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Ivy League Preview: Princeton’s Ian Hummer excels at a school he has adored since childhood

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Ian Hummer hopes to lead Princeton to an Ivy League title this year (Getty Images)

Ian Hummer's family always worried he'd feel pressure to attend Princeton since his father, uncle and older brother all went there, so they went out of their way to urge him to consider other colleges.

Only after the 6-foot-7 forward's recruiting visit four years ago did they realize those efforts were hopeless.

Not long before midnight on a Friday night, Hummer, his dad and older brother Alex were chatting in Alex's dorm room at Princeton. Out of nowhere, Hummer got up and announced he was off to Princeton guard Dan Mavraides' room on the other side of campus to meet up with some of the guys on the team.

"I thought, 'Well, it's all over,' Hummer's father, Ed, said. "It's midnight, it's pitch black, Alex's room is way on the edge of campus, Ian is a high school senior and he just takes off alone walking through a sizable campus, completely comfortable. You don't do that unless you're coming here. That was the first realization he wasn't even going to consider other places."

Hummer chose Princeton a few weeks later, beginning a too-good-to-be-true success story that sometimes seems almost preordained. The kid who fell in love with Princeton exploring campus with his dad and uncle during annual reunions and hearing their stories about playing basketball for the Tigers has now emerged as a star at the same school he grew up adoring.

In Hummer's junior season at Princeton last year, the versatile forward averaged 16.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, surpassed his father's and uncle's career scoring marks and earned first-team all-Ivy League honors. As a senior, he hopes to spearhead Princeton's quest to out-duel Harvard for the Ivy League title and return to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.

"I feel really fortunate," Hummer said. "If you had asked me 10 years ago where I thought I'd be, I wouldn't have said captain of a pretty good Princeton basketball team. I've been lucky my whole life -- great family, great friends, great teammates. But being the captain my senior year on a Princeton basketball team that people are afraid of, what more could I ask for?"

That Hummer has a chance to be the best basketball player in his family is impressive considering the accomplishments of both his father and uncle.

Ed Hummer, a 1967 Princeton graduate, is a former high school All-American who teamed with Bill Bradley to help lead the Tigers to the national semifinals in 1965. And John Hummer, a 1970 Princeton graduate, scored more than 1,000 points in his college career and played six seasons in the NBA with the Buffalo Braves.

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Ian Hummer (US Presswire)

As a result of his father's and uncle's ties to Princeton, Ian Hummer's introduction to the school came early. He and his father traveled from their Virginia home to Princeton roughly once a year during his childhood, whether it was to attend a basketball game, to celebrate an anniversary of the Final Four team or to attend Reunions Weekend, probably the largest annual alumni gathering in the country.

"Coming every year to the Princeton campus, I fell in love with it," Hummer said. "It's such a great campus with great people. I was so familiar with it that it was an obvious choice for me to come here."

What made Hummer's decision even easier was that the schools who recruited him besides Princeton typically were other mid-major programs.

Since the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Hummer was the biggest player on his team at Gonzaga College High School, he typically guarded opposing centers and played on offense with his back to the basket. As a result, most high-major programs shied away from recruiting him because they feared he was too short to play down low in a power conference and not capable of developing a sufficient face-up game.

Former Princeton coach Sydney Johnson had no such concerns since undersized post players are common in the Ivy League. Johnson made it known he wanted Hummer by his junior year of high school.

Once it became clear that Hummer had the necessary grades to get into Princeton, his father asked Johnson to give his son a week to mull over his decision. Three days later, an overanxious Johnson feared the young forward was having second thoughts, so he sent Ed Hummer an email asking for a status update.

"I emailed him back and said, 'What could you possibly be antsy about?'" Ed Hummer said with a chuckle. "He's not taking any phone calls. I can't even get him interested enough in other schools to visit any other campuses. But just to set your mind at ease, I'll have him call you tomorrow.'"

Ian Hummer's decision to attend Princeton has only solidified an already strong bond between him and his father.

They forged a good relationship during Ian's childhood in part because of their mutual passion for basketball. They also had little choice but to lean on one-another when Hummer's mother, Judy, lost an 11-year battle with breast cancer the week he finished ninth grade.

Even after three-plus years at Princeton, Hummer still turns to his dad for advice. Ed Hummer rebounds for Ian during the summer, dissects each game with him over the phone or over late-night dinner and offers encouragement or constructive criticism when he feels it's appropriate.

"They're both huge basketball nerds," said senior forward Mack Darrow, one of Ian's closest friends on the team. "They won't talk about anything else. You'll try and talk to Mr. Hummer and say, 'Hey, how are you doing?,' and he'll start talking about something Ian did in the game. It's really an amazing friendship. They love to bounce ideas off each other. His dad's just really supportive and tells Ian what he sees."

What's most impressive about Hummer's development at Princeton is the way he has transformed his game since high school. He remains a versatile defender and elite rebounder, but now he has become far more comfortable offensively on the perimeter.

He has shed weight and made himself more explosive athletically. He has improved his ball handling and his ability to get to the rim off the dribble. And he has added three-point range and a mid-range jump shot to his arsenal, though both of those remain a work in progress.

In Hummer's first three seasons at Princeton, the Tigers have been to the NCAA tournament once but they've also largely been overshadowed in the Ivy League by Cornell's Sweet 16 team in 2010 and Harvard's unlikely rise thereafter. But with Princeton bringing back the core of last year's 20-win team and Harvard reeling from the cheating scandal that forced senior standouts Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry to withdraw from school for a year, Hummer hopes this season is the Tigers' time.

"We want to win an Ivy League championship and anything less would be a disappointment," he said.

Not only is it a realistic goal, it's also the most fitting way for Hummer to conclude what so far has been a storybook college career.

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