With the headline, you might think I'm asking the question "what if" in reference to what if Hummel was healthy...but instead, I'm asking, what if Hummel hadn't recovered quickly and was deemed unable to play this season before this morning's injury had occurred? Our perspective would be different, no doubt.
For one thing, we wouldn't have had to experience the punch in the gut that we all felt in the early afternoon and might feel right now. Morgan Burke summed it up best, I think.
"As soon as it happened my stomach, it's still upset. I've got a knot in my stomach that I haven't had in a long time and that's just because I love the kid and hate to see it happen."
Precisely. I've met Rob a few times quickly...no real connection to him other than I really like him and the way he plays...and like so many other Purdue athletes, he was really nice to my son last spring. That's always endearing for a Dad. So I was as excited for him as anything else as he prepared to play with his pals one last season before heading to the next level. But plans seldomly go the way they're supposed to go.
So back to an alternate perspective.
Hypothetically, if my alma mater was heading into any other season returning TWO Wooden Award candidates, two former all-Frosh team players who were both starters, an instant-impact true Freshman and more frontcourt size and talent than they've had in five seasons and some guys who are much-improved (according to rumors), my outlook might not be too bleak.
Universally, people that have seen Johnson play in the last month-or-so say he's a different guy...a better player. A guy who averages over 15 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks/game wants more out of his game. He took the criticism given to him by the NBA scouts and didn't whine, but decided to get stronger and use it constructively. How many more points, rebounds, blocks per game will his workmanlike summer yield? How much does it help a guy to guard and face NBA all-stars day-in/day-out for over a month? We'll see soon.
The other big time talent...the forgotten guy on this year's Boilers has done OK, I guess. He was All-Big Ten First team, All-American third team and Academic All-American second team last season. He led the Boilers in scoring, has become a defensive force in the last two seasons...and some of the media think he's one of the top defensive players in the nation. He's not sexy to the media...but feared by his opponents. And he just quietly does his job- whatever's needed, he seems to do.
Patrick Bade, D.J. Byrd, Lewis Jackson, Ryne Smith and Kelsey Barlow all dedicated themselves to getting better months ago...their offseason work has just become more-important as their responsibilities will all likely increase in the wake of today's news. I always say sports are a microcosm for life. As we've seen with Rob Henry's emergence on the football field and what will be expected from Barlow, Bade and others this coming basketball season- like the boy scouts tell us, we simply must always be prepared. No one knows what's coming next.
I'll also say that Matty is a damned-good coach who seems to be able to squeeze a lot out of teams who look tapped-out from time-to-time. Remember, our pals in the media left Purdue for dead last season coming into the NCAA tourney...Purdue only went to the sweet 16 after most heads predicted Purdue to bow out in the opening round to Siena. Some of those same schmoes in the media have already dropped Purdue in their worthless pre-season polls from a top-3 team to an also-ran that's barely in the top-25. All that matters little at this point.
So, it seems our Boilers are once-again a team that few believe in...an underdog. This isn't a role that many of us thought our Boilers would be playing this season...but it's one that Purdue fans and players alike know well.
I think big things are still coming this season for our Boilers. I'll detail what I think can and will happen to make this season something to remember in the weeks leading up to the season. Here's to the forces of good making believers out of everybody.