now the Boilermakers do not possess nearly the same scoring depth last year’s squad was expected to have. Hummel is one of just two players who average double digits in points, and Purdue is tied for sixth in the Big Ten having lost three of its last four games.

“It’s certainly different,” Hummel said of playing without Moore and Johnson. “We had a great bond together. Those guys are two of my best friends I’ve had at Purdue.”

As the lone star of the Boilermakers, Hummel has a chance to prove he has the skills necessary to compete at the next level. To draw NBA interest, Hummel will need to continue to show he is fully healed and still the same threat he was before the scars on his knee appeared.

“I’ve wanted to play in the NBA since I was a little kid,” Hummel said. “Nothing’s changed with that. I think that I have to prove to everyone that I can play for a full season and be effective in the Big Ten and college basketball, but I’m confident that I can do that.”

Painter said he’s just glad Hummel has a chance to prove those things.

“He has another day, ” Painter said. “Rob gets to write this last chapter in his basketball career from a college standpoint this year.”

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