Boulder, Colo. Kansas University’s basketball players didn’t practice Sunday, a day after incurring their first loss of the 2010-11 season.
“We met,” KU coach Bill Self said Monday afternoon. “And I talked to them.
The group huddle was not about KU’s play in a 74-63 setback to Texas.
It was not about the challenges the Jayhawks (18-1, 3-1) face in Tuesday's 7 p.m. contest at Colorado (14-6, 3-2).
The talk centered on sophomore forward Thomas Robinson, who after initially telling Self on Sunday he wanted to make the trip to CU, changed his mind Monday and decided to return to Washington, D.C., to be with his sister, Jayla, as they await the late-in-the-week funeral of their mother, Lisa, who died Friday night.
“The first thing they (players) wanted to do was: ‘Coach, tell us about Thomas’ situation. Tell us about the arrangements. Tell us about his sister. What can we legally do? What’s the NCAA going to allow you to do? Is anybody going to go with him (to D.C.)? He doesn’t need to be alone.’ The whole deal was laying out Thomas,” Self said.
Self informed the Jayhawks that director of basketball operations Barry Hinson would return to D.C. with Robinson on Monday — the day of Robinson’s grandfather’s funeral — and that the entire team would fly charter to the funeral. And that the NCAA would allow KU to pay for funeral expenses and even work on the arrangements in Lawrence.
Then, some other things were said.
“I said to the guys, ‘That (Robinson’s situation) is most important, but life doesn’t stop, and we played a game yesterday. Do you guys want to look at it and see what we can learn from the game from a basketball standpoint?" Self related. “Get your mind off some other things. And Markieff (Morris) stepped up and said, ‘Coach, we’ve got to be able to do both.’ So I thought that was a pretty mature deal. So we watched the second half (of Texas loss) yesterday as a group and went over everything.
“The guys left out of there, I think, in a pretty fair frame of mind, but we’re an emotionally spent team right now. And if you know Thomas’ situation and how much his mother meant to him, in large part because that’s all he had. The only set of grandparents he knew died within the last three weeks.
“He gets a call from his sister, who is 9, that his mother — mommy — just died ... from a 9-year-old because there’s nobody else to call. Those are pretty heavy things, and our players totally felt that and respected that and totally respect Thomas. I think our team is spent right now, but I’m not saying it’s something that has to last a long time. I’m just saying we need to kind of get back to a routine of normalcy, and that’s OK.”
The Jayhawks, senior leader Tyrel Reed said, will be able to focus on Tuesday's foe — the Buffs, who are led by two of the best players in the Big 12, Alec Burks (19.6 ppg) and Cory Higgins (16.1 ppg).
“I mean, the world doesn’t stop turning,” Reed said. “Whether there’s things going on in our personal lives or whatever. We’re all men. We have to deal with those things. We have a job to do, and that’s playing Colorado.”
The world has seemed a kinder, gentler place to KU coach Self lately.
He related the story of how so many individuals have stepped up and asked what they can do for Robinson and his sister. The coach has cautioned folks to do nothing to ensure they don’t run afoul of NCAA rules.
“It’s amazing to me how many people that I don’t know, that Thomas doesn’t know, that I do know ... that have offered their assistance in unbelievably unselfish ways. Unbelievable,” Self said.
“I’ve had friends that I’ve known for years that live in Texas (that) want to go to D.C. right now. They want to move up here and just take care of Thomas’ sister. They want to do things, they’re talking about guardianship and all that stuff. It’s amazing to me how connected people get to our guys, because they see them as one of theirs, and that’s one of the great things about playing here.
“I think Thomas sees that now more than ever, so there’s been some positive things to come of this, without question. But certainly, no definite answers will be given on anything until he has a chance to figure out what’s best for him and what’s best for Jayla.”
There are many many things to be settled before it’s assured that Robinson will be back for Saturday’s 6 p.m. game against Kansas State. If services are Friday, the KU team would fly to D.C. and back, while Robinson likely would not be able to return immediately after the funeral, but return on his own, maybe later that night.
“We’ve had some serious discussions about how to move forward from a business standpoint and personal standpoint and with the welfare of his life and all the things he’s got to do, getting lined up with an attorney to educate him about all the things he’s got to do and family possessions, and there’s so many different things that he’s got to do that we’re just going to send a coach out there to assist him with tonight,” Self said of Hinson. “Hopefully, he’ll be able to get a lot of these things done before the services. I’m so proud of Thomas. He’s been a rock.”