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February 6, 2009

Up in the air

On Thursday, Matt Painter wouldn't rule out any scenario regarding Robbie Hummel's availability the rest of the season.

On Friday, the broken-backed sophomore in the bright white plastic turtle-shell brace came close to at least ruling out the worst-case scenario: that he might not play again this season.

"According to the doctors, my back will get better (this season)," Hummel said. "They think."

The general prognosis on Hummel's back - he has a hairline fracture in one of his vertebrae, causing painful spasms and dramatically limiting his mobility, to say the least - is that prolonged rest will remedy the issue.

But it would require a matter of weeks, probably more like months, and Hummel doesn't have that kind of time.

The Big Ten's preseason player-of-the-year has hardly practiced since Christmas and has missed two games because of it, including the Boilermakers' overtime loss at Ohio State Tuesday night. He has no idea whether he'll play Sunday at Illinois, a feeling he'll probably get before every single game the rest of the season.

"I have a hard time sitting on the bench," Hummel said. "I don't think I could coach, because I can't handle that."

Adding to the agony is the fact that, in a year where the Big Ten is ripe for the picking, Purdue's already sustained three league losses, two of them in games Hummel sat out and the other in the game where the issue first came to a head, the opener against Illinois, after which Hummel was propped up on crutches.

All three might have been Boilermaker wins with a healthy Hummel.

"It's frustrating," said Hummel, Purdue's leading rebounder and three-point shooter and a critical cog to the Boilermakers' offensive flow. "It's one of those things where I wish I could have contributed more. They did the best they could, and we lost to some good teams. There's nothing you can do about it."

Now, Hummel's "day to day" in every sense of the term.

Every time Purdue plays, he probably won't know until game-day whether he is.

Hummel believes he'll keep playing this season, but admits to having little idea how often and how much.

"There's a lot of different things we might do," Hummel said. "I just don't know what's going to happen yet."

One option is to rest Hummel indefinitely in hopes he can return in better shape later in the season. Another is to play him in only one of two games in a week, particularly ones with short turnarounds, in hopes of giving him an additional couple of days of rest.

At Ohio State, it was mostly Coach Matt Painter's call to sit Hummel.

"Rob's always going to say yes," Painter often says.

Painter's made it clear that he won't risk Hummel's long-term well-being for any one game or any one season.

Hummel's been told that the chances of his condition worsening into something that would require surgery are "very slim."

But that's where his shell-like casing comes in, to pack in his torso to protect him.

"It just immobilizes my back and lets my muscles relax," Hummel said. "The area where my back's broken doesn't really hurt, but the muscles spasm because of it. It kind of locks the muscles in."

It's a miserable situation, but one that Hummel doesn't want to let keep him off the court.

"I just want to help my team," he said. "The back thing stinks, but it's one of those things I need to get through."




Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2009. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.



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