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Hummel leaves a lasting legacy

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Updated: April 1, 2012 8:22AM



Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith have etched their place in program annals.

With Purdue’s tradition of producing tough players, Jackson has been among its toughest, overcoming foot surgery, back problems and plantar fasciitis during his career. The point guard responded after his alcohol- and drug-related arrest the April following his freshman season to mature into a trusted leader.

And Smith has developed into a two-year starter, working diligently to overcome the defensive and physical deficiencies from early in his career.

But as much as those two seniors have meant to Purdue, Wednesday at Mackey Arena — Senior Night against Penn State — is mostly about Robbie Hummel, who will go down as one of the greatest players in Boilermakers history, along with E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, the two stars with whom he should have graduated last year by all rights.

During his five years at Purdue, the Valparaiso High graduate has earned respect and admiration from all corners of the college basketball world — and probably beyond — with his class, dignity and character, both on and off the court. The way he has battled back (what’s a more emphatic phrase?) from the two ACL tears — endured, with grace and without anywhere near what would have been an acceptable level of self-pity, all of the trials and tribulations, physical and mental, associated with those dreaded injuries to his right knee — has only served to further endear him.

With his performance and passion, Hummel has joined the pantheon of Purdue players, created an indelible legacy.

“Rob’s been everything you could want as a player, as a person, as a student,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “As a coach, guys like that will spoil you.

“He’s always been a guy — maybe to a fault — he would always try to do what I said. That seems like something simple in coaching, but those are the guys I hang my hat on. We’ve had some guys in our program, we had a couple guys that felt I had a bias towards E’Twaun Moore. And they were right — I do have a bias towards E’Twaun Moore. I like guys that go to class, that are academic All-Americans, that come early, that stay late, that love the game of basketball. I am biased towards those guys. And I’m biased towards Rob Hummel. But I’m also biased towards their habits, their work ethic, and how they carry themselves. Those are the things that one needs to be successful.”

Respect from afar

People outside the program expressed similar sentiments.

“He means a lot to every coach, because he does it the right way,” said Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, whose own highly regarded team leader, Draymond Green, was among the players who reached out during the outpouring of support when Hummel was injured. “What he’s been through is unbelievable. But he’s a team guy, he takes shots, he gets rebounds, he plays defense, he’s asked to do a lot of things, he handles the ball sometimes. He’s just a great representative of the Big Ten.”

Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan has additional perspective on Hummel, having coached him in the World University Games in the summer of 2009.

“Here’s the thing I told our players: You should just thank a Robbie Hummel, because what he brings to basketball is unbelievable determination, grit,” he said. “He did things through injuries, kept his teammates up, did all those things, now he’s playing again. So it’s still Robbie Hummel to me. He’s a guy I’d take anywhere — Belgrade, because I did. I’d take him to the ends of the earth — I’d want him playing for me.”

Fortunately for Boilermakers backers, Hummel is one of theirs, having been instrumental in revitalizing a proud program. He’s become like a Brazilian soccer player, with identification requiring but a single name.

Somehow, some way, Hummel’s No. 4 will wind up in the Mackey rafters, along side Smooge and JJ.

Look, we all know — Hummel included, as he has been candid about his (misplaced) guilt — his two knee injuries cost Purdue two legitimate opportunities to reach the Final Four. Not guarantees, naturally, but honest-to-goodness cracks.

The Boilermakers were rolling before that fateful night in Minnesota; and it would have been special to see those three one-time members of the “Baby Boilers” give it one last go together as seniors, before that freak play on the first official day of practice last season.

If only the basketball deities had simply remained stone-faced — forget about cracking a smile ...

Closing out strong

The fact that this team has all but sewn up an NCAA Tournament spot is a testament to the three seniors, especially Hummel, who has basically refused to allow the Boilermakers to end their season — and his career — in, gulp, the NIT.

When they have needed him most, he has delivered, averaging 23.2 points and 10.2 rebounds in the last five games, a stretch that included a season-high 29 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, and has rendered that midseason shooting slump but a blip. He’s healthier now than he was then, practicing more consistently, more confident, and the results have been evident. From the outset of the season, he was asked to carry this retooled team, of which he shouldn’t even have been a part; now, though he has been receiving considerable help, he’s largely doing it, physically in a better place to execute such a task, matching the always-present will.

“He’s been putting this team on his back lately,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.

“Every time the ball leaves his hand, I think it’s going in — that’s how well he’s been playing.”

On the topic of statistics, Hummel will finish among Purdue’s career leaders in an array of categories, including probably ninth in points and possibly fourth in rebounds. He’s already the only player in Boilermakers history with 1,600 points, 800 rebounds, 250 assists, 125 steals and 100 blocked shots, underscoring his versatility as a “point forward.” And he could complete his illustrious career in the top five in wins.

But, of course, Hummel’s contributions can’t be measured in sheer numbers.

“He’s just a solid guy,” Painter said. “ ... He wants Purdue to win, and he puts in his time preparing himself. A lot of times, the older guys will say the right things, but they don’t always do the right things. I think Rob is in a tough situation, and he’s really done a good job of leading by example. It’s uncomfortable for him to always talk about things, especially in front of a group — he’s great one-on-one. But it’s just not his nature. But the best thing a leader can do is just go out there and do the right things. He’s always been that guy for us.”



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