Hummels discuss crushing injury; how will Purdue cope with loss?
Hummel's parents were driving to Purdue's practice when they received the news
"Nighttime is the worst," said Hummel, who hasn't slept well since the injury
Without Hummel, Purdue seriously lacks frontcourt depth in a very bulky Big Ten
VALPARAISO, Ind. -- They went to church on Sunday morning at First United Methodist, slipping into a rear pew to avoid the inevitable conversations about The Injury, which would've made Linda Hummel cry. The reverend, Dr. Jacob Williams, didn't know Linda and her husband, Glenn, were there, but Williams is a Purdue fan, and in this state there is little separation between church and basketball. So his sermon about "Keeping Faith" eventually made its way to the topic of their eldest son.
"Robbie Hummel is in a valley right now," Linda remembers hearing. "But he's going to climb back up that mountain ..."
She thanked Williams after the service. It was something a mother needed to hear on the morning after Robbie had suffered his second ACL tear in less than nine months, which will force him to redshirt a season in which he and fellow All-America-candidate seniors E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson had hoped to finally make a run at a national title. The church insists that everything happens for a reason. But what reason could there be for this latest, cruel twist -- one that robbed one of the nicest players in college basketball of yet another NCAA tournament?
Linda and Glenn had been driving from Valparaiso to West Lafayette on Saturday, the day of Purdue's homecoming football game and its first official basketball practice. Robbie had been cleared to return to the court earlier in the month. "We hadn't seen Rob play since he got hurt [on Feb. 24 against Minnesota]," Glenn said, "so we were hoping to catch the tail end of practice."
With about 30 minutes left in their trip, Glenn's cell phone rang. The caller ID said Jeff Stein, one of Purdue's trainers.
"I talk to Jeff occasionally," Glenn said, "but he never calls me during practice."
"I said, 'Oh, dear god, don't let it be [Robbie's] ACL,'" Linda said. "When I heard Glenn say, 'Oh No,' I knew."
The rest of the drive was miserable. They arrived to find Robbie sitting on the floor of Purdue's Co-Rec center, wearing a knee brace, shellshocked, watching the rest of practice. He'd already received his diagnosis. Linda cried and embraced him. The doctors asked the family if they had any questions about what came next. They didn't. They'd been through the process already. It was just more heartbreaking to begin it a second time.
They went back to Robbie's apartment to watch the football game, and news of the ACL tear was already on the ESPN ticker. They heard of the wave of murmuring and sick stomachs that spread across Ross-Ade Stadium as the story disseminated. They heard it was announced on the PA during Indiana's football game in Bloomington. Robbie had already received hundreds of texts. "I've never seen so much emotion, from so many different groups of people," Linda said. She just felt horrible that Robbie, Moore and Johnson -- who'd arrived at Purdue together in 2007 -- wouldn't be able to make their final run at a Final Four together.
On Monday night, she and Glenn sat in their living room, and his cell phone rang continuously with calls from surgeons in various parts of the country. Robbie had his last surgery -- on his 21st birthday in March -- in Indianapolis, but they were considering all of their options. Virtually everyone they know has offered suggestions, in hopes of facilitating a comeback in 2011-12 (Hummel said he would return to Purdue next season). The Hummels were simultaneously trying to formulate a plan for a mid-November operation, trying to move on, trying to rationalize why this could happen again, trying to fight back tears, trying to have faith.
Robbie Hummel walked into Mackey Arena on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the Boilermakers' 1 p.m. practice had started. He was wearing a large black brace on his right knee, basketball shorts, a North Face fleece and a few days of stubble. He was carrying a Subway sandwich bag, and he sat on the team bench and ate as they worked through the intense defensive drills that typify a Matt Painter practice.
Around 2 p.m., assistant coach Paul Lusk enlisted Hummel to help with a drill. As he stood on the left wing and fed post passes to Purdue's forwards, it was painfully evident just how thin they are now on the blocks. Four big men remain: Johnson, sophomore Patrick Bade (who averaged 1.5 points, 1.6 rebounds last season), redshirt freshman Sandi Marcius and true freshman Travis Carroll. In one pause in the action, Hummel walked over to instruct Carroll on the finer points of either trapping the post or creating a wall in the lane.
Hummel's last move in Saturday morning's practice was to contest a layup by Moore. "I don't think we even made contact," Moore said, "and Robbie landed like normal, flat on two feet, but then ..."
... He crumbled to the ground. And it wasn't like the first ACL injury, when Hummel believed he'd broken his leg. This time, he said, "I knew right away." And there was little anyone could do to console him.
"When you've been through everything you've been through, you run out of things to say," Painter lamented. "I'm sorry isn't going to make it better."
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