Kansas University director of basketball operations Barry Hinson, who had just spent five days with grief-stricken Thomas Robinson, shared a final thought with the sophomore power forward Friday afternoon in the parking lot outside Allen Fieldhouse.
“As he was getting out of my Jeep, I said, ‘In all honesty, I want to let you know I thought you left as a kid, and you came back as a young man,’’’ Hinson said.
He and Robinson flew to Washington, D.C., a week ago today and returned Friday afternoon, a day after the funeral of Robinson’s mother, Lisa, who died of an apparent heart attack on Jan. 21.
“It’s something I’ll never forget the rest of my life. I certainly learned a lot. I’m getting ready to be 50 years old, and I just learned a lot from a 19-year-old young man,” Hinson said.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. He dealt with it absolutely as best you could. I mean, we had to plan a funeral. We had to check on family members. We had to take care of business in a matter of 72 hours. I’m fortunate both of my parents are still living. I’ve never had to do this.”
Hinson and Robinson — whose grandmother and grandfather also died in the past month — headed straight to Lisa’s apartment upon arriving in D.C. to pick up Robinson’s 7-year-old sister, Jayla.
“That was incredibly emotional,” Hinson said. “We didn’t stay there very long for obvious reasons.
“It really hurt ... but we had to do so many things while we were there. My dad has a saying, ‘You’ve got to make hay.’ We were trying to make hay as fast as we could. For Thomas ... the grieving process had to be interrupted for funeral planning, estate planning, scholarship planning, setting up meetings, things like that.
“Thomas was a trooper. He would go to the meetings and handle them. I can’t tell you how proud I am of him.”
Hinson said several individuals stepped up in the planning of Lisa Robinson’s funeral, held at noon Thursday at Antioch Baptist Church in D.C.
“Thomas’ brother, Jamah (who is in mid 20s) was phenomenal. He did an enormous amount of work,” Hinson said. “Angel Morris (mother of KU’s Morris twins) ... the NCAA allowed her to go. I’ll be quite frank. If Angel hadn’t been on the trip, I don’t know if the funeral would have taken place.”
A snow and ice storm nearly ruined all the well executed funeral plans.
“I’ll never forget it — 5 o’clock in the morning (Thursday), I got a phone call. There was no power at the church, and the streets hadn’t been cleared. People wouldn’t be able to get there,” Hinson said. “By 9 o’clock, we had the service back on. We were able to get this all done because of a tremendous amount of people helping.”
The funeral itself was special — in large part because Robinson’s teammates flew in Wednesday night and were able to attend.
“I think we are always sad at funerals because we lose somebody we love. The funeral and the path it took was a moment of celebration,” Hinson said. “There were times you cried. There were times you laughed. There were times for provoking thought.
“I came back and told my wife, ‘Within the next month, I will plan my whole funeral out.’ I’m serious. I’ve never been that close to the preparation (of a funeral). I told her no question. I know exactly what I want to do, how I want to handle it for me.”
Hinson did not return with the KU team Thursday afternoon. He spent an additional evening with Robinson. They had adjoining rooms at a D.C. hotel — “I’d check on him from time to time,” Hinson said — before the duo returned for practice Friday afternoon.
“The healing process took the moment he got back on the practice floor,” Hinson said. “Being around his teammates ... I knew exactly what would happen. I’ve been coaching 30 years. I’ve seen this happen before. I knew when he got back among his friends and his family in Lawrence that he would be great.
“He has so many friends. I kept getting e-mails. Somebody created a Facebook page for him. I kept showing my phone to him: ‘Thomas read this. Read that.’ I told Thomas, ‘The Jayhawk nation has literally put their arms around you and will have them around you for the rest of your life.’’’
A fired-up Robinson scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Saturday’s 90-66 rout of Kansas State.
“He’ll be more than OK. You saw him today. How do you do that? How do you do what he did against K-State? It’s just courage,” Hinson said. “I’m like a proud father. I have my chest poked out so far.”
Hinson — he praised the NCAA for working with KU all week and also allowing Robinson to set up a fund for his sister’s college education — believes Jayla will be fine.
“I had a chance to be around her father (with whom she’s living now). I really enjoyed visiting with him,” Hinson said. “The aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers ... there’s enough people there. She has a great support system there.
“She is precious,” Hinson added. “She knew more how to run my iPhone — as a second-grader — than I did. I could already tell you she’ll be fine.”
Hinson considers it an “honor” to have been the KU staff member who accompanied Robinson. Hinson said video coordinator Kyle Keller likely would have gone, but he was attending a ceremony for the 10-year anniversary of the plane crash that claimed the lives of 10 individuals associated with Oklahoma State’s team of which Keller was assistant coach.
“I told coach (Bill) Self: ‘I am the most logical candidate.’ I was proud to go,” Hinson said. “I feel I’ve had great training because my dad is a minister. I’ve watched my dad deal with this his entire life. I’ve learned great lessons from him. I still am an emotional person. I haven’t cried that much in a long time. You cry because you care for someone. Obviously, we cared for Thomas, and it brought a lot of tears to a lot of people’s eyes.”
Hinson’s eyes brightened when discussing a conversation with one of Robinson’s family members.
“When it was time to leave, one of the grandmothers grabbed me and said, ‘I want to let you know you are part of our family for the rest of your life,’’’ Hinson said.
“That was probably the best thing somebody could ever say to me. I’d be in a room and people would walk in, and here’s this little short basketball coach: ‘Who is that guy? We’ve never seen him in our life?’ By the time we left, she hugged me and said, ‘You’ll always be part of our family.’ Shoot ... I got invited to a wedding,” he added with a laugh. “I did feel part of that family after five days.”
Odd near-dunk: Folks are buzzing about a missed dunk try by K-State’s Jamar Samuels on Saturday. His one-handed putback slam of a Jacob Pullen miss went 3/4 of the way down the net before flipping back out.
Recruit on game: Kaleb Tarczewski, a 7-foot, 220-pound junior center from St. Mark’s High in Southborough, Mass., was one of several recruits to attend the KSU game.
“I just like the way Kansas plays basketball. The way they play is eye-opening to me,” Tarczewski, the No. 13-rated player in the Class of 2012 told Rivals.com. “Coach Self and I just had a regular conversation when we talked. We were hanging out and having a good time together.”
He has yet to put together his final list of schools.