Well, that was something.
I realize that a lot of other fan sites post immediate reactions after sporting events, whether their team wins or loses. In the 24 hour news cycle that we now enjoy in this day and age, that’s probably the smart thing to do. Instant gratification, and all that. For me, sometimes the pill is too bitter to swallow right away. That was certainly the case after Purdue’s heartbreaking 63-60 defeat to Kansas on Sunday. Not just because they lost, but because of the realization that it was quite literally the end of an era of Purdue basketball.
I graduated from Purdue University in 2010, and I was fortunate enough to witness the rise of Matt Painter, the evolution of his “Baby Boilers”, and perhaps the best role model for college basketball that anyone could ask for. These last five years have been a remarkable journey, not just for me, but for college basketball and Purdue fans everywhere who sit on the edge of their seat game after game, hoping beyond hope that this year is the year. Unfortunately, we came up short this season. But instead of just being upset we lost this one game, as devastating as it was, all it did was bring back a flood of memories of the last few years of Purdue basketball. For anyone that’s been a fan of Purdue over the last half decade, how could it not?
I remembered Tarrance Crump’s floater in the lane at the buzzer to beat Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
I remembered watching Carl Landry and David Teague torch defenses almost at will, and how disappointed I was when they graduated when I was only a freshman.
I remembered watching watching this new group of four freshman – JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and Scott Martin – and thinking, “We’re playing with four freshman? There’s no way we’re gonna be any good this year.”
Then I remembered being wrong.
I remembered those freshman dazzle me (and the country) in every game, and believing that sometime in the next four years we were going to make a huge run at a National Championship.
I remembered Robbie Hummel blocking a shot at the end of a home game against a ranked Wisconsin team, and then rushing the court with the rest of my fellow students, and patting E’Twaun Moore on the back.
I remembered Chris Kramer being bloodied in a game by Manny Harris, only to return a few minutes later with a mask on. People think Mackey Arena isn’t loud? I dare you to find an arena that’s ever been louder than when he stepped on the court again and taught Michigan what it’s like to play in our house.
I remembered watching Robbie Hummel jump for and save a ball that was going out of bounds, pass it to a teammate, step back in bounds, get the ball back from his teammate, and drain a 3 all within about 2.5 seconds.
I remembered camping out in the freezing cold to watch Purdue play Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
I remembered watching from the student section on New Year’s Day as an undefeated Purdue team knocked off undefeated West Virginia to move to 13-0 on the season.
I remembered watching Robbie Hummel literally score as many points in one half by himself as the entire Ohio State basketball team.
I remembered watching in shock as Hummel jump stopped in the lane against Minnesota, then crumpled to the floor. I thought maybe he just twisted something, that he would be fine, maybe miss a game and be good to go. Unfortunately, I was wrong again.
I remembered watching a Purdue team that struggled to play without him, but nonetheless shocked the country by making it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. At least we lost to the National Champs.
I remembered thinking that it was okay, because next year our Baby Boilers would be all grown up, and we were definitely going to the Final Four.
I remembered exactly where I was (at a home football game against Minnesota) when word got out that Rob had, again, torn his ACL in the first practice of the year.
I remembered JJ and E’Twaun shouldering the load without him, willing the team to victory after victory, while Robbie sat on the bench in a shirt and tie, coaching and cheering his team on the best he could. You couldn’t go an entire game without seeing him at least twice on TV, sitting on that bench.
I remembered being in the student section (even though I was an alum) for senior night for Johnson and Moore. I remembered watching how happy they were, but also how they both mentioned that the night was incomplete, because their brother wasn’t standing there with them. I remembered Robbie forcing a smile the entire time, but it was clear it was killing him on the inside.
I remembered watching in person in Chicago when Purdue crushed St. Peter’s in last year’s Tournament and then ran into the buzz saw that was VCU. I remembered thinking how Robbie, Jackson, and Smith had their work cut out for them next season.
I remembered the tumultuous season we had this year – an up and down non-conference slate, where we blew big leads to Butler and Xavier, a rough beginning to conference play, Robbie’s early struggles. Then I remembered him doing what he did best – putting the team on his back and completely dominating the last few games of the season for Purdue.
Then, this NCAA tournament. The final chance. The last hurrah for this era of Purdue basketball. We eeked by St. Mary’s, outplayed Kansas for 38 minutes, and then let the game slip away. To describe Hummel’s performance in that game as anything less than Herculean would be a disservice. He seemingly could not miss a shot in the first half. Even in the second half when Kansas clamped down on him, he was still trying to get his teammates open, still gobbling up rebounds. He played his heart out, and left everything he had on the court just like he did every game.
It just happened to be that his last shot as a Boilermaker was inches short.
Will I remember that? Probably. But I’ve got quite a few other memories of Purdue basketball and Robbie Hummel to make that recollection fade.