So what should we honestly expect from Robbie Hummel?
In what must either be a case of much ado about nothing or the biggest test of head vs. heart Purdue fans have had to endure since … well I don’t even know when, the 2010-11 season remains one massive enigma for the Boilermakers’ best player.
(In case you have the memory of my cats or, you know, lived in a cave circa last February, Hummel is returning from an ACL tear suffered in late February. This is his senior year and there was obviously no chance for any sort of medical redshirt, making this his last chance to team up with fellow classmates JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore and carry Purdue into the Final Four.)
On one hand, Hummel’s numbers speak for themselves. He’s never averaged less than 11.4 points per game in a single season and finished last year close to 16. He’s never shot worse than 36.4 percent from behind the arc — a fine number for a forward of his skillset — and he’s generally regarded as probably the most complete offensive player in the Big Ten, now that Evan Turner makes money for his basketball.
Johnson is the size, (though not the muscle) and Moore the most pure shooter, but Hummel is the straw that stirs the drink for the Boilermakers. His ability to spot up and shoot or drive the lane in equal measure, combined with a deceptive athleticism that’s useful against larger defenders, makes him Purdue’s best offensive weapon on paper. It would also be fair to say he’s no slouch on defense, and he’s a reliable rebounder.
Of course, that other hand is troublesome.
When Hummel went down last February in Minneapolis, he added himself to the list of athletes that have suffered perhaps sports’ most-feared common injury outside of the concussion. A torn anterior cruciate ligament, while infinitely more fixable in this day and age than anyone would have thought possible even five years ago, casts a certain level of doubt over not just an athlete’s physical recovery, but mental recovery as well. I point you to something Greg Estes, an orthopedic surgeon in Indianapolis, told our friends at the Hoosier Scoop (I guess now sort of your friends at Inside the Hall too. Whuddup Korman?) after Maurice Creek’s knee injury in December.
“With any kind of knee injury, whether it’s an ACL tear or a knee fracture or anything, that first season back, you can tell they’re just not their old self,” said Dr. Greg Estes, an orthopedic surgeon at Indiana Orthopedic Center in Indianapolis. “It’s usually not until their second season that they’re back to what they used to be. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s a pretty common thing.”
That’s a nice, official way of saying it’s really hard, sometimes, for athletes to get used to playing on an injured knee, even after its been fixed and rehabilitated, because of the mental timing involved. Our knees are one of those things we don’t tend to realize are so important until after they have failed us somehow, and no one can relate to that better than an athlete who’s torn one of the four ligaments housed inside.
For some, it comes back quickly. I can remember talking to Notre Dame forward Scott Martin — who tore an ACL last October at the very beginning of fall practice — several times about his recovery. He said it took him time through the spring and summer to rebuild confidence in the rehabbed knee, though it returned after “a couple of months.”(Shameless, self-promotion, I know.)
The problem is that Hummel doesn’t have a couple of months, and here’s where we need to draw the distinction between him and Creek or Martin. Creek was cleared, essentially, for full action this summer, and by the time he plays in a meaningful game, it will have been almost 11 months since his injury. Martin’s time off will have been so long that Mike Brey sent him to Europe to play with a traveling team this summer just to get him meaningful, competitive minutes. In short, both young men have had ample time to deal with the mental aspects of their recovery.
But Hummel was hurt in February. At last check, his rehab was on schedule, though it’s always been unclear exactly when he would be 100 percent. For Hummel, there is no breaking-in period, although Purdue’s non-conference schedule sort of looks like one. He will have to find his sea legs mid-sail, a feat none too easy.
Our old friend Eamonn Brennan put together best case/worst case scenarios for each Big Ten team in late August, and part of what he said about Purdue’s worst-case scenario bears repeating in this argument.
Even assuming Moore, Hummel and Johnson stay healthy, replacing Kramer will be nearly impossible. Purdue’s offense was good but not great last season; it got considerably worse without Hummel, ending the season at No. 70 overall in offensive efficiency. (See Purdue’s 11-point first-half performance against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament for anecdotal evidence. Things got pretty putrid.)
Although all three players in that trio are talented, Hummel is the cornerstone. His inside-outside game provides the luxury of freeing up space for both Johnson inside and Moore outside. He is, in short, the most important player on what is possibly the Big Ten’s best team, but only if he’s at his best. And the Boilermakers — if they are to finally realize the enormous potential graced upon them when Hummel, Johnson and Moore came to campus in 2007 — will need the best of Hummel. If they get it, he’s Big Ten Player of the Year, possibly by a noticeable distance. If they don’t, then the prize is probably another trip to the Sweet Sixteen, at best.
Filed to: Robbie Hummel