Purdue fans didn't want to leave Mackey Arena on Wednesday night.
Why should they have? At least, not before Robbie Hummel had a chance to speak.
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireRobbie Hummel was hampered by knee injuries the past two years. This season, the fifth-year senior has led the Boilermakers to a likely NCAA tournament berth.
Few players have given so much to one program.
Hummel should have played in a Final Four in his career. He probably should have been a first-team All-American. He should have spent this year playing professionally, in the NBA or overseas, as a Purdue graduate.
Instead, injuries interrupted his career, not once but twice, and robbed him of what could have been an iconic career for Purdue had he been given the opportunity to try to lead the Boilermakers to the Final Four.
"There were many times when I wondered if I would get to senior night," said Hummel. "It was so great that the fans stayed. It was a special night."
Hummel arrived in West Lafayette, Ind., as part of a celebrated freshmen class that included E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. It was a class that served as the cornerstone for coach Matt Painter in directing the program's turnaround.
After battling a stress fracture in his back early in his career, Hummel tore his right ACL at Minnesota late in 2010, ending his season. At the time, the Boilermakers were No. 3 in the country and playing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They ended up earning a No. 4 seed and lost to top-seeded Duke in the Sweet 16.
"It's the most frustrating thing," said Hummel of his career. "I fully believe that had I not gotten hurt that we would have gone to the Final Four. We had the team to do it. We were about to be ranked No. 1."
Hummel tore his right ACL again the following October in his first practice of the season. He didn't play in 2010-11, and Johnson and Moore finished their careers without a Final Four appearance.
"For a while there, I thought I wouldn't make it," Hummel said of finishing his career. "All it takes is one movement and it could happen again. But luckily, the second surgery, they did a very good job. The trainers did a very good job."
He said it was hard knowing he wouldn't finish his career alongside Moore, with whom he had played since his sophomore year in high school, and Johnson, with whom he had played since the summer before college.
Hummel could have graduated last year, but he didn't want to dive into a time-consuming graduate business school program. He opted to pick up minors in communications and marketing and will get his undergraduate degree this spring.
The Boilermakers have survived some major distractions with the dismissal of Kelsey Barlow and the suspension of D.J. Byrd. After winning at Michigan on Feb. 25, the Boilermakers have all but sealed an NCAA tournament bid.
Hummel has been the team's leader and its top contributor with 16.8 points and seven boards a game. The balance is in place with Lewis Jackson, a double-figure scorer, on the perimeter and Ryne Smith making shots.
This team doesn't have a back-line defender of Johnson's quality but is capable of grinding out a win in the Big Ten tournament and being a tough out in the NCAAs.
"We're playing extremely well, and we're happy to be considered a lock to be in the tournament right now," Hummel said. "We're trying to improve our seed as much as possibly with a win at Indiana [Sunday]. It's big for us, and in the Big Ten tournament, anything can happen."
Few high-major players will appreciate being in the NCAAs this season as much as Hummel. He hasn't played in the postseason since his sophomore year.
"I appreciate playing in those games. It's always been fun, and it shows just how tough it is to get in the field," he said. "I say that because of what happened. I appreciate it more than I thought I would."
Hummel got a standing ovation at Mackey Arena. He should get an applause wherever his career ends in the NCAAs. He's been as good for the game as any player in the country the past five years.