Chang­ing NBA draft pull-out date a ‘stupid’ decision

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather -

Two ques­tions al­ways dom­i­nate men’s col­lege bas­ket­ball as the NCAA tour­na­ment ap­proaches the penul­ti­mate week­end: Who’s go­ing to win the ti­tle and who’s leav­ing early for the NBA?

The Mary­land Ter­rap­ins didn’t qual­ify for the post­sea­son, but they don’t have worry about los­ing their best player, ei­ther. Ter­rell Stoglin, the ACC’S lead­ing scorer this sea­son, an­nounced Wed­nes­day that he will re­turn for his ju­nior year. Con­versely, St. John’s Univer­sity missed out on the tour­na­ment and coach Steve Lavin has a hole to fill. Moe Hark­less, the Big East Rookie of the Year, de­clared for the draft and plans to hire an agent, mak­ing the decision ir­re­versible.

Other “one-and-done” can­di­dates this year might in­clude Ken­tucky’s An­thony Davis (the con­sen­sus No. 1 over­all pick), team­mate Michael Kid­dGilchrist and Duke’s Austin Rivers. One mock draft has nine fresh­men in the first round, in­clud­ing four of the top seven picks.

That’s noth­ing new. Many fresh­men have gone high in the draft since 2007, when fresh­men

nal­ists for the Nai­smith na­tional player of the year award and a pro­jected topthree pick in June’s NBA draft, rubbed his chin. This was his 21st birth­day. He shrugged off the day. And maybe, for an in­stant, the sad­ness Robin­son car­ries sur­faced.

Four­teen months ago, Robin­son’s 43-year-old mother, Lisa, died of a heart at­tack at their Dis­trict home. In the pre­vi­ous month, Robin­son’s grand­mother and grand­fa­ther died, too.

Sud­denly, Robin­son and his 8-year old sis­ter, Jayla, were alone.

That month fol­lows Robin­son each trip onto the court, like Fri­day’s Sweet 16 matchup be­tween Kansas and N.C. State in St. Louis.

“Bas­ket­ball has a whole dif­fer­ent mean­ing for him now than it did a year and a half ago,” said Ja­son Smith, Robin­son’s coach at the Brew­ster (N.H.) Academy his se­nior year. “He plays with that pas­sion and en­ergy, but there’s some­thing else fu­el­ing that fire. He wants to make it a ca­reer to pro­vide for his younger sis­ter.”

Bas­ket­ball be­came Robin­son’s out­let. His grief has merged with his on­court gifts to cre­ate a player who av­er­aged 17.7 points and 11.8 re­bounds per game while at­tract­ing con­stant dou­ble­and triple-teams.

“Ev­ery­body ad­mires him that comes in touch with him around our game,” Kansas coach Bill Self said, “be­cause I don’t know how many guys could do what he’s done.”

Robin­son’s first two years at Kansas didn’t re­sem­ble those of most top-50 re­cruits. He was stuck be­hind Mar­cus and Marki­eff Mor­ris, among oth­ers, in a deep ro­ta­tion of big men. Points and re­bounds usu­ally trick­led down in sin­gle dig­its. To Smith and Lou Wil­son, Robin­son’s coach at Up­per Marl­boro’s Riverdale Bap­tist as a ju­nior, Robin­son seemed to play at 100 mph. He would try not to make mis­takes, play quickly and, more of­ten than not, hand over the ball.

That’s not much dif­fer­ent than the rangy, en­er­getic 10-year-old Wil­son first no­ticed play­ing for the AAU’S Fort Washington Bul­lets.

The ag­gres­sion, re­lent­less­ness and bor­der­line fe­roc­ity each pos­ses­sion hasn’t changed. Robin­son still sucks the mar­row from ev­ery trip down the court. But now he isn’t in such a hurry. Work­ing with Kansas as­sis­tant and for­mer KU star Danny Man­ning left him bet­ter un­der­stand­ing the game. Robin­son wanted to be a smarter player. Then his jumper tight­ened up. So did his ball­han­dling.

“He’s pro­gressed so much,” Kansas ju­nior cen­ter Jeff Withey said. “Peo­ple can’t do any­thing to stop him.”

His poise has in­creased, too. When Robin­son first drew those dou­ble- and triple-teams at sea­son’s start, he didn’t know what to do. At Kansas, he hadn’t been the fo­cus of an op­pos­ing de­fense be­fore. Frus­tra­tion came first. Now he thrives on the at­ten­tion.

Smith mar­vels at how Robin­son has ma­tured. So do Robin­son’s teammates. Smith texts him re­minders to fo­cus on the NCAA tour­na­ment, not his draft prospects. The deaths of his mother and grand­par­ents forced him to grow up, Smith be­lieves. And, in the process, Robin­son has be­come known for what he is do­ing on the court rather than what he en­dured off it.

Jayla Robin­son lives with her fa­ther, James Paris, in the Dis­trict af­ter a cus­tody dis­pute with Wil­la­tant Austin Jr., Lisa Robin­son’s step­brother, in Prince Ge­orge’s County Cir­cuit Court was dis­missed in De­cem­ber.

Still, the sad­ness seems to come with any glimpse of Robin­son. Self can’t seem to say enough nice things about his best player. Each men­tion isn’t far away from the words “tragic” and “ter­ri­ble.”

“With the cir­cum­stances he’s un­der, he’s been re­ally, re­ally blessed,” Wil­son said. “I know his mother is look­ing down on Earl, as she called him, and giv­ing him a big smile and thumbs-up.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Thomas Robin­son, av­er­ag­ing 17.7 points and 11.8 re­bounds a game for Kansas, is the fo­cus of op­pos­ing teams and the me­dia wher­ever he goes.

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