WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) -Purdue coach Matt Painter doesn't want sophomore forward Robbie Hummel bouncing in and out of the lineup anymore.
So the Big Ten's preseason player of the year, who has missed the past three games with a hairline fracture in his lower back and has played hurt for much of the season, won't return until he has healed enough to play consistently.
``Everybody is itching to want him to get back,'' Painter said after Wednesday's 61-47 win over Penn State. ``I think the key for him is to get back, then stay.''
The 20th-ranked Boilermakers (18-6, 7-4) play at Iowa on Saturday, then at home against No. 9 Michigan State on Tuesday. Painter said Hummel could play in both games, or neither.
``I don't think they really want to put a timeframe on it because it really depends on how I feel,'' Hummel told The Associated Press this week.
es 60 points per game while surrendering 63.
Hummel averages 10.4 points and 6.9 rebounds in conference play, but Painter said those numbers don't fully explain his value.
``Rob does something for us offensively and defensively that balances our team,'' Painter said. ``He's a facilitator. He moves the basketball, he makes the extra pass, he gets the ball inside. ... Some of the basic things that don't show up in a box score is what we miss.''
Hummel said he first injured the L5 vertebrae in his back against Oklahoma on Nov. 28, then aggravated it in a loss to Duke on Dec. 2. He played against Illinois on Dec. 30, then sat out the next game, a loss at Penn State. He returned to play the next six games before missing the past three games, against Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State.
Hummel hasn't been through a full practice since the Dec. 20 game against Davidson, but Painter said he is making progress. He participated in warmups before the Penn State game and was involved in some non-contact drills on Thursday.
``We need to think about what's best for him, not what's best for us in terms of a Big Ten race,'' Painter said. ``I think he's going to have a long career in basketball and we have to keep that in mind.''
Hummel has two braces: one for daily activities and a smaller one for playing basketball. He gets treatments two or three times a day, and does most of his rehabilitation work in a swimming pool.
Hummel said he was in constant pain in the weeks after the injury occurred. He still can't sit for long periods of time, even in class.
``I just try to sit in the back, because I'll be standing up often,'' he said.
He said the injury affects him, even though it's healing.
``For the most part, it's just uncomfortable,'' he said. ``It just doesn't feel right.''
Painter said Hummel likely won't need surgery, and rest is the best medicine for him.

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