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Hummel's return to Minneapolis bittersweet

MINNEAPOLIS -- He remembers every detail from the night that Williams Arena became a crime scene.

Fate had orchestrated the bodily harm of a promising star on one of the most promising teams in America and thousands in attendance had witnessed the trauma.

Robbie Hummel felt it.

“I remember everything. I could tell you what I had for lunch. The day is just so fresh in my mind for whatever reason. E’Twaun [Moore] passed me the ball,” he told ESPN.com Sunday. “He probably could have shot it. He didn’t. Passed me the ball, I probably could have forced a three up but didn’t, drove the lane, Damian Johnson was guarding me. I think Paul Carter was help side and I just planted on that right leg. It really felt like my leg broke.”

Before the Purdue star returned this season from his second anterior crucial ligament tear in his right knee, suffered prior to the start of the 2010-11 season, he sat underneath a rim in Minneapolis on Feb. 24, 2010.

His right knee had buckled after he tried to complete one of the explosive moves that bolstered first-round chatter about the then-surging NBA prospect. In that game against the Gophers, Hummel was brilliant for his top-5 Boilermakers. The latter was 24-3 after a 59-58 victory against Minnesota that evening.

But when his knee collapsed on Feb. 24, 2010, Hummel’s show stopped for nearly two years. Hummel ultimately bounced back, despite suffering another ACL tear months later.

He scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds during his first trip to Williams Arena since suffering that initial ACL tear, a 79-66 victory over Minnesota Sunday.

“It was nice to play well, it was nice for our team to play well and just to get a win on this court,” Hummel said. “It was good. It was something I wanted to do and I’m glad we were able to accomplish that.”

After Hummel was officially diagnosed with a torn ACL for the first time, he missed the last eight games of the 2009-10 season and the entire 2010-11 season due to a second ACL tear in the same knee.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said he didn’t see Hummel tear his ACL the first time. But a glare from an official amplified his concern that day.

“What I remember is actually talking to the official that was there. I said, ‘Are you telling me he didn’t get touched?’ And so I kept asking the official. And the look on the official’s face,” Painter recalled. “He didn’t want to say, ‘Hey your guy just tore his ACL, something serious just happened.’ But the look on his face, when he didn’t respond to me, and he looked at me … I’ll never forget that look.”

Hummel reluctantly returned to Williams Arena, the site that some assumed had hosted the standout’s last collegiate game two seasons ago.

He didn’t hesitate to go after loose balls or scrap for rebounds or draw contact.

That’s not his style. After Hummel hurt his knee in Minneapolis -- prior to learning that he’d torn his ACL -- he put some ice on it and asked a team doctor if he could re-enter the game.

His resilience helped him re-claim his post among the Big Ten’s elite this season. He entered Sunday’s game as the league’s fifth-leading scorer (16.2 ppg) and seventh-leading rebounder (6.2 rpg).

“I’m just really enjoying playing again,” he said. “Right now, that’s good enough for me.”

Sunday’s game was another chapter of resilience for Hummel, who’s led an undersized Purdue squad to a 13-4 record and 3-1 start in the Big Ten.

He is one of college basketball’s unbiased, feel-good stories. The physical and mental anguish of one season-ending ACL tear has crushed other athletes. He had to swallow two in the same calendar year.

“For him, it’s been a long road. And this kind of reminds you, when you come back to the Barn, of what happened that day. Even though we ended up winning the game, it was a disappointing day for our program and for him,” Painter said. “But it’s also life. He never made any excuses. He’s always battled back, especially after that second one. Because you do ask, ‘Why me?’”

No one would have criticized Hummel if he’d chosen to walk away from the game that seemed to possess some vendetta against him. But Hummel maintained his goal of completing his collegiate career.

His first trip to Minneapolis since he’d suffered the first ACL tear wasn’t pleasant. He talked about that game while standing a few feet away from the training room that medical personnel carried him to shortly after his awkward landing. A monitor in the room replayed the injury multiple times.

Hummel described his most recent trip to the Barn as an obligatory trek, not as some spiritual cleansing that had exorcized old demons.

He was clearly happy to secure the win but just as content to know that he’d never have to make another journey to Williams Arena.

“I’m not going to lie, I don’t like being at this place. But I wasn’t afraid to come back and play,” he said. “It’s something where you kind of have to get over it. I really wasn’t too worried about it. It was a fluke thing. But I’m not going to lie. I’m not too upset that I don’t have to come back here and play again.”