The news of Kansas junior All-American Thomas Robinson declaring himself eligible for June's NBA draft wasn't surprising to anyone.
But Robinson did surprise many in heart-warming fashion on Monday morning, as his nine-year-old sister, Jayla, accompanied him and Kansas coach Bill Self in announcing his professional intentions.
Jayla celebrated her ninth birthday on Monday, and anyone familiar with Robinson's rough sophomore year at KU in terms of his personal life knows how much she means to the future lottery pick. In a span of a month last season, Robinson lost both of his grandparents, then his mother, Lisa.
Jayla stayed in Washington, D.C., over the last year and lived with her father, James Paris (who is not Robinson's father). Whether her living arrangements stay the same is not yet known, but Robinson made it clear on Monday how much being able to provide for his sister means to him.
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"Whatever it is she wants, man," Robinson said at the Monday press conference. "I'm just happy that I have the option that I don't have to worry about anything anymore."
Despite his personal hurdles mid-way through his sophomore campaign, Robinson averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds as a sophomore reserve for the Jayhawks. As a junior, fueled by a desire to provide for his younger sister, he became one of the most dominant players in the land, averaging 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds, carrying Kansas to an eighth consecutive Big 12 regular season title and a completely unexpected run to the national title game, where it fell last Monday to Kentucky, 67-59. He led the nation with 27 double-doubles.
He transformed himself from simply an athletic freak who could contribute around the rim off of the bench and provide a spark to a well-rounded force on both ends of the floor. Robinson should be able to rebound the ball at a high rate right away as a pro, and his expanded offensive game, which now includes a highly-reliable mid-range jumper, should also impress scouts during workouts over the coming months.
Robinson's leap was so dramatic that it became a foregone conclusion early on this past season that his junior campaign would be his last in Lawrence. And Self rarely denied it, offering up the following candid comments to Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan last week:
"The thing is, he's earned the right to move on. This kid finished second for national player of the year, consensus All-American, he's going to get his jersey hung (in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters), won the league, took his team to the finals. And in the finals, everybody talks about Anthony Davis, who was great. Thomas had 18 (points) and 17 (rebounds). Missed two dunks, had 18 and 17. He's a stud, and it's time. So many of us have said or believed you've got to strike while the iron's hot. Iron's hot for him right now."
Robinson could have left for his NBA payday a year ago, though far less would have been guaranteed and he would have been drafted largely off of potential rather than substance, not leaving much accomplishment behind in terms of his college career.
Now, he'll have the best of both worlds moving forward.
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