Kirk Wessler

Character leads all other attributes for Ogwumike and Hummel

by Kirk Wessler April 09, 2012 in Men’s Basketball




Of the four C’s at the heart of the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, one serves as the foundation for the rest.  Character underpins everything.  Almost by definition, individuals of high Character perform well in the Classroom and in athletic Competition, and are inclined to Community service.

“It would be much more difficult to achieve those things without good character,” Nnemkadi Ogwumike says.  “Character is a quality that is constant and unchangeable across a lifetime.  If you have strong character, it’s represented by strong values.”

Ogwumike, all-American and three-time team captain at Stanford, is the winner of the 2012 award in women’s basketball.  Robbie Hummel, the only four-time captain in Purdue basketball history, is the men’s award winner.  It would be hard to find two better examples of character than this pair, so respected by their teammates and coaches they spent almost their entire careers as team leaders.

Stanford reached the NCAA Final Four all four years Ogwumike was on the team.  She is only the fourth player in Cardinal history to score 2,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds in a career.  But talent is only part of the equation.

“There’s a lot more to her than her basketball skill,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer says.  “Her leadership is outstanding. She’s the oldest of four sisters, and that carries over here.  She’s like an older sister to everybody on our team.”

Now, we can see the talent and the leadership qualities of these young people on the court.  What we don’t see are the sacrifices they make every day.  The neat thing is that Ogwumike and Hummel, outstanding performers who are also outstanding individuals, aren’t inclined to define their lives in terms of sacrifices.  Theirs are simply life choices – to achieve, to lead, to reach out and help others – that stem from a personal code which defines their character.

“As student-athletes, we’re involved in more than just sports and school,” Ogwumike says.  “When it comes to social activities, those come with peer pressure, and it can be tempting to take the shortcut and not stick to the course.  But it’s all about being the bigger person, doing the right thing even knowing you’re the only one who will know if you don’t.”

Great character is a quality critical to overcoming adversity, and few college athletes have overcome more than Hummel.

As a sophomore at Purdue, Hummel suffered a fractured vertebrae and wound up playing in a restrictive brace.  As a junior, he tore the ACL in his right knee just as the Boilermakers were rounding into championship form.  After intensive rehab, Hummel returned to action the next fall, only to re-tear the ligament on the first day of practice, forcing him to redshirt.  After more surgery and rehab, he came back this season to lead Purdue in scoring and rebounding and a near-upset of eventual national runner-up Kansas in the NCAA tournament.

“When adversity sets in, he’s got a great knack for not making excuses and continuing to fight,” Purdue coach Matt Painter says.  “He could’ve played the why-me game, but he didn’t.  He does a great job of leading by example.  We all know what the right thing is to do, but to continue to do it every day when it’s difficult … Robbie is a great example of that.”

Hummel, a young man of few words who especially doesn’t like talking about himself, attributes his character to the “sound foundation” built by his parents.  Whether it’s working on his game, excelling in the classroom, signing autographs for every kid who approaches him, or giving his free time to a list of charitable community concerns, Hummel lives by a simple credo: “If you treat people well and do the right thing, you’re gonna be OK.”

One more thing about great character: It can’t be faked.  Certainly not for an entire career.

“Nneka is real,” VanDerveer says of Ogwumike.  “She’s authentic. She’s not trying to be anything she’s not.”  And Painter says this of Hummel: “He won this award by being himself.”

That’s the character of class.