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Sunday, June 18, 2017

More than a few to follow: Former KU stars enjoy keeping tabs on Jayhawks in the NBA

Elijah Johnson, left, tries to hold back Tyshawn Taylor on a fast break during the 2017 Rock Chalk Roundball Classic Thursday evening at Lawrence Free State High School. The annual charity event benefits local families fighting cancer.

Elijah Johnson, left, tries to hold back Tyshawn Taylor on a fast break during the 2017 Rock Chalk Roundball Classic Thursday evening at Lawrence Free State High School. The annual charity event benefits local families fighting cancer.

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Already busy enough with trying to balance his own overseas playing career with time to watch his beloved alma mater at crazy hours, former Kansas point guard Russell Robinson is bracing for things to get even tougher this week.

Thursday night in New York City, a pair of former Jayhawks are expected to be drafted into the NBA, with Josh Jackson slated as a likely Top 3 pick and Frank Mason III a projected second rounder.

That would mean two more former Kansas stars on NBA rosters and, as a result, potentially two more NBA teams that Robinson will have to follow.

“It’s a lot, man,” said Robinson of all of the former Jayhawks he tries to keep tabs on in the NBA. “And they’ve all got the talent, they go do their business off the court and they just continue to grow. There’s a whole other batch that’s about to go in, too. I’m just happy to be a part of it, happy to know them and happy to play my part in helping them grow.”

For Robinson, a starter on the 2008 national championship team who is headed into his eighth season of pro ball in Europe, watching so many former Jayhawks — both those he played with and many he did not — make a name for themselves in the NBA has been an absolute joy.

There is no animosity nor negative vibes toward those who achieved the ultimate goal of just about every player who walks through the doors at Kansas. Only love.

“Yeah, I’m a big fan of everybody,” said Robinson, who spent the past four seasons playing in Poland. “So I enjoy watching careers and career paths and keeping up with everything, even off the court. I think guys are doing a great job of representing Kansas at the highest level.”

There was a day when Robinson’s dream was to be one of them. During his playing days in New York City throughout his KU career and into his opportunities with three summer league teams after graduation — Houston, Orlando and Indiana, as well as a couple of stints in the NBA’s Developmental League — Robinson always had dreams of playing in the NBA.

But those days are gone now and the former KU point guard is fully content with his own career and happy to keep up with the dozen or so former Jayhawks currently playing in NBA cities across the country.

So, too, is 2012 national runner-up Tyshawn Taylor, who, like Robinson, got a couple of cracks at the NBA level — he was drafted No. 41 overall in 2012 and played in 61 games for the Brooklyn Nets from 2012-14 — before moving on to Europe.

Although no one ever compared the two as players during their days at Kansas, they have one big similarity during basketball season these days — trying to find a way to watch as many KU games and former Jayhawks in the NBA as possible.

“It’s hard to keep up even when I’m familiar with guys,” Taylor said. “I’m overseas and it’s 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning, trying to watch their games.”

Taylor finished last season in Turkey and said he may go back for the upcoming season.

“Russia and Turkey are probably the best two markets as far as money and competition,” he said.

Outside of the obvious draw of getting a paycheck to play basketball, both Robinson and Taylor said they have really taken to the experience of seeing the world.

“I’m in love with the European lifestyle,” Robinson said. “I can’t lie. It’s a nice mix, being from the States and being able to head over there and travel and enjoy their culture.”

While Jackson and Mason figure to be stateside for the next several seasons, there are other former Jayhawks, Perry Ellis being chief among them, who also are at the outset of their pro careers and may be looking to foreign soil to get started.

Ellis has a contract secured with the Sydney Kings in Australia but, with the Kings’ blessing, is still looking around for opportunities in the NBA.

“I told Perry to get prepared (because) he might not come back,” Robinson said of Ellis’ potential trip down under. “Everybody I know that played in Australia, they love it, they love it and they don’t come back. It’s not only about money, but lifestyle and the people over there are extremely nice. It’ll be a great experience for him in his journey.”

While Thursday’s draft and the ensuing days are expected to be monumental for Jackson and Mason, both Robinson and Taylor said the trickle-down effect figures to reach them a few days later.

“Same thing, another year, another grind,” Robinson said. “I’m doing well, I’m healthy so I’m just going to continue to play. In the next couple weeks I’ll have something figured out.”

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