Ohio State’s Danny Hummer refused to agree to a life without basketball

Adam Jardy
Ohio State guard Danny Hummer was told in high school that his basketball career was over. But after two hip surgeries and a few years at the Air Force Academy, the senior from Upper Arlington will finish his career at the university where he always wanted to play. [Maddie Schroeder/Dispatch]

Modern medicine apparently could do no more for Danny Hummer.

More than a year’s worth of diminishing athletic returns finally had been revealed, and the Upper Arlington High School basketball standout was facing a diagnosis of something called femoroacetabular impingement.

In short, it meant his hips were misshapen, like ovals, and didn’t fit correctly, resulting in tears of both labrums near his hip sockets. It also meant he was falling off college basketball’s recruiting radar.

Doctors at Ohio State had a plan for the 17-year-old Hummer.

“(They) told me that my athletic career was over, I should go see a sports psychologist. I was done playing,” Hummer said.

Instead, it was the beginning. Six years later, what happened next turned into the catalyst for a college career that would take him to the Air Force Academy and, ultimately, back home to fulfill a lifelong dream.

Hummer’s path to a looming senior day at Ohio State started by his saying no.

Second opinion

As the city attorney for Upper Arlington, Jeanine Hummer is used to fighting for what she believes is in the best interest of her client. When her son and her husband, Mark, returned from that doctor’s visit during Danny’s junior year of high school, those instincts kicked in.

“I have never been somebody who hears something and says, ‘OK, that’s it,’ ” she said. “So when they came home I gathered the information and looked at both of them and told them, ‘Well, that’s not acceptable.’ ”

Thus began a search that would turn up three potential surgeons who could perform the procedure that would help Hummer. One required a six-month waiting period before he would entertain the possibility, so with a goal of getting Hummer on the court for his senior season the family sent materials to the other two.

Then came the lobbying — Jeanine called it “pestering” — to get the attention of Dr. Marc J. Philippon, who practices in Vail, Colorado.

“I was getting on their webpage, sending comments about how wonderful the service is and their support staff was,” she said. “Every time I called them their support staff was unbelievably kind for a mother who was really a nuisance. Within probably two weeks we got a call.”

Philippon agreed to perform the surgeries Danny needed, and procedures were booked for May 9 and June 14, 2014. The recovery would be intense. Immediately after waking up from surgery, for example, Danny would get on an exercise bike, and his incisions would ooze as he pumped his legs under close attention.

That was fine by him.

“At 17, 18, being told that playing sports is done for the rest of your life, the magnitude of that, it puts your life in perspective about what you really want,” said Hummer, now 24. “Once I got that opportunity it was full speed ahead.”

Throughout the process, the Upper Arlington community pitched in. Jeanine said one family let the Hummers stay at their vacation home in Vail free of charge while Danny recovered from both surgeries. When he returned home, he had a strict rehabilitation protocol that required more help than a hospital could provide.

Each member of the Upper Arlington team took shifts to pitch in.

“We probably weren’t the most talented group … but you could tell those guys cared about each other,” UA coach Tim Casey said. “Obviously they saw Danny hurting and kind of rallied around him.”

Playing again

Rehab helped Hummer get back onto the court, but whether he could regain his previous form was a matter of debate. As a sophomore, he had been a starter for All-Ohio Red, one of the state’s top AAU basketball programs, and played alongside future Buckeye Jae’Sean Tate.

But as Hummer’s injury worsened, he eventually was cut from the team and then found himself in Casey’s doghouse before the FAI diagnosis.

“Fifth, sixth, seventh grade — I thought he was a phenom,” Casey said. “I’ve never seen anybody as quick and athletic and a great open-court passer and all those things. Then all of a sudden, his athleticism started to wane and he looked like he wasn’t enjoying the game.”

It would take three months for Hummer to resume running and three more for a full recovery. Ultimately he would start as a senior and help UA to the Division I state final, scoring 15 points in an overtime loss to Lakewood St. Edward.

A return to basketball meant there was enough to shop around a highlight tape in the hopes of rekindling interest among recruiters.

“Growing up, I had always (played) with the best of the best,” Hummer said. “Making it to that state-title game was like, ‘If I make it there, then people will see that I haven’t lost anything.’ ”

Hummer looked into walking at Ohio State but had not been accepted to the main campus before landing an offer from the Air Force, where he would spend one year at the academy’s prep school and two years on the basketball team before reaching a crossroads.

He could commit to the Air Force for the next five to 10 years — depending on whether he flew — or he could leave and again live the life of a civilian.

Ultimately, he decided to leave. And then, two weeks later, in June 2017, Ohio State fired Thad Matta and suddenly needed bodies to fill out its roster under new coach Chris Holtmann.

Homeward bound

In 2015-16, his first season at Air Force, Hummer played in 10 games and made his collegiate debut in a game at Value City Arena, where he had two points and a rebound in three minutes. As a sophomore, however, he appeared in only one game, a factor that weighed into his decision to leave.

Among those who vouched for Hummer to the new OSU staff was Jerry Watson, the All-Ohio Red coach who had cut him years before, and Casey, who has a longstanding relationship with assistant coach Ryan Pedon.

“I said No. 1, he’s a great kid. He’s passionate about basketball,” Casey said. “No. 2, he’s got three years of the Air Force under his belt. I think for doubly damn sure he’s going to show up, he’s going to work hard and he’ll be a good program player for you as you’re starting to change the culture.”

Hummer had to sit out the 2017-18 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, making this his sixth year since high school. This season he has made a career-high 11 appearances, scoring seven points and handing out five assists, a total that doesn’t include a between-the-legs pass he threw in a blowout win against Stetson.

More important, Hummer has been a consistent practice presence in a season in which the Buckeyes have lost multiple players due to injury.

“He’s been outstanding for us,” Holtmann said. “We wanted to add, if we could, an Ohio kid and just so happened it was an Ohio kid who grew up just down the road. He’s been phenomenal for us in terms of his ability to push our players every day. He brings an older body and a level of toughness that’s really been needed for us. I can’t say enough about him and his contribution.”

Hummer is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration focusing on sports management, a path that could keep him around the team next year.

“If everything works out and if they still want me around, I could possibly be a grad assistant next year and finish my program,” he said. “I want to figure out if I want to coach later in life. I think gaining that experience, because I’m already old, but seeing a different side of it might be good.”

Hummer is not enjoying the playing career he envisioned while growing up, but the fact that he has a career at all — much less one at a program to which he always aspired — is worth celebrating.

“If you would’ve told me six years ago I’d be part of a team that has a chance to make it to three NCAA Tournaments, I’d have told you that you were insane,” he said. “I believe I was born a Buckeye. Being back here — family, friends, my new family with Ohio State, teammates, coaches — I’m very fortunate.”