Hopes for the school's first trip to the Final Four in 30 years begin with how well Robbie Hummel's bothersome back holds up." title="Hopes for the school's first trip to the Final Four in 30 years begin with how well Robbie Hummel's bothersome back holds up."/>
Hopes for the school's first trip to the Final Four in 30 years begin with how well Robbie Hummel's bothersome back holds up.
John W. McDonough/SI
This article appears in the November 23, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated
During a pickup game with Purdue teammates in late July, junior forward Robbie Hummel drove to the basket and made a layup. That would not have been noteworthy except that eight months earlier, in the Boilermakers' loss to Oklahoma, Hummel made a similar play and felt a sharp pain in his lower back. It turned out that he had a stress fracture in his L-5 vertebrae, which would force him to miss five games. So when he didn't feel a thing while making the same move last summer, Hummel breathed a sigh of relief. "That was one of those moments," he says, "when I realized I was finally O.K."
The good news for Purdue is that last season's primary topic of conversation -- Hummel's back -- is now a headline with a different meaning entering the 2009-10 campaign. Though the Boilermakers won 27 games and the Big Ten tournament title, and then reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000, they were 1-3 in league games that Hummel missed. Often the uncertainty of his availability forced coach Matt Painter to prepare two game plans for each opponent, one in case Hummel could play and one in case he couldn't. Hummel not only had a pain-free summer, but he also excelled for the U.S. at the World University Games. "This summer was great for his confidence," Painter says.
For Purdue to get to its first Final Four in 30 years, it needs E'Twaun Moore (42.2% from the field) and Keaton Grant (34.9% from three-point range) to regain their scoring touches and jet-quick point guard Lewis Jackson to improve on his ? 1.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
As an added incentive, a trip to the Final Four would be a short one: The site of the 2010 national championship is Indianapolis, just 61 miles away. Says Hummel, "I don't think there's a player in the country who wouldn't want that. We're looking forward to getting after it."
-- Seth Davis
Issue date: November 23, 2009