Uplifting experience: Robinson heroic vs. ’Cats
His Kansas University basketball teammates and coaches — as well as the fans — would have understood had Thomas Robinson decided to take a leave of absence and skip Saturday’s Sunflower Showdown against rival Kansas State.
The grief-stricken sophomore forward, whose mom, Lisa, died on Jan. 21 and was buried Thursday, elected to take the court, however, and after a slow start, emerged as one of the heroes in a 90-66 rout of the Wildcats in Allen Fieldhouse.
“I played tonight because I cannot sit around too long. I knew my mother wouldn’t want me to sit around crying about it forever,” Robinson said.
He missed his first three shots — including a dunk try after checking into the game to wild applause with 16:47 left in the first half — yet rallied for 17 points off 7-of-11 shooting with nine rebounds in 20 minutes.
“Coming into this game, I felt I owed it to all the fans and all the people across the country that showed me support helping me get through this time. I felt I owed it to all those to at least give it my all,” Robinson said.
There were many signs in the student section including “We love T-Rob” and “Jayhawks for Jayla,” a reference to his 7-year-old sister who is now staying with her father in Washington, D.C.
All the love didn’t help Robinson convert that first dunk try.
“I was thinking I was jumping higher than I was, trying to pull the rim down, and the ball came out. It was just a little mental mistake,” the 6-foot-9, 237-pounder said.
“I’ve not been sitting around, but not been playing basketball for a whole week. For somebody playing at this level, that’s unheard of. I was so anxious to get back on the court whether practice or the game. I just could not wait to see the fieldhouse again.”
He hit seven of eight shots the second half, good for 15 points. His total of 17 points marked his second-highest output of the season, trailing only his career-high outing of 20 against UT Arlington.
“We ran a couple things to try to get him an easy basket a couple times,” KU coach Bill Self said. “He did miss some shots in tight. There have been times in the past I maybe didn’t let him play through those things. I was going to do everything I could to let him play through that tonight. He needed to be out there.”
Robinson scored six straight early in the second half — a short jumper in the paint, a driving layup, followed by a 15-footer — that gave KU a 55-31 lead. KU led by as many as 32 points in this one-sided affair.
“After I hit the first two, I made my mind up on their end (playing defense) that I was going to shoot that (deep jumper). That was just momentum. It was a heat check,” said Robinson, who indeed was red-hot.
“He got on a roll there for a minute,” Self said. “Good thing he got tired or he would have shot the next one maybe from halfcourt. He played so well, so much energy.”
Robinson finished with three vicious dunks, including one in which he was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim.
He received a thunderous ovation and waved to fans upon exiting for good with 1:04 left.
“That was a special deal for him. Of course, the fans here are incredible,” Self said, “how they recognized him when he checked in and how they recognized him when he checked out. It’s a special moment, one he’ll never forget. Of course it goes without saying we’re really proud of him.”
Robinson received a lot of attention right after his stellar performance that helped the Jayhawks improve to 20-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big 12; KSU fell to 14-8, 2-5.
KSU’s Jacob Pullen, who scored 21 points, but most when the game was well out of reach (KU led 15-2 and 37-20 at halftime and never looked back), spoke with Robinson in the handshake line.
“Basketball is basketball, and the things that he is going through in life and regardless if this is a rivalry or whatever, the things he is going through right now are things you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy,” Pullen said. “I told him he has to use basketball as a tool for other things in life and to keep his head up at all times, and things will get better. God will never put you in a situation you can’t handle, and right now times are tough on him, but I told him things would definitely get better.”
KU will meet Texas Tech at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Lubbock, Texas.
Robinson will be in attendance.
“The support I’ve received has touched me beyond words,” he said. “I know I cannot physically say thank you to every person that has helped me, but if this could get out I just want to thank people that have tried to reach out to me or thought about me. This past month (following deaths of grandmother, granddad and mom) has opened my eyes to how amazing this place is. It is beyond words to describe how I feel and the love I have for Kansas University and the fans.”