For 3x3 Success, Robbie Hummel Wins Male Athlete of the Year
The names are a who’s who of basketball royalty: Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, LeBron James.
Now you can add Robbie Hummel to the list of winners of USA Basketball’s Male Athlete of the Year.
“It’s incredibly humbling,” said Hummel, a standout in college whose pro career was more modest than previous winners. “I think when you look at the names that are on that list, it’s like, ‘Man, I’m not sure that I really belong almost.’ You are looking at guys like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and the Dream Team. It’s pretty cool. I’m very honored to have won this award. It is a product of a lot of hard work that our 3x3 team put in and the success that we had. I’m very thankful I got to play with a group of guys that just wanted to win.”
Hummel was at the forefront of a talented U.S. team that went 7-0 at the 2019 FIBA 3x3 World Cup in the Netherlands, and he was MVP of the 20-team tournament.
Joining him on the USA roster were Kareem Maddox and Damon Huffman, Hummel’s teammates on the Princeton 3x3 team that competes in the FIBA 3x3 World Tour, along with current G-League player Canyon Berry.
“It was a very selfless group,” Hummel said. “No one cared about stats. No one cared about who was scoring, or whatever. We just wanted to win. And I think when you have a team that is willing to play in that sense and you have some talent and we actually got to practice together, which is a rarity for us, I think we saw what we are capable of. It was a really fun two weeks. A fun group to be around, a fun group to play with. It was a really special team.”
Many remember Hummel as the sharp-shooting small forward at Purdue whose career was cut short by injuries. He had a cup of coffee in the NBA, playing in 98 games with the Minnesota Timberwolves over the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. But in his retirement as a pro, he has found success in the 3x3 game, winning both the USA Basketball 3x3 National Championship and a FIBA 3x3 World Cup title in 2019.
While surprising Hummel, the award also sheds a spotlight on the growing game of 3x3. Set to make its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2020, 3x3 has seen a rise in interest in recent years with the emergence of Red Bull 3X and the Big3 professional league. And, that excitement is expected to grow with the Olympic Games, which the U.S. still must qualify for on the men’s and women’s sides.
“It’s just I think the Olympics will be a great test for the sport,” Hummel said. “I think it has the potential to be huge. I think people will enjoy watching it. But, the Olympics are a springboard for any sport. It’s just you tend to see yourself watching more sports that you wouldn’t watch on a day-to-day basis during the Olympic Games.”
Hummel, now 30, tried playing overseas but lost some of his trademark passion and retired from basketball in 2017 to become an analyst for college games on the Big Ten Network and ESPN. But, he never strayed too far from playing and got involved with Princeton 3x3 and USA Basketball.
“It’s rejuvenated my love of the game,” he said.
With Princeton — which finished second on the FIBA World Tour in 2019 — Hummel has found that competitive outlet that waned when he was playing in Moscow and is one of the better players on the circuit, coming in 17th on the FIBA 3x3 individual player rankings. It also has brought back that “adrenaline rush” of playing in front of 5,000 fans at his home gym at Valparaiso (Indiana) High School and 17,000 in college.
“You’re never going to replace that,” Hummel said, “but the next best thing is something like 3x3, where you still have that experience. In the World Cup — we had a terrific crowd, it was sold out and a big-time environment — and you can never replace that, it always feels the same. Those rock stars play into their 70s for a reason.”
So, while Hummel maybe doesn’t feel like his name belongs alongside that of Jordan, O’Neal, Duncan and James, it is there, nevertheless.
“It’s the best guys in our sport,” Hummel said of the list of recipients of the annual USA Basketball award. “It’s the players I watched play basketball as a kid growing up. I’m humbled and extremely honored, and I feel like maybe I’m a little unworthy of this award. But it was a great summer for us playing 3x3, it was a pretty special deal.”