The conversation surrounding Purdue basketball has gone from the "Big Three" to the "big knee."
But that doesn't necessarily mean the Boilermakers' five-year run of 20-win seasons and NCAA tournament bids is about to expire. Not if Robbie Hummel can help it.
Hummel missed the latter part of the 2009-10 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He sat out the 2010-11 campaign after tearing the same ACL again. Now he wants to show he hasn't lost any of the ability that made him an All-America candidate earlier in his career.
"I think I'll be the same," he says. "I really do. Especially with the way [my rehabilitation] has gone, there's no reason to believe I can't be back in November playing at a very high level."
Purdue spent the past four seasons leaning heavily on the trio of Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, who arrived on campus together in 2007. Johnson and Moore were drafted by the Boston Celtics last week after ending their college careers sharing school records in wins (107) and games played (140). Johnson was a consensus All-American last season, while Moore appeared on All-America teams in each of the past two seasons.
Their departures leave Purdue without anyone who averaged in double figures for the team that went 26-8 last season. Purdue was billed as a potential Final Four contender last season before Hummel was hurt. Conventional wisdom goes that without Johnson or Moore, the Boilers could struggle to earn an NCAA tournament bid.
"I think we're capable of doing a lot," says Hummel, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2008 and 2010. "We return a lot of good players. I know who we lost. We lost a first-team All-American and another guy who was considered a second- or third-team All-American and who was an All-Big Ten guy all four of his years.
Purdue's new look
The lineup that Robbie Hummel will join this season will have changed quite a bit since he last played for Purdue in the 2009-10 season. Here's a look at Purdue's potential lineup now that Hummel is back and JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore have left.
F/G D.J. Byrd (6-5/Jr.): Byrd made 22 starts last season and averaged 5.2 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists. He's a solid defender who can guard opposing point guards, off-guards and small forwards.
F Travis Carroll (6-9/Soph.): Carroll started six games as a freshman and averaged 1.3 points, 1.9 rebounds and 9.2 minutes per game. He adds a physical presence and isn't afraid to do the dirty work in the low post.
F Robbie Hummel (6-8/Sr.): Hummel was one of the top players in the nation before tearing the ACL in his right knee twice in 2010. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2008 and 2010, and he also was an Associated Press honorable mention All-American in 2010.
G Lewis Jackson (5-9/Sr.): Jackson was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season after averaging 8.0 points, 4.0 assists and 3.2 rebounds. Jackson, who has great quickness and can be a defensive pest, had more than twice as many assists as turnovers last season.
G Ryne Smith (6-3/Sr.): Smith is a try-hard guy started 24 games last season and ranked fifth in the Big Ten with a 3-point percentage of .441. He averaged 6.2 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists.
"We definitely lose a lot, but there's no doubt in my mind we'll have a very good team. I think we'll be different, but I look for us to be right in the thick of things next year."
He has spent this summer at his family's home in Valparaiso while frequently commuting to Chicago, where he works out at the Attack Athletics facility owned by Tim Grover, a training guru whose list of clients has included Michael Jordan.
Hummel's progress is going as well as he could have reasonably anticipated. He's back on the court. He's running, jumping and shooting. He doesn't expect to have any trouble being ready for the start of the season. Hummel already was had a reputation as a hard worker, but he has grown even more diligent over these last few months.
"He's going all out. He's changed his diet. He's driving his mom nuts with the stuff she's got to try to feed him," says Hummel's dad, Glenn Hummel. "He's eating healthy. No trips to Mc Donald's. No pizza. He's really eating well and doing all the right things."
The questions surrounding Hummel's health are puzzling to those who know him best. Hummel never worried about injuries while starring at Valparaiso (Ind.) High.
"Robbie had been amazingly injury free," Glenn Hummel says. "People kind of label him as being 'injury-prone,' but prior to him getting to college, he just had the normal bumps and bruises - sprained ankles - but never anything serious."
Hummel had endured an amazing run of bad luck in the past few years. The last time Hummel played in a game, on Feb. 24, 2010, he was a junior who seemed on the verge of leading Purdue on a Final Four run. Purdue was third in the nation and in the process of winning its 10th consecutive game when Hummel hurt his knee while driving to the lane in a 59-58 victory at Minnesota.
That Purdue managed to reach the Sweet 16 without Hummel raised hope that the Boilers could make a run at the 2011 national title when he rejoined Johnson and Moore, but he never got that chance.
After he jumped to block a shot by Moore during a preseason practice, Hummel made an off-balance landing and immediately felt that something was wrong with the same knee he had hurt several months earlier.
"It's a very unique feeling," Hummel says. "You kind of feel your knee shift. It's hard to explain, I guess, but ask anyone who's torn an ACL before. They'd know if they did it again."
Back for more?
Purdue has advanced at least to the second round of the NCAA tournament in each of the past five seasons, though the departures of first-round pick JaJuan Johnson and second-round selection E'Twaun Moore could put that streak in jeopardy next season. Here's a look at Purdue's record during the streak.
NCAA round of 32
NCAA round of 32
NCAA Sweet 16
NCAA Sweet 16
NCAA round of 32
It wasn't the type of experience Hummel wanted to have once, let alone twice. Yet just as previous NCAA tournament experience often can help a veteran team make a long run in March, Hummel's history with knee injuries has helped him deal with this latest setback.
"It's been much easier this time around," he says. "This time, I was more prepared for it."
Hummel made himself as much a part of last season's team as possible. He went to practice every day, lifted with his teammates and joined the Boilers on all but one road trip. Hummel would even try to provide occasional pointers from the bench while watching Purdue advance to the NCAA tournament's round of 32, where the third-seeded Boilers lost 94-76 to Final Four-bound VCU in the NCAA tournament.
As bad as last season was, Hummel's absence the previous season may have been even more painful because Purdue was on such a roll before he got hurt.
"I still believe the way we were playing that first time I got hurt, we could have made it to the Final Four or had a big run because we were playing so well," Hummel says.
Purdue returns its other three starters from last season in senior guards Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith and junior swingman D.J. Byrd. But the Boilers lack frontcourt depth and won't contend for a Big Ten title without a healthy Hummel. He remains optimistic and says he sees similarities to the 2007-08 Purdue team from his freshman season.
The Boilermakers had lost senior leaders in Carl Landry and David Teague and didn't return anyone who had averaged in double figures. Instead of taking a step back, Purdue's freshman-dominated team went 25-9 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"It could be a lot like JaJuan's, E'Twaun's and my freshman year," Hummel says. "People didn't know what to expect [that year], but I thought we came out and played hard every game, and by the end of the season, we proved we were a really good team."
Purdue's chances of remaining really good rest on Hummel's right knee.