Each and every year, there are a handful of departing college basketball players who stick with you, whom you can’t help but root for as they leave the college game and move on to whatever phase of their careers comes next. The reasons for this attachment vary. Some build it over four year careers. Some are particularly fun or personable. Some are admirably competitive. Some let their quirks shine through. Some are true student-athletes; they harken back to a nostalgic bygone I certainly don’t remember and which arguably never existed in the first place. Some are just so much fun to watch -- Kevin Durant, say, or Anthony Davis -- that you feel lucky you got to watch them on a college stage at all. And some make you hopeful: Sure, he was a great college player. But can he do it in the pros?
Robbie Hummel is one of the aforementioned. And in more ways than one.
By now Hummel’s story has been told and retold a thousand times. The star freshman and sophomore who suffered devastating ACL injuries at the worst possible time, robbing him of chances to make an NCAA tournament run in 2010 and finish his career with friends and star classmates E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson in 2011. In 2012, Hummel returned from those knee injuries for one last year at Purdue, a team with a desperately undermanned frontcourt and a handful of solid-but-not-great role players in its starting lineup, averaging 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. In March, on the first Sunday of the NCAA tournament, he put on a show -- 26 points, nine rebounds, 9-of-13 from the field, 5-of-9 from 3 -- and was one Lewis Jackson turnover and a missed late 3 from knocking off the much more talented, eventual national runners-up Kansas Jayhawks.
The story of Hummel’s college career, and his good-natured, just-keep-swimming reaction to all of it, made him a favorite not only among Purdue basketball fans but among the sport at large. Try to find a college coach to say a bad word about Robbie Hummel. Heck, try to find an Indiana fan. (The declaration will usually begin as such: “I hate Purdon’t as much as the next guy, but I’ve got no problem with Robbie Hummel.”) The level of respect runs deep, and rightfully so.
Which is all a long way of saying that it was exciting to see Hummel chosen in the NBA draft in June, even if he wasn’t selected until deep in the second round. Likewise, the latest news on Hummel’s career is exciting in its own way, too. According to the Lafayette Journal Courier, Hummel has decided to begin his pro career overseas, where he has signed with El Obradoiro, a club in Spain’s top-flight professional league:
“It is a done deal,” said Hummel, the 58th pick in the 2012 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. “I am heading over to Spain. I’m excited. The Timberwolves and myself both agreed that it’s probably best for me to go overseas for a year.
“(The Timberwolves) have a lot of forwards on the team, but I still think the Timberwolves are my future.”
Were that last bit not the case, this news might be seen as a disappointment; Hummel would prefer to be playing in the NBA, right? Well, sure. But Hummel’s NBA team is stocked with versatile forwards (Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Chase Budinger, even Greg Steimsma and Dante Cunningham) and, let’s be real, the chances of Hummel getting playing time among that group are slim. By going to Spain, Hummel will have a chance to play quality professional minutes right away. If he produces -- much like Kyle Singler did in his lockout-fueled year playing for Alicante and later Real Madrid -- Hummel will have a host of options at his disposal, including a return to the NBA or a high-profile signing in Spain.
Maybe he’ll get back to the NBA next year, or the year after that. Or maybe Hummel will get to play the next decade of his life in a place I would pay a considerable amount of money to visit for just a few days.* Whatever the outcome, Hummel is well on his path to a professional basketball career. Considering the trials of his college career, that’s a very welcome sign indeed.
*El Obradoiro is based in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the autonomous Spanish region of Galicia, and features a well-preserved and utterly stunning cathedral and old city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site that draws thousands of tourists each year. In the immortal words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there. Point is, a 23-year-old banking pro hoops euros could do worse, locationally speaking.