Only one player in Kansas basketball history amassed more rebounds in one season than the 463 Thomas Robinson pulled down last year. That was Wilt Chamberlain.
No one in the country had more double-doubles last season than Robinson, who had a school-record 27 of them. And in the national championship game, Robinson had 18 points and 17 rebounds against Anthony Davis and the Kentucky Wildcats.
All of that helps explain why Robinson was so irritated when Davis appeared at the NBA combine earlier this month wearing a black T-shirt that read “CHECK MY STATS.”
“If you want to check the stats, then I’d be the No. 1 pick easily,” Robinson fired back. “I should get one of those shirts. Get a shirt that says ‘Numbers don’t lie.’?”
If this were strictly a numbers game, Robinson would be challenging Davis for the top overall pick in Thursday’s draft. He spent his first two seasons at Kansas backing up current NBA players Cole Aldrich and the Morris twins (Marcus and Markieff). When he finally got his opportunity, Robinson was named the Big 12 Player of the Year and was the first unanimous Associated Press first team All-American since Blake Griffin in 2009. Not even Davis could do that — he was listed on 63 of the 65 ballots.
“I think I play with a different level than everybody else — a different intensity level,” Robinson said. “I’m going to play every night. That’s not something every guy does. Everybody doesn’t show up every night on a consistent basis. Out of this group, I’d say I’m one of the players that does.”
That attitude is part of the reason why the Cavs are intrigued with Robinson. They brought him in for a workout recently and paired him against Andre Drummond even though power forward isn’t a position of need, given that the Cavs drafted Tristan Thompson fourth overall last season. But General Manager Chris Grant keeps reiterating that 40 percent of an NBA roster is composed of bigs, meaning one power forward just isn’t enough.
Robinson is steely tough, both on the court and off.
During his sophomore season in Lawrence, Kan., Robinson endured the death of his grandfather, grandmother and mother within a month. His grandfather died on a Sunday and his 37-year-old mother died of a heart attack the following Friday.
Robinson endured through the personal losses to become one of the best players in college basketball.
“I was the last resort. There was nobody else to lean on,” Robinson said. “When your back is against the wall, you’ve got nothing else to do but get up out of there. That’s what I had to do.”
Part of the reason he left early for the NBA was so he could fight to gain custody of his 9-year-old sister, who now lives with her biological father in Washington, D.C.
If he is selected in the top five Thursday, as expected, he’ll earn between $2.8 and $3.8 million his rookie year.
Robinson’s mother was the one who insisted he leave their crime-ridden neighborhood in Washington. Robinson first transferred to a school in Maryland before settling in at a boarding school in New Hampshire.
Robinson expressed a desire at the combine to play for his hometown Wizards, scheduling a workout with them before anyone else. But the Wizards appear to be narrowing their focus with the No. 3 pick on the available wing players, meaning Robinson could either go second to the Charlotte Bobcats or fall to the Cavaliers at No. 4.
Scouts love Robinson because of his maturity and dependability. NBA teams believe they can count on him to produce every night, as he said, and love his strong character and makeup.
Robinson is a bit undersized, measuring at 6-9 in shoes at the combine, making him about the same height as the Cavs’ Thompson.
But where Thompson’s best quality is his tremendous athleticism, Robinson relies on brute strength. That was clear with his ominous message at the combine when asked if he would hold a grudge against any team that passes on him.
“I’m going to go after every team I step on the floor against,” he said. “There’s not a specific team I’m going to point out and try to kill. I’m going to try to kill everybody.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at https://ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.