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October 20, 2010Robbie Hummel heard rumors he might not come back.
"That never crossed my mind," Hummel said of not returning. "I don't know where that (rumor) came from. I'm not going to give up that easily. I'm not going to throw in the towel."
Granted, the Boilermaker senior's repeat injury was devastating, but nothing that can't be overcome.
After having surgery in November - Hummel doesn't yet know who'll perform the surgery, but estimated it will take place around Nov. 10-12 - he'll redshirt this season, working in a sort of assistant coaching role during the year.
Among the silver linings Hummel's been able to scrounge up since his injury, that's one of them, that he may learn this season whether or not coaching is something he might want to pursue in his future.
But playing is his first priority.
"I have a year and a few months now to get ready for next season," Hummel said, "and that's more than enough time. This whole coaching thing, I can figure that out.
"We have a lot to look forward to this year, but next year, we lose E'Twaun and JaJuan, but it's not like the cupboard is bare with talent. We'll still be good. I really think that and I guarantee you I'll work just as hard if not harder to come back."
Coach Matt Painter thinks Hummel can remain an asset this year, even if he can't play.
"We have to move forward as a team, and as we move forward, Rob's going to move forward with us," Painter said. "We've had some really good assistant coaches here, good enough assistant coaches that they might make a difference on a given night whether we win or lose games. Rob can affect whether we win or lose. He just has to do it in a different capacity."
The injury occurred Saturday morning at Purdue's Recreational Sports Center, where the Boilermakers held their first official practice of the season.
"We were doing a 3-on-2, 2-on-1 (fast break) drill and I was under the basket," Hummel said. "E'Twaun drove the ball at me and I jumped up to block his shot and hit the ball with my hand. I don't know where the ball went. I came down kind of off-balance on my right leg, heard a pop and knew right away I tore my ACL again."
Prior to that cruel turn of events, Hummel felt he was well on track in his return.
"I felt good. I got back to where I could dunk the ball pretty easily and I'd shot the ball well all summer and fall," he said. "That's part of the reason I am so frustrated, because I did feel good. I was moving around pretty well and to have that happen right at the beginning (of practice), it's hard to swallow."
When asked if in hindsight he returned too quickly from a major injury, Hummel said, "I did everything doctors told me to do."
It was the most difficult blow for Hummel in a career that's seen more than its share of such adversity.
Hummel missed games and was permanently "day to day" as a sophomore because of a hairline fracture in his back; last season, his injury at Minnesota came just as the Boilermakers were playing their best basketball of the season heading into the postseason, sitting pretty not only for an outright Big Ten championship, but also a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
His return was central to projections of great things for Purdue this season.
"I almost feel guilty for the fact I got hurt," Hummel said, "because I know people were really looking forward to the season, then with everything that happened last season."
With that said, Hummel cautions not to dismiss what those remaining healthy are capable of.
With news of the injury came Purdue's severe drop in preseason polls.
"I think we're capable of everything we were before," Hummel said. "We still have two All-Americans. I don't know of too many teams in the country that have that. E'Twaun and JaJuan and we still have the same supporting cast, minus me.
"As for dropping, let us prove we're not (worthy). We haven't played a game yet."
Purdue's used to playing without Hummel and now, unlike last year, has time to prepare to do it.
"We have time," Painter said. "It was the first day of practice, so we have a lot of practices here to find our way."
But even with that said, Hummel won't easily be replaced.
Sophomore forward Patrick Bade made an impression throughout the off-season with his improvement and could get first crack to win a starting position by virtue of the fact he's the Boilermakers' most experienced frontline player aside from Johnson. Fellow big men Sandi Marcius and Travis Carroll are freshmen.
Sophomore D.J. Byrd, a wing player in high school, played the role of undersized power forward as a freshman, largely due to a dearth of other options up front.
Johnson might be capable of moving out to the 4 position, to be replaced at center by Bade, Carroll or Marcius, giving the Boilermakers atypically big lineup.
Painter said the coaching staff has considered using 6-foot-5 point guard Kelsey Barlow as "an undersized 4," as well, a role Chris Kramer was moved into on the fly last season when Hummel went down.
Painter was asked Wednesday who might replace Hummel in the starting lineup.
"I think if there was an obvious answer to that question," Painter said, "then that person was going to start anyway. ... The fact that person was not in place (already) shows we have a lot of competition."
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