2/10/22 In the Paint

Nothing was ever guaranteed for former Purdue forward Robbie Hummel.

From his beginnings in Valparaiso basketball, to a season with then-rookie guard Zach LaVine and an aging Kevin Garnett, to newfound beginnings in “The Basketball Tournament” and beyond, Hummel saw ups and downs brought about by his extreme success in Indiana high school and collegiate basketball and just how quickly it can all be taken away.

After several stints with professional and amateur teams all over the globe, Hummel found a new home in what was once considered an unlikely spot for the former Boilermaker: color commentary from behind the sidelines.

Hummel can now be heard carefully illustrating and reviewing every intricate detail of games from the courts he once dominated for 40 minutes a night, alongside some of the nation’s most electrifying play-by-play commentators on the Big Ten Network and ESPN in venues all across the country.

Hummel would go on to earn three All-Big Ten selections in his 2007-2012 Purdue playing career, a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team and Big Ten Tournament MVP in 2009. No Purdue player has earned a Big Ten Tournament MVP selection since Hummel.

Hummel first tore his ACL in the first half of a 1-point win over Minnesota in 2010, causing him to miss the entire 2010-11 season.

“Injuries are a part of the game, but this is obviously disappointing on multiple levels because of everything Robbie Hummel has done for this program both on and off the court,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said in a 2010 statement. “As he begins his recovery and rehab, Robbie will continue to provide integral leadership as we pursue our team goals down the stretch.”

Professional basketball was never a sure thing for the former four-year Boilermaker starter, even with his success in Indiana.

After he was selected with the 58th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, injuries once again diluted his chances at playing basketball.

Three major injuries in two years, capped off by a shoulder injury as he played overseas in Italy, continued to limit his playing time and spots on professional rosters. Hummel bounced from the Timberwolves, to the then-NBA Developmental League, to Olimpia Milano in Lega Basket and even the Euro League in an attempt to continue his dream of playing professional basketball.

Though he found opportunities to continue playing basketball on the 2019 Olympic 3x3 team and in the “The Basketball Tournament,” a 64-team tournament, featuring a slew of former college stars playing for their alma maters and squaring off for a $1 million prize, Hummel eventually set his sights on a new way to stay involved with the game after a career-ending leg injury during an overseas match, one that would catapult him into stardom in a way he never thought possible.

Before and after Purdue

Hummel has been surrounded by basketball for almost literally his entire life.

He credited the beginning of his career to the powerful slam dunks and long-range shots he would attempt on a Little Tykes plastic hoop as a 1-year-old, his “obsession” immortalized in home videos taken by his parents, he said in his senior night sendoff video.

Hummel’s Purdue memories began when he was 5 years old in a semi-state game featuring his hometown Valparaiso Vikings and East Chicago hosted in Mackey Arena. He saw his first Purdue game when he was finishing middle school, when Purdue took on Austin Peay on Purdue’s home court.

Hummel continued to foster his obsession for the game as he watched the University of Illinois play basketball through his Champaign-resident grandparents, worked as a ball boy for Valparaiso coaching legend Homer Drew and attended several Butler University games.

From there, Hummel used his talents and endless amounts of hard work to play with a future Purdue teammate in Scott Martin under then-Valparaiso high school head coach Bob Punter, where he would average 15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, according to All Star Bio.

Hummel led his team to a 20-3 record and the top of the Duneland conference, earning the 71st-highest overall player ranking by Rivals heading into his recruitment.

As a four-star and one of Purdue’s highest ranked recruits in recent memory, Hummel had offers from both Purdue and Indiana, according to 247Sports.

His Amateur Athletic Union connections with now-NBA guard E’Twaun Moore and being recruited by head coach Matt Painter led Hummel to choose the Boilermakers over more familiar options Valparaiso and Illinois.

“Coach Painter did a good job of selling that it was the best place for us,” Hummel said. “(Moore, JaJuan Johnson and I) could look back and say he was right.”

Former Purdue guard Ryne Smith described in a Tuesday interview the community he shared with Hummel and other Purdue stars during the 2007-08 “Baby Boilers” era as a “special fraternity” and said Hummel was a big part of building an unforgettable team culture and a sense of brotherhood in the Boilermaker locker room.

“It really is a family,” he said. “At any given time, I could call a teammate, and they’d take care of whatever I needed.”

Hummel placed second on the team in scoring with 11.4 points per game his freshman year, while leading the team in rebounds, guiding the Boilermakers to a second-round appearance in the NCAA tournament, before being eliminated by a Derrick Brown-led Xavier Musketeers team.

Broadcasting and NBC Sports

Hummel couldn’t believe the situation he landed in on New Year’s Eve.

To his surprise, and somewhat relief, neither could his broadcast partner.

Hummel’s stardom in basketball commentary came down to a single night: An opportunity to work side-by-side with NBC Sports play-by-play announcer Adam Amin in a late-January Central Division matchup between the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers in what Hummel described as a “two-day” contract with NBC Sports in late December.

With almost a decade in Big Ten color commentary experience, from simulating live commentary of basketball with Smith, to calling Big Ten matchups with ESPN announcer Jason Benetti, Hummel knew he would fit well with the 35-year-old Chicago native and prove himself once and for all to be an effective analyst on one of the biggest stages in basketball.

It took less than three minutes for all of it to almost unravel.

A false-positive COVID-19 test from Amin, one that caused momentary panic within NBC Sports and the Bulls after 10 Chicago players and Amin’s color commentary partner, Stacey King, were quarantined with positive tests just weeks before. Without any remaining options, Chicago Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson rose to the occasion and donned a headset in Amin’s place.

With under a minute of preparation time and an inability to determine whether to call him “K.C.” or “Casey,” Hummel sat down with Johnson for frantic preparations in what would ultimately be their first-ever NBA broadcasting experience.

Johnson said he felt he could work seamlessly in some moments with the veteran announcer in an early-January blog post though it was their first time working together.

“Even though we sat apart, I felt connected,” Johnson said. “He’s really, really good at analysis.”

Hummel’s rise in broadcasting fame was almost inevitable. His natural speaking ability paired almost perfectly with the basketball proficiency he built from his decades of playing experience, along with his ability to effectively prepare for seemingly any situation, Smith said in a Tuesday interview.

Hummel said his process originated from the SportscasterU programs hosted by ESPN, replicating game sheets from the now-“Voice of the Orange” in Syracuse TV and radio play-by-play announcer Matt Park into an easy-to-understand format for almost every team he could think of. He combines the sheets with Synergy Sports, a scouting site designed to showcase player replays and highlights, for every team’s top-10 players.

The prep process, including compiling stats and watching replays, can take four to five hours per team depending on how important a matchup is and how much information is available.

“He’s incredibly prepared,” Smith said. “He takes every game he goes into and treats it like he’s preparing a scouting report for it. That’s why he has elevated so quickly as a broadcaster.”

In five years, the former Boilermaker had the chance to work with Benetti, Big Ten Networks sportscaster Kevin Kugler and Fox Sports broadcaster Brandon Gaudin, among others, while hosting a podcast with Stadium basketball analyst Jeff Goodman. Benetti and Hummel started a short Twitter series called “Bad Basketball,” where the two competed in friendly matches and referenced some of Hummel’s Purdue memories in some of college basketball’s biggest arenas.

Working with national-level broadcasters in hundreds of televised games gave Hummel the confidence he needed to be a next-level broadcaster, he said. It took him a full year to truly get the repetitions needed to become an effective broadcaster, but he felt lucky to have earned those repetitions since first being recruited by the BTN and through the agent who recruited him after watching just one of his BTN broadcasts.

What’s next?

Though Hummel said he lined up more broadcasts with Amin and the Chicago Bulls, he said he hopes to continue pursuing his dream of calling NCAA tournament games.

The environment created by college basketball games remains unbeaten in the NCAA tournament in Hummel’s eyes.

“I’m certainly enjoying both,” Hummel said. “That’s a good place for me right now.”

Even after they competed in the Gold and Black over a decade ago, Smith said Hummel’s playing style and demeanor haven’t changed since coaching him in last summer’s TBT tournament. Though Hummel set his sights on a future in broadcasting, Smith said, it meant more than anything to recreate his Purdue experience with players from all across Purdue campuses and playing periods.

“When (the tournament) is over, it hits you like a brick in the head,” Smith said. “You think it’s amazing, but then you don’t have it anymore.

“Seeing (Hummel) compete in the Gold and Black again with teammates he had and hadn’t played with, hearing them tell all their stories and be together when they’re not on the court, was an amazing experience.”

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