Robbie Hummel is a name synonymous with college basketball. Originally known for his play at Purdue a decade ago, he’s now transformed into a staple of the sport’s broadcasting force.
Basketball, and by extension college basketball, were a forgone conclusion in Valparaiso, Indiana. Hummel caught the bug early, and at NCAA Tournament time especially, he was locked in.
“I remember as a kid making so many brackets,” Hummel said. “I would fill out like 15 brackets.”
He continued to carry that passion with him through his playing days in West Lafayette and beyond into the professional ranks. But unfortunately, injuries derailed a career that could have been much different.
Two ACL tears in the same knee in the same calendar year forced Hummel to miss the end of the 2009-10 season and entire 2010-11 campaign. The bad luck followed him after he left Purdue, affecting his time in the NBA and ultimately forcing him to retire from professional basketball.
“I’m really not sure if I think that I had a good career or not,” he explained. “I think if you told me in high school that this is how it was going to go down, I would’ve said to sign me up. But I get into my junior year at Purdue, and I’m playing the best I’ve ever played, and all of a sudden, I blow my knee out twice in 16 months and don’t play for 12 or 13 of those. It’s really hard.”
A common path that athletes who don’t want to leave their game take is coaching. Hummel said that when he was playing, coaching would have been the most likely path he would have considered to remain in basketball, but announcing never crossed his mind.
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“I don’t know if I thought I could be an announcer,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s that you don’t want playing to end or if you don’t think it will actually come to that. I love the game, so I probably would have thought I’d coach before I announced in basketball.”
But that’s not how it went. Instead, Robbie Hummel fell into announcing.
After not being re-signed by the Minnesota Timberwolves, the player went overseas to Italy. During a box out in a midseason game, an opponent ran into Hummel and popped out his shoulder, dislocating it and tearing his labrum. Yet again, an injury derailed Hummel’s plans on the court, and he was forced to return to America for surgery and rehab.
“At the time, as a player, you’re looking at this thinking it’s a catastrophic injury for my career,” Hummel remembered. “I’m playing for one of the best teams in Europe, and I get hurt. Now you’re looking at yourself like, what comes next?”
During this time, an old friend of Hummel’s from Purdue who worked at Big Ten Network asked him if he’d be interested in doing pregame, halftime, and postgame studio work. Willing to do anything to stay around the game while he otherwise rehabbed, he jumped at the chance.
Hummel found his agent, a Michigan grad, because he watched the former Boilermaker during the halftime of a Wolverines contest on BTN, and everything began to fall into place for what has become one of the brightest young careers in college basketball broadcasting.
“It’s hard to say, because you never want to get hurt, but it might have been the best thing for me. It gave me a lot,” Hummel said. “It gave me the experience; it gave me my agent. There were a lot of positives that came out of getting hurt in Italy, which is weird to say but true.”
It’s been several years since then now, and Hummel has become a mainstay for ESPN and BTN college basketball broadcasts. He said his announcing career has been a big help in recovering from the emotional pain of having his NBA and overseas playing days ended prematurely.
“I enjoy being around the coaches, the players, the people I work with, from play-by-play guys, producers, directors, everybody has been awesome,” Hummel explained. “I like the fact that you feel like you’re part of a team. I think that’s the one thing you miss when you stop playing is that feeling of being on a team, but a broadcast is totally a team effort.
“It’s tremendously helped cushion the blow,” he continued. “I love the game. I love being around it.”
And now, Robbie Hummel has found something he feels he can do for another few decades.
“I’m 32,” he said. “I could certainly be calling games when I’m 62, and I’d be really happy if I was.”