For a few weeks one summer, Tyshawn Taylor saw the old Robbie Hummel, an efficient scorer who could play three different positions. For Taylor, this particular memory starts in June 2009, when Taylor, a sophomore guard at Kansas, joined Hummel, a junior forward at Purdue, at the USA basketball team trials in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Taylor and Hummel wouldn’t share much court time — Taylor was slated to play on the U-19 World Championship team, while Hummel would play on the World University Games squad — but Taylor still came away with a lasting impression.
“He’s a competitor, man,” Taylor said.
Nearly three years later, Taylor will have an opportunity to see the new Robbie Hummel, a fifth-year senior who has been through two major knee injuries and two seasons without NCAA Tournament basketball. The second-seeded Kansas Jayhawks will take the floor against No. 10 seed Purdue at 7:40 p.m. Sunday at the CenturyLink Center with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. And both players will be attempting to prolong their college careers.
For Hummel, the new version isn’t that much different than the old one. Maybe he’s a little bulkier now. Maybe he’s a little wiser, too, armed with the sort of perspective that forms after you go through a grueling knee rehab — only to blow out the same knee again the next season.
“It allows you to kind of look back at things,” Hummel said Saturday, two bags of ice taped to his knees as he stood in the Boilermakers’ locker room. “And (you) say … ‘Hey, it’s great to play in this tournament.’ ”
Back in the summer of 2009, when Hummel was one of the most impressive players at the USA camp, tournament appearances seemed like a given. Purdue had advanced to the Sweet 16 during his freshman season. Hummel was an All-America candidate. And with fellow standouts JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore in the same class, the Boilermakers were all set to be a Final Four contender during the 2009-10 season. Then came a late-season conference game at Minnesota on Feb. 24, and a jump stop that turned into disaster. Hummel slipped and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, ending his season. The Boilermakers would lose to Duke in the Sweet 16.
Eight months later, after a summer of rehab and training, Hummel was feeling healthy and ready to return for his senior season. Johnson and Moore had decided to forego the NBA draft and return to Purdue. And again, the Boilermakers would be a top-10 team. Then came a preseason practice, and an awkward landing that re-tore the repaired ligament. Hummel’s return was crushed.
“The second time,” Hummel said, “we’re ranked No. 2 in the country to start the season. So, it was certainly disappointing to get hurt and miss out on those runs.”
Purdue’s victory over St. Mary’s on Friday night helped make up for some of those missed opportunities. After averaging 16.1 points per game during the season, Hummel had 10 points as the Boilermakers held on down the stretch in a 72-69 win.
Now comes Kansas, and another rather large obstacle. A 6-foot-8 forward with perimeter skills, Hummel will likely be asked to guard Kansas forward Thomas Robinson.
“He’s listed at 6-10,” Hummel said. “I don’t know if he’s that big. But I think I’ve been guarding centers all year, so it shouldn’t be any different.”
Of course, that also means that Robinson could be asked to chase Hummel around the outside. Hummel shot 37 percent from three-point range this season, while averaging 23.6 points per game during a six-game stretch late in Big Ten play.
“He’s just injuries away from playing in the (NBA),” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Still, Hummel says it took him until February to feel fully comfortable. And if he’s being honest, he’s probably still regaining some of his old explosiveness.
“It’s just something where you have to get used to cutting again, jumping, rebounding in traffic,” Hummel said. “Those have been probably the three hardest things.”
Hummel’s senior season hasn’t been perfect. Purdue lost Moore and Johnson to graduation. And starting guard Kelsey Barlow was kicked off the team in February for disciplinary reasons. The Boilermakers finished just 22-12, including a 10-8 record in a rugged Big Ten. But a Sweet 16 appearance would certainly wipe away some of that turmoil. And for Hummel, it would mean at least one more game, another opportunity to make up for lost time.
“When it’s been taken away from you for two years,” Hummel said. “I definitely appreciate it more because of that.”