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Friday, March 18, 2011

Keegan

KU basketball’s Thomas Robinson wears frustration on his sleeve

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— The first of the many tattoos to decorate Thomas Robinson’s right arm was drawn when he was about 16. It reads: “R.I.P. Ali 1991-2007.”

“He was one of my closest cousins,” Robinson said from his chair in the Kansas University locker room inside the BOK Center. “He got shot in the chest.”

We’ll never know if he could have become another Washington, D.C., basketball player to work his way into the NCAA Tournament.

“At the time, he was better than me,” Robinson said. “He could shoot the lights out of the gym.”

Robinson pulled up his shirt sleeve to expose his favorite tattoo, located on his massive right biceps: “Success is Nothing Without Failure.”

Still smarting from an earlier-than-anticipated exit from last season’s NCAA Tournament, when another Ali who could shoot the lights out of the gym shot the Jayhawks out of the tourney in Oklahoma City, Robinson had his arm inked with that message last summer.

“You got to know what it feels like to lose before you can win,” he said.

And what does it feel like to lose in mid-March?

“You don’t get another chance at it, and it hurts, especially when you know you’re supposed to be there,” Robinson said. “We worked hard for it all year. We played hard for it. To get here and lose would be a crushing feeling.”

A familiar feeling.

“We’re thinking about how we felt way back then, how we felt the last minute when we knew the game was over,” he said. “We’re going back and reading the articles saying how we were projected to win it. We’ve been using it as motivation all year. Now we’re here, so it’s still there.”

The freshness of that feeling for every returning player increases the chances that Kansas won’t experience another early exit, but it’s not the only thing that gives this team as upset-proof a feeling as any in the tournament.

As KU coach Bill Self told the team as he pointed to one player after another, saying, “We’ve won without you,” in the locker room before the Big 12 title game, this is not a team that leaves any one player feeling as if he needs to be the guy who leads the rescue every time.

Last season, Sherron Collins played as if he felt he needed to do that, and he did it so well Kansas took a 32-2 record into the tournament, the same record it brings into tonight’s first game, against Boston University.

On a night Baylor invaded Allen Fieldhouse playing out of its mind, Collins didn’t let his team lose. On the road in Manhattan, Collins led his team to an overtime victory. Baylor and Kansas State advanced to the Elite Eight.

For all the right reasons, Collins put too much on his big Chicago shoulders. On a rare off night, he made just five of 16 shots and committed five turnovers against Northern Iowa.

“I never could guess what he was thinking inside his head, but, I mean, Sherron bailed us out so many times,” Robinson said. “He was like Superman. It got to the point where we started to think we never had to worry because we had Sherron. I don’t know if he took too heavy a responsibility with that, but I know ourselves, in our minds, we felt like we never could lose with him, and we barely did. He was a great player.”

Marcus and Markieff Morris are great college basketball players as well, but there are two of them. They never have to feel as if they’re on their own. That alone makes Kansas twice as upset-proof as a year ago.

“I felt like nobody could beat us last year, even when we played bad,” Robinson said. “I just felt like nobody could beat us. That’s the attitude we had coming into the tournament. Coming into this year’s tournament, that whole thought that we can’t be beat is out the window. We know that anybody’s capable of being beat.”

Looking back, what does he think of the “nobody could beat us,” attitude of a year ago?

“From my experience, I think it’s a horrible attitude to bring this time of year,” he said. “I mean, you want to go out with confidence, but not when you overlook anybody and think you can’t be beat.”

Still, there is more to it than that in terms of KU having what it takes to avoid an early upset, and some of it has to do with how well Robinson and his best friends have dealt with his multiple personal tragedies. In less than a month, he lost his grandmother, grandfather and mother.

Robinson revealed that indirectly when asked to name the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s.

“We’re missing X (Xavier Henry), Sherron, Cole (Aldrich). Players stepped up to a tremendous level, starters and bench players,” Robinson said. “I would say the biggest difference is we’re a lot closer.”

He stopped himself, realizing that might be construed as him saying last year’s team wasn’t close. He didn’t mean that. Adversity brings close people closer together, as any family that’s experienced tragedy can attest.

“Not a lot closer,” he corrected himself. “But it goes beyond where we were with how close we are, especially with all we dealt with this year. It’s definitely helped us.”

Robinson is close with all his teammates, particularly Marcus and Markieff Morris. They all have felt his pain and contributed to soothing it.

“They were the main reason I got through it,” Robinson said of teammates.

He added, “she’s always with me,” of his mother. And his sister, Jayla, 7 and living in Washington, D.C., is always just a phone call away.

“I talk to her pretty much every day,” he said. “She just tells me what she did during the day and how school’s going.”

He said they don’t talk much hoops.

“She doesn’t understand too much about it,” Robinson said, smiling. “She knows I have games and stuff like that. It means the world to have the support from her, even though she’s 7.”

Robinson’s the best rebounder Self has coached in eight seasons at Kansas, the school’s best since Nick Collison and Drew Gooden. To see how happy Robinson is, how much lust he has for life, is to realize he’s an even better rebounder in his personal life than on the basketball court.

Comments

jaybate 3 years, 9 months ago

It is amazing he can rebound at all so soon after a knee injury. He's just and out and out stud.

jhox 3 years, 9 months ago

Rebounding is about technique, blocking out, jumping ability...but even more importantly, it's about wanting it more than the other guy, and Thomas is one of those guys that just wants it more than the other guys. I loved watching Dennis Rodman rebound, how he could be completely out of position, and suddenly he was the guy coming down with the ball. Thomas has a little of that in him.

hawk316 3 years, 9 months ago

Future All-American, quite possibly...especially if he stays 4 years.

kerbyd 3 years, 9 months ago

You're right Jaybate the kid is a stud. But it ain't just because of the way he came back from a knee injury. Think of Everything this kid has rebounded from. Amazing.

Alohahawk 3 years, 9 months ago

This team hasn't lost when Robinson has been at full strength, emotionally and physically.

The only team that can beat KU is KU, itself.

FOE, all the way to the NC.

KU79 3 years, 9 months ago

TRob's left-handed tip-in against Texas was amazing, and it showed just how much he's grown this season. Love the kid, and wish him nothing but the best.

RockCaCO3 3 years, 9 months ago

TRob - Has become one of my all time favorite Jayhawks. There aren't enough adjectives to describe what a great kid he is.

JHawk74 3 years, 9 months ago

I like the new attitude this year of the team. Knowing that you can be beat by any team should help you prepare for the game. RCJH!

fansincewilt 3 years, 9 months ago

I can't read of the tragedies without tearing up. I am concerned about Thomas when the family is gone. The support he has had with his teammates will be missed when they all leave. I hope the twins stay around one more year for Thomas. If not, Thomas will have to become a leader on this team. I doubt that he is thinking about that too much and probably doesn't want to. All this is making a great man out of him. Next year Thomas will be a beast (even more of one). He is like a gentle giant. He will become one of the best all-time offensive rebounder in the Big 12.

KGphoto 3 years, 9 months ago

I think he already IS a leader. BTW, he might be one of the guys leaving. Many draft boards have him going in the 1st round.

He certainly has a lot of support around him, but he is also inspiring the team in return with his mental toughness. His life has helped galvanize the team.

Actually, it's the twins that have the most to lose when this group goes there separate ways. TRob is a rock. Like, right now.

KUbsee69 3 years, 9 months ago

I believe that TRob has already said that he'll defnintely be back next year.

Woody Cragg 3 years, 9 months ago

Couldn't blame him for putting his name in the hat, but Trob really needs one more year with Danny at this level. The next level has many, many full grown men who will try to beat the crap out of their opponents so IMO he should stay. He'd also be another year further towards a degree and goes without saying how important that is. He could easily be a lottery pick next year or beyond with KU tutoring.

REHawk 3 years, 9 months ago

Thomas, please do not depart the program, even if you shine in stellar mode throughout the national spotlight of this tournament. If the twins leave, you represent the light...the hopes and dreams for another terrific Jayhawk season in 2011-12. Your personal saga has become the heartfelt saga of the entire Jayhawk Nation. When you eventually disembark from Lawrence, a huge emotional chunk will be ripped from all of us.

jaybate 3 years, 9 months ago

(Alias' Note: This is a "Jest of jaybate" Repost for jross1972 to help him get better on his scrollin'.)

"Some Ways You Know Sheahon Is All KU"

~Wears crimson and blue shamrock tie on St. Patty's Day.

~Held ritual Longhorn gelding before last Texas game.

~Told Dickie V to "kiss my Irish you know what for that pre-season prediction of yours, you bald-headed bag of polenta."

~Has a front door mat with Norm Stewart's face on it.

~Once each days says, "Hail Mary and thank you Lew for all the infrastructure."

~Has said repeatedly that he will give anyone nose bleed seats that tries to keep the Naismith Rules from being displayed in Allen Field House.

~Has a speed bag with a picture of Coach Consonants on it in his office.

~Playfully praises Frank Martin for being the best former hit man ever to coach D1 basketball.

~Wears a T-shirt the week of K-State games that reads "K-State Is Great, If You Like Manure on a Plate."

~Praises K-State publicly, but admits in private that he would rather have his shins planed than spend a day in Manhattan.

~On a college scavenger hunt, once stole one of the columns in Columbia with a rented crane and dumped it in the Missouri River.

~Once hummed the Rock Chalk chant during foreplay.

~Often calls Dr. Tom Osborne "that albino with an online Ph.d."

~Says he will make money available for Self to hire Janks back, if new Illinois State AD has a petite mal and fires Janks after one bad season.

~Admits one of his major qualifications for the job was his bilingual fluency in English and Oklaguese, which helps him communicate with Coach Self.

~Let Chancellor Bernie win at arm wrestling in the first job interview, then took the job even after she beat him fair and square in the last interview.

~Working behind the scenes to raise funds for a mobile Larry Brown statue that keeps getting restless and moving around the Hall of Fame.

~Knows KU Memorial Stadium is still the greatest football venue never to have had a National Champion in college football and intends to fix that by lighting a peet fire under Turner Gill (Sheahon's ancestors cut and burned peet for heat in County Cork before emigrating to Kansas and burning buffalo chips for heat in a soddy. He thinks heat from a Bison Pattie would be too hot.).

~Has offered to buy Cin the Hope Diamond, if she will convince Bill to stay at KU till 65.

~Believes eclipses of the sun, or moon, are signs KU is about to beat Fizzou by over 30 points.

~Wants to build bridges with KSU, but burn MU to the ground.

~Calls MU "Fizzou" even during confession.

Rock Chalk, Sheahon! Get an alias and join us! No one here will tell Chancellor Bernie you're posting on company time.

(Note: All fiction. No malice.)

PhogAdvisory 3 years, 9 months ago

"Once hummed the Rock Chalk chant during foreplay."

And waved the wheat when he finished.

(Sorry, couldn't help a little addition. :) Hilarious stuff, jaybate.)

KGphoto 3 years, 9 months ago

A mobile Larry Brown statue!

Too good. God I hope he reads this.

CRIMSONnBLUE 3 years, 9 months ago

Congrats Keegan! You finally put a lot of thought into an article came up with something good.

WilburNether 3 years, 9 months ago

Robinson's level of effort reminds me of Richard Scott, who consistently played better and accomplished more than his size and ability would have suggested he could do. Robinson has more size and talent than Scott, and if he continues to bring that Scott-like effort, he'll be a star.

justinryman 3 years, 9 months ago

Most of the great things about TRobb have been said, so with that.....................

FOE--RCJGK!!!

swjhawk 3 years, 9 months ago

Thomas Robinson reminds me of Darnell Jackson and I am a great fan of both. What hearts.

jaybate 3 years, 9 months ago

Atten-hut:

Lieutenant dragonslayr nailed Louisville's weakness the other day, when yours truly was dry washing over Louisville being a serious threat to KU.

Bravo, Lt. slayr, for seeing the opponents clearly, so no logistical preparation was wasted on a false target.

You are hereby recommended for the rank of Captain.

Chris Shaw 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm ready for T-Rob to announce his "Au-thor-i-ty" in about 45 minutes. Woop woop! I hink it's time for a little "Family Over Everything".

4everahawk 3 years, 9 months ago

Great article!!! Am so proud of these Jayhawks even before the big dance starts.

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