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Sun, Feb 7, 2016

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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Hummel's departure from college basketball is college basketball's loss


OMAHA, Neb. -- His eyes were red because he'd already been crying, but Robbie Hummel was about to cry some more. His career had just ended Sunday night in Purdue's 63-60 loss to Kansas in the Round of 32, and now he had to pull it together to meet the media. He walked up to the podium, stared down at the stat sheet and started to cry.

I have no idea what numbers Hummel was looking at, but he had just scored 26 points, making 9 of 13 shots. He had grabbed nine rebounds, handed out three assists, blocked a shot. This game had national Player of the Year Thomas Robinson of Kansas, but the player of the game Sunday night was Robbie Hummel.

Maybe he was looking at the final score. Probably was, come to think of it. Whatever he saw, Hummel rolled his eyes in frustration and started to cry.


It ended with 1,772 points, ninth in Purdue history. It ended with 863 rebounds, good for fourth. It ended with one of the best halves of his career but then with a miss on his final shot, a 3-pointer that might have given Purdue an upset of the second-seeded Jayhawks. It lasted too long and it ended too soon, and now it's over. Robbie Hummel will never play college basketball again.

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College basketball will be the poorer for that.

"He left a legacy here," Purdue teammate D.J. Byrd said of Hummel. "A legacy of hard work, caring, doing everything you can to get on the court."

From a statistical standpoint, college basketball gets good players like Hummel from time to time. He was good, yes, but Purdue has had better in the past, and Purdue will have better in the future. But as for the other stuff, the stuff D.J. Byrd talked about -- the caring, the hard work, the doing everything you can do to get on the court -- Hummel did that stuff as good as anyone ever has. Heartbreakingly, that was required of him.

Put it this way: Hummel's been through so much, I'd forgotten about his broken back.

Maybe you did, too. By now, if you follow college basketball much, you've probably heard about Hummel's right knee. He tore the ACL late in his junior season, then rehabbed for nine months. He returned in time for the first practice of his senior season ... and tore the right ACL again. He redshirted the 2010-11 season.

Before the knee injuries as a junior and senior, Hummel had suffered a broken vertebra as a sophomore, missing five games before finishing the season in a back brace. He wasn't the same player he'd been, but he was good enough to lead Purdue to the 2009 Big Ten tournament title, collecting MVP honors in his back brace. Then came the knee injuries. One thing after another, but Hummel dealt with it.

And people liked him for it. Not Purdue fans, of course. They loved the guy, but almost everyone else? They liked him, and that doesn't happen in sports today. The better you are, the more the other side will despise you, be it from fear or jealousy. Fans in other cities feared Robbie Hummel, but they didn't dislike him.

"There no reason not to like him, except for how good he is," Byrd said. "That's the only reason you can hate a guy like that."

Kansas fans didn't hate Hummel but they feared him, and with good reason -- because for 20 minutes he was terrifying. He needed just eight shots in the first half to score 22 points, going five of six on 3-pointers and hitting one difficult shot after another. There was the jumper from the baseline, from almost behind the backboard. The catch-and-shoot 3-pointer with the 6-foot-10 Robinson closing out so hard that Hummel went flying. The 17-footer where he drove Robinson toward the basket before stopping and popping a jumper. And the 29-footer late in the shot clock, late in the half? That was just silly.

Robinson was removed from Hummel duty in the second half. And he was fine with that.

"He would have had 50 on me," Robinson said. "Easily."

Hummel enjoyed it, yes.

"It's a crazy feeling you have as a player," he said, "when it seems like everything you're shooting, you're making it."

Hummel cooled off in the second half, then missed the final shot of his career -- a 3-pointer with seven seconds left and Purdue trailing 61-60. The rebound went long, Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor went the other way for a dunk, and that was the game's final, clinching bucket. A Kansas basket off a Hummel miss.

Afterward, sitting on the podium with Hummel and senior Lewis Jackson, Purdue coach Matt Painter thanked all his seniors, calling them by name as Hummel looked upward, chewed on his lip, drank his water, wanted to disappear. When Painter concluded by saying, "They fought for our program," Hummel's eyes rolled up into his head and he started again to cry.


A few minutes later, as Hummel shuffled back to the locker room, Kansas coach Bill Self approached from the opposite direction. It was Self's turn to meet the media, to bask in the glow of another Sweet 16 appearance, and he had a smile on his face until he saw Hummel. Self kept walking but stopped smiling, then looked down after spotting the look on Hummel's face, the red in his eyes. Finally Self looked back up, gave Hummel a compassionate wink and smile, and reached out for a handshake.

Self had to know what I'm telling you now, that we're not going to see another Robbie Hummel again. You have to hope not, anyway. Who wants to see another college player with Hummel's ceiling -- easily a future NBA starter, maybe a future NBA star, before all those injuries -- go through what Hummel has gone through. Hummel might yet play in the NBA, and probably will actually. He shoots too well, and he works too hard. Some franchise will draft him, sign him, play him, love him.

But college basketball will be the poorer for it.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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