LAS VEGAS – Former Purdue star Robbie Hummel polished up his Spanish enough to get by in his season overseas last winter.
"I picked it up pretty good," he said. "I took it in high school and middle school so it wasn't completely foreign to me. I actually could order in a restaurant and even found myself doing some Spanish on the court. That was kind of weird."
Now the question is, has he improved his game, his health and his language skills enough so the words "Pasame la pelota, Ricky" — pass me the ball, Ricky — roll off his tongue easily?
Hummel is back playing for the Timberwolves' Las Vegas Summer League team for the second consecutive July. This time, he is hoping to return for October training camp so he can claim the team's likely lone remaining roster spot, one year after he left home to play for Obradoiro CAB in the Spanish league so he could develop and strengthen his surgically repaired knee and so the Wolves would retain his rights while he did so.
"No, that's the ultimate goal," said Hummel, a second-round draft pick by the Wolves last year. "It always has been my dream to play in the NBA. I'm thankful for this opportunity and want to show I belong."
Hummel once aimed to reach that goal by becoming a first-round pick with a guaranteed contract, a dream that ended at Purdue when he tore the same ACL twice in eight months, the first time in a February game at Williams Arena against the Gophers on his way to an All-America season his junior year.
Now, he has taken an alternate road, which led to Spain and a Spanish League season when he averaged 14 points and 7.2 rebounds in 30 games despite needing knee surgery a third time early in the year.
"It's tough, when you go to Europe you really have to grow up," Hummel said. "You're over there by yourself. You don't know the language. You really have no friends. You learn a lot about yourself and I really feel like I'm better for it."
Funny as it sounds, he now must prove that there's room for yet another three-point shooter from the wing after the Wolves added Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer in the last week to the NBA's worst three-point shooting team last season.
At 24, Hummel is now something of a veteran for a Wolves team in Las Vegas because this is his second time around.
"I don't really feel that old," said Hummel, a 6-8 small forward. "I feel experienced, but I don't feel old at this point."
He scored 12 points, had six rebounds and three steals in the Wolves' Vegas-opening 83-81 loss to the D League Select team on Saturday in a game when he defended every position but point guard.
"I played him at three positions and he guarded four," Wolves summer league coach David Adelman said. "He's so solid. I'm asking him to do a lot of things he probably doesn't have to do all the time, just because we're so young. If you watch that tape, he guarded every position possible. He just knows how to play.
"I think his game has changed a little bit, but maybe he's smarter from it. He plays a little bit more below the rim than he did before."
To prove he belongs in the NBA, Hummel first must prove he can stay on the court. That process continues with the Wolves' second summer league game Monday against Phoenix.
"It's coming back, no question," Hummel said, referring to both his knee and his game. "I feel like I got better and better as last year went on. I played well, I shot well and I felt like normal. All I can do now is just go out there and play, that's the only way to prove it. I can say it as many times as I want, but proving you can play is the best way."