Krannert Leadership Series Event

Would you follow these leaders?

Purdue men’s basketball coach Matt Painter pulled Robbie Hummel aside after practice during his first year — a season when Hummel became the only Boilermaker freshman in history to gain first-team All-Big Ten honors — and delivered a shocking message.

“He told me I was selfish because I wasn’t helping anyone else,” said Hummel. “I needed to do more than set an example, so from then on I started becoming more vocal and tried to help us improve as a team.”

That was one of the insights gained at this year’s Krannert Leadership Speakers Series, an annual event held at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis. Other panelists in “A Night of Champions” included Ukari Figgs, a member of the 1999 women’s basketball national championship squad; Matt Light, who played on the 2000 Big Ten champion football team and won three Super Bowl titles with New England; and Mike Bobinski, Purdue’s vice president and director of Intercollegiate Athletics.

The discussion was moderated by Tim Newton, Krannert’s director of external relations and communications and the longtime play-by-play voice of Purdue football and women’s basketball.

Hummel began his college career in 2007 with fellow “Baby Boilers” and future NBA players E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. He was tested again late in his junior year when he suffered a season-ending knee injury as the Boilermakers won the Big Ten Conference title and mounted a run to the “Sweet 16” in the NCAA Tournament. He reinjured the same knee during practice just eight months later and missed the entire 2010-11 season.

Although Hummel couldn’t contribute as a player, his knowledge of the game allowed him to lead off the court. “I learned to understand that not everything in life will go the way you want,” he said. “It was a tough lesson, but it ultimately made me a better person.”

Hummel returned the following season as fifth-year senior and was named First Team All-Big Ten for the third time and an honorable mention All-American, finishing his Purdue career ranked among the program’s top 10 in career points, rebounds, blocks and steals. He went on to play two seasons in the NBA and professionally in Spain, Italy and Russia before finding a new career in 2017 as a college basketball analyst with BTN and ESPN.

Figgs also encountered obstacles during her emergence as a leader, playing under three different coaches during her four years at Purdue — Lin Dunn, Nell Fortner and Carolyn Peck.

“They all had very different coaching styles, so I had to learn how to adapt,” she said. “Coaches not only impact how you play, but also how you perceive yourself as a leader and interact as a team. As a freshman, I just wanted to fit in and not overstep any boundaries. But the adversity I faced as a sophomore under a new coach made me take on more of a leadership role.”

Like Hummel, Figgs also shared the spotlight with other star players, most notably Stephanie White.

“I came to Purdue in 1995 after winning a state championship in high school and being named Kentucky’s Miss Basketball,” she recalled. “Steph came in at the same time as Indiana’s Miss Basketball, so a lot was expected from both of us.”

Figgs and White quickly became a winning combination, helping lead Purdue to the NCAA title in 1999. Figgs, who was named that year’s Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four, went on to play in the WNBA for five years, winning a professional championship in 2001 with the Los Angeles Sparks.

In 2004, Figgs used her mechanical engineering degree from Purdue to make the leap to her second career at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in her hometown of Georgetown, Kentucky. “I’ve wanted to be an engineer since I was in fifth or sixth grade, and basketball helped me achieve that goal,” she said. “What I learned as a student and as an athlete made me who I am today.”

Light credits his development as a leader to his teammates, coaches and a winning environment. After beginning his playing career at Purdue in 1996 as a tight end, he became an offensive tackle when Joe Tiller was hired as head coach in 1997.

“Coach Tiller and his staff changed the entire culture of Purdue football,” said Light. “I think that being surrounded by strong leaders helps you become one yourself. I was very fortunate to have such great examples and to see all the work we put in on the practice field transform us into a winning team.”

Blocking for Drew Brees also was a blessing, said Light. “His leadership, character and competitiveness is unbelievable, and even today he’s relentless in his pursuit of perfection.”

Light was equally fortunate when he made the leap from college football to the NFL, playing his entire 11-year career for the New England Patriots and winning three Super Bowls with head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady before retiring in 2012.

“Tiller and Belichick had very different personalities, but they both knew how to build winning organizations,” said Light. “And along with Drew, Tom Brady is one of the best to ever play the game. It’s been a pleasure to play with people with so much passion and energy.”

After stepping away from the gridiron, he established the nonprofit Light Foundation to teach life skills to at-risk youth through unique outdoor learning experiences. He also has several business ventures, including KEEL Vodka.

Bobinski, who was named Purdue’s athletics director in 2016, said his leadership style is defined by what’s needed to win.

“Coaches have very strong personalities by nature. They are all wired in a similar way, which is why they chose the profession,” he said. “What I try to do is connect with each of our coaches in a way that resonates with their unique style. In some cases, you just have to be willing to listen. To lead effectively, you have to read your environment. You can’t be the same person in every situation. You have to be what the circumstances dictate.”

One of the first circumstances Bobinski faced as Purdue’s new athletic director was a football program that had fallen far from its glory years under Coach Tiller. Bobinski’s decision to hire Jeff Brohm has been widely applauded.

“You can’t turn a program around overnight,” Bobinski said, “but I think the accomplishments of the three outstanding former student-athletes I’ve shared the stage with tonight show that the best way to move forward is to persevere through challenging times, stick with what you believe in, and never waver.”

In addition to the leadership panel, the evening featured video tributes to Krannert’s alumni award winners, as well as the induction of the latest class of the Boiler Business Exchange (BBE) Hall of Fame. The BBE was formed in Indianapolis to raise the profile of Purdue in the city and support university-sponsored events.

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