NBA gets a true winner in Thomas Robinson

Published Apr. 10, 2012 2:04 a.m. ET

A rich man is about to become wealthy as well. Thomas
Robinson did what was expected of him, as usual. He jumped.

"I think he could go anywhere from (pick number) 2 to 5," is what
Aran Smith of the website says when you ask what's next for
Kansas' do-everything power forward, a junior who declared himself a
professional Monday. "He's really proven himself of being worthy of the
second pick. Nobody helped himself more than he did during the (NCAA)
tournament, leading KU to the title game. He basically destroyed (Ohio State’s)
Jared Sullinger."

T-Rob is a man alone now, a piece of meat who'll be poked and prodded and
dissected like a frog in a middle-school science lab. For the next 10 weeks,
the Washington, DC, native is earmarked to be broken down, brick by brick, and
built back up again.

It's not personal. It's just business. A dance of the absurd.

"He's just a little undersized for the power forward position," Smith
says of Robinson, who's listed at 6-foot-10, 237 pounds and cut like a marble
statue. "If he's 6-8 and not 6-10, you start wondering: Can he really be
an All-Star, superstar kind of guy?"

Officially, Charles Barkley was 6-6 in sneakers. With a golf club in hand, he's
closer to 6-4.

Heart. Want-to. Measure that.

With Robinson, a team whose first option off the bench was a former walk-on won
32 games and rolled to a Big 12 title. With Robinson, a team whose second
option off the bench was a transfer from Loyola-Marymount sashayed all the way
to New Orleans.

Sheer force of will. Desire. Measure that.

"Just going back to his character and the things he's overcome,"
Smith continues. "You'd rather have an overachiever than an underachiever.
I think his story really plays into his hands."

You love him for the joy, the power — Robinson's 27 double-doubles were a new
KU single-season record — he brought to the court. You respect him for the
heartbreak he's had to endure off of it.

The story's been told a slew of times, but it underscores what made Monday
special: Last winter, over the course of a month, Robinson lost both his
grandparents and his mother, Lisa, the woman who raised him.

Lisa was 43, the victim of a heart attack. When coach Bill Self had asked him
if there was anyone in the family who would take the lead for his mother's
funeral arrangements and baby sister Jayla's future, Robinson reportedly

"Coach, you just don't get it. There isn't anybody left."

There's somebody now.

Jayla turned 9 on Monday, a birthday she won't soon forget. The little girl
with the mega-watt smile sat to her brother's right as he explained his
decision to reporters. Over the past year, Jayla has lived in DC with her
father, James Paris. Thomas has expressed interest in the past of becoming her
legal guardian.

"Whatever she wants, man," T-Rob told reporters Monday. "I'm
just happy that I have the option, that I don't have to worry about anything

Accountability. Perspective. Measure that.

Still, over the next few months, there will be nagging questions. Is Robinson
an NBA ‘3' or an NBA ‘4?' Can he develop a back-to-the-basket comfort zone?
Will he be able to simply blow past pro big men the way he did this past year?
Is he the second coming of Buck Williams? Or David West?

"He's a tough guy to get a real good comparison for," Smith said.

But he's an easy guy to like. During one of his last official appearances as a
Jayhawk last Tuesday, Robinson made a point to thank the thousands who'd piled
into one side of Allen Fieldhouse to cheer on the national runners-up.

The team had just bussed in from Topeka, Kan. It was a spirited, if brief,
affair, with tired, weary looks in all corners. The final stop on a long,
draining, wonderful ride.

T-Rob addressed the fans quickly and passionately.

"I wouldn't do it with any other group of guys," he said, and scanned
the crowd, as if trying to look each one of them in the eye.

"T-Rob, you gotta stay another year!" A man shouted from the gallery.
"Let's go!"

To that, Robinson said nothing and smiled. He knew. Everybody knew.

"I think it's beyond words," Robinson would say Monday, "what
this program meant to me."

The feeling's mutual. As the players got in a line and exited the Phog to
another round of cheers, Robinson reached the edge of the tunnel, a few yards
from the Jayhawks locker room, with the arena still in sight. Suddenly he

He stopped, turned around, craned his neck and looked over the landscape one
last time. A man alone, and 16,300 friends who will have his back forever.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler
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