Robbie Hummel’s rise in broadcasting has roots in Chicago
Hummel, 33, has become one of the nation’s best college basketball analysts. He’s working the Big Ten tournament for BTN and will call NCAA Tournament games for Westwood One.
After six years at ESPN, Adam Amin had made a name for himself. So when his agent, Maury Gostfrand, asked if he’d offer some guidance to a new client, Amin was happy to oblige.
Robbie Hummel visited Amin’s Chicago apartment in the summer of 2017. Gostfrand had heard the former Purdue basketball star on Big Ten Network studio shows and saw potential. As Amin helped Hummel prepare for an audition with ESPN, he saw it, too.
“I didn’t have to do a whole lot with him,” Amin, now the Bulls’ TV voice, said of their mock broadcast of a replayed Duke-North Carolina game. “I gave him some pointers on timing and structural things. But he analyzed it the way someone who’s watching on TV would want to have the analyst describe things.
“I’d been doing this long enough with enough people to say, ‘Yeah, this guy gets it.’ You just know it.”
Almost five years later, Hummel, 33, has become one of the nation’s best college basketball analysts, working for BTN, ESPN and Westwood One radio. On Friday night, he’ll join Brandon Gaudin for two Big Ten tournament quarterfinal games on BTN. Next week, he’ll call NCAA Tournament games in Fort Worth, Texas, for Westwood One. When the season is over, he’ll have called roughly 80 games.
“I have to thank Adam for doing that because it was really helpful,” Hummel said.
Gostfrand clearly knew what Hummel could do even before Hummel did. When Gostfrand first reached out, Hummel had his doubts.
“I’m thinking, this guy probably reps the worst people because I’d been on [BTN] like three or four times,” Hummel said. “I looked him up, and he repped Kenny Smith, Dan Dakich, Ian Eagle, and I’m like, ‘Whoa, he reps some pretty good people.’ ”
When another injury in a playing career full of them dashed his last NBA hope, Hummel turned to TV for good. ESPN hired him, and Hummel soon would work with another well-known Chicago-based announcer, forming what is now one of the most popular TV duos in college hoops.
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Hummel and Jason Benetti happened to arrive in Oklahoma together for their first broadcast together: No. 4 Oklahoma at Oklahoma State on Jan. 20, 2018. They decided to share a rental car for their trip to Stillwater, and they hit it off on the ride.
“He really is the first contemporary analyst I’ve had in TV,” said Benetti, also the White Sox’ TV voice. “There is something about the fact that Robbie grew up in Valparaiso and I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. I honestly think that we went to the same sections of the video store growing up and played a lot of the same video games.”
Said Hummel: “We have a lot in common. Because of that, we were able to develop chemistry quickly. This is my fifth year of broadcasting; we’ve been doing games since I started. So I’m really thankful we got paired together, and I think we have a great time doing games together.”
That’s apparent on the air, where they converse like longtime friends. They make for an entertaining and informative broadcast, and ESPN put them on some of the biggest Big Ten games of the season.
Hummel puts in the work for his analysis. He makes boards that list the players and include individual and team stats. He adds his own scouting reports from all the video he watches. Using Synergy Sports Technology, Hummel can watch clips of players in all kinds of situations – and in all kinds of places.
“There have been a couple times this year where I’ve driven us home from some Big Ten place back to Chicago, and he’ll spend most of the time in the passenger seat looking at the next game’s teams,” Benetti said. “So he’ll watch the condensed version of that whole game, which is highly dedicated.”
That dedication also is apparent in Hummel’s travel schedule, which was jam-packed the first week of February. He called Michigan State-Maryland for ESPN on Feb. 1, filled in for NBC Sports Chicago on Bulls-Raptors on Feb. 3 and Bulls-Pacers on Feb. 4 and called Illinois-Indiana for ESPN on Feb. 5.
“I have most of my summers off, so it’s OK for me to do this,” said Hummel, who lives in Lincoln Park. “I don’t have any kids. My girlfriend’s an actress [Logan Andrews]; she works out in L.A. So this is sustainable for now.”
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Sometimes the best ability is availability. That was true for Hummel on Dec. 19, when Bulls radio analyst Bill Wennington couldn’t work the game against the Lakers because he had contracted COVID-19. With his agent’s help, Hummel filled in for his first NBA broadcast. He later filled in for Stacey King and called some of the Bulls’ best games of the season, including both of DeMar DeRozan’s buzzer-beaters.
But he almost didn’t call the Lakers game – because he almost played for the Lakers.
Hummel’s college roommate Dru Anthrop is the Lakers’ video coordinator. The day of the game, Anthrop called Hummel to tell him that Lakers coach Frank Vogel had tested positive for COVID and ask if he might be able to play that night.
“I was like, ‘Dude, shut up. I haven’t played basketball since October, and that’s a rec league,’ ” said Hummel, a second-round pick by the Timberwolves in 2012 who played in two NBA seasons. “He was like, ‘I’m serious. If we start getting players popped for COVID, we’ve gotta find some guys in Chicago.’ ”
Hummel was all set for his radio gig, but he anxiously awaited having to decide whether to politely turn down the Bulls so he could play for the Lakers. He hadn’t played in an NBA game since 2015. He was the last player cut in the Nuggets’ camp in 2016.
“That’s the absurdity of this season,” Hummel said. “But none of the players tested positive, so they didn’t need me.”
Now Hummel is needed more on the mic, where he has made a name for himself.
“He has become a star at this, and he acts zero percent like that,” Benetti said. “I never worked with somebody who’s as generous, hardworking, caring about the product and driven, to go along with being a great guy. The combo he has is truly a special thing.”