Media Day, Oct. 15, 2009, Thomas Robinson sat alone on a chair on the Allen Fieldhouse floor as reporters mined bigger names such as Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Tyshawn Taylor for quotes.
It represented a rare opportunity to get a one-on-one interview, so I introduced myself and spoke with him for five or 10 minutes. I remember leaving thinking nothing about the man reminded me of a freshman in college. He sounded and looked older. I asked him what it was like growing up in the southeast quadrant of D.C.
“It’s what you make it,” he said. “Make the best of your situation. It was my mom, my little sister and me. We made the best of our situation.”
Fifteen months later, that situation took a tragic turn when in less than a month’s time Robinson lost two grandparents and then his mother. A family custody battle over his sister, Jayla, ensued. It resulted in her being with her father, James Paris, who had not long before that finished serving a prison term for distribution of a controlled substance.
Robinson kept making the best of his situation for himself and his sister. He never thought he was too smart to listen to coaches. Now here is his situation: He leaves Kansas as a three-time Big 12 champion, a first-team All-American, the best player on a team that battled all the way to a national-title game in which he motored his way to 18 points and 17 rebounds. All of that is another way of saying he’ll never leave Kansas because his No. 0 jersey will hang from the Allen Fieldhouse rafters for an eternity.
More on his situation: The education of Jayla, 9, is paid for even if she gets multiple doctorates, thanks to the generosity of Kansas basketball fans and others who contributed to her NCAA-approved education fund. Robinson will be a lottery pick in the June draft, a multi-millionaire within a couple of years.
Many a lottery pick has faded fast in the NBA, but Robinson doesn’t figure to be one of them. His greatest physical skills (strength, explosiveness and sure hands) and his greatest intangible (a strong will) happen to translate best to his best basketball skill. He’s a monster rebounder and can remain so against the world’s best competition.
If Robinson can run the floor well with more consistency and continue to improve his jumper enough to develop into a starter, you’ll see his name listed with DeMarcus Cousins and reality TV star Kris Humphries among the league’s leading rebounders.