March 21, 2009 in Sports

UW, Purdue stars beat tough odds

Gregg Bell Associated Press
 

PORTLAND – No way Justin Dentmon is overwhelmed with being one step from the regional round of the NCAA tournament. He’s overcome far too much for that.

“His story is as remarkable as anyone’s,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said.

Washington’s 23-year-old senior and second-leading scorer grew up in Carbondale, Ill., without knowing his troubled father. He did not meet him until Dentmon was a teenager and the man was in jail.

He overcame living without money. His mother, Stephanie Dentmon, gave birth to him when she was 13. He is still so close to his legal guardian, Charlie Jones, that the Illinois state trooper was in Seattle two weeks ago to be with Dentmon and his mom for his final home game at Washington.

Dentmon also overcame a learning disability that initially made him ineligible to attend Illinois State, as he’d signed to do while bypassing interest from current Purdue coach Matt Painter and hometown Southern Illinois. He went to prep school in Massachusetts to get his grades high enough to qualify, then he sought out Romar, for whom Dentmon had wanted to play when Romar was coaching Saint Louis.

On the court, he starred for the Huskies as a freshman and slumped as a sophomore when he now admits he was wrongly focused on impressing NBA scouts. He flopped so badly as a junior while playing point guard that he was benched.

He resurrected his career this season, after fiendish work on his shot in the summer and the arrival of freshman Isaiah Thomas moved Dentmon to his more natural shooting guard role. Dentmon was in the discussion for being the Pac-10 player of the year a month ago until defenses started swarming him. He settled for winning the Pac-10’s most improved player award while averaging 15 points per game.

So no, whatever defenses fifth-seeded Purdue (26-9) throws at Dentmon and his fourth-seeded Huskies (26-8) today in a second-round game in the West Region isn’t going to faze him.

“All that led me to work harder,” Dentmon said in his quiet, deep voice. “I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened in the past.”

Dentmon isn’t the only player in this first Washington-Purdue matchup since 1967 who has overcome obstacles. The engine that makes the Boilermakers go has had a fundamental issue recently: being able to walk pain free.

Robbie Hummel hobbled off in the middle of a Nov. 28 game with Oklahoma. The All-Big Ten first-team player last year as a top freshman out of Valparaiso, Ind., told Painter, “Coach, my back kind of feels weird.”

A CAT scan this year finally revealed fractures to both sides of the L5 vertebrae in his lower back. His season was in question.

But Hummel has recovered with the help of the Boilermakers training staff. He still wears a hard-shell brace across his torso day and night – he wears a smaller one during games. He takes anti-inflammatories and spends hours in pools.

As of last week, he hadn’t been through an entire practice since Dec. 20. Yet he was picked as the most outstanding player in the Big Ten tournament.

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