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WEST LAFAYETTE – On a summer-like day in mid-March, two teams met in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Omaha and both featured a heralded forward that had aspirations to play in the NBA.
One player was an experienced veteran that torched the nets, missing just four of his 13 shots en route to 26 points. The other misfired on 10 of his dozen shots and finished with just 11 points.
So to the casual observer, it might be a bit perplexing as to why Kansas' Thomas Robinson, who made just two more baskets than the Jayhawk mascot in that aforementioned game, may go as high as the second overall pick, and Purdue's Robbie Hummel, who was easily the best player in that game, may not get selected at all.
“For people to say that he can't play in the NBA,” Boilermaker senior guard D.J. Byrd said, “I'd have to say that they are wrong.”
Hummel will face an important step in his professional future beginning today at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. The league will put 60 of the top prospects through various physical tests and interviews over the next four days. Hummel needs to make an impression to boost his stock, which has him precariously close to not being selected at all in the draft, which will be held later this month.
“There is no question in my mind,” Purdue associate head coach Jack Owens said of Hummel's ability to make the NBA. “Everybody that I've talked to says that he definitely has a chance at being drafted.”
It says a lot that Hummel closed his storied career with one of – if not the best – games of his career against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. And the scary thing (in a positive way) is that he is playing even better today than he was then.
“I worked out with him the other day and he's improved so much in the last month, I was shocked,” Byrd said. “His knees weren't bothering him, and how strong and quick, how precise he was coming off of ball screens, pull-up jumpers, and NBA three's…”
Hummel will have the opportunity to show the NBA scouts what he has shown Byrd and quiet some of the critics that say injuries to his right knee and back have taken the athleticism out of Hummel's game.
“Robbie's probably playing the best basketball that he's ever played,” Owens said. “He's healthy and that's the most important thing. He's back playing with a motor and he's making shots.”
Owens believes that the 6-foot-8, 215-pound Hummel fits the role of a “face-up four (power forward),” but could slide down on occasion to the small forward spot.
His offensive game as far as shooting, passing, rebounding, and basketball intelligence are rated among the best of the available players. However, it is Hummel's ability to defend and his history of injuries that are his major detriments.
Those that haven't dealt with the Valparaiso native on a daily basis tend to have more questions regarding Hummel than those closest to him. His coaches and teammates understand just how far they believe Hummel's drive and determination will carry him.
“He'll outwork anybody that he can,” Purdue assistant coach Greg Gary said. “He's confident in his game and he's very good.”