Kansas’s Thomas Robinson near the end of emotional run


“I’m never going to regret being a Jayhawk,” Kansas’s Thomas Robinson said recently. “Ever.” (Orlin Wagner/AP)

Kansas forward Thomas Robinson should be college basketball’s national player of the year.

Biased? As a KU alum, sure I am. But there are good statistical arguments for Robinson. In eight games against ranked opponents this season – seven were top six teams at the time – Robinson averaged 19.8 points (shooting 56 percent from the field and 76 percent from the line) and 12.3 rebounds. The junior’s overall averages were 18 points a game and 11.9 rebounds; he’s had 22 double-doubles this season.

Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis is a worthy contender, averaging 14.4 points and 9.8 points a game. Of course, Davis has five teammates who were McDonald’s all-Americans, as he was. Kansas has . . . zero. That’s one reason Bill Self was just named Sporting News coach of the year.

But forget the stats for a minute. Robinson is the complete package — and not just on the court. Sure, he scored 25 points and 14 rebounds in his final game at Allen Fieldhouse Saturday night against Texas.

“I told him after the game, if I had a vote, he would be my vote for player of the year,” Texas Coach Rick Barnes told reporters. “I know he’s been through a lot the last couple years, but just the way he’s carried himself and playing against him, he’s terrific.”

It’s no secret the junior will almost certainly declare himself eligible for the NBA draft, but at Kansas, you don’t get to make a goodbye speech on Senior Night unless you’re a senior. That rule has yet to keep a kid in school, but it’s still a good one. However, Self bent it slightly, inviting the crowd to vent its feelings.

“We’ve all been blessed to watch a kid grow up, right before our eyes, who has a legitimate chance to be national player of the year, who has sacrificed so much for the good of all of us,” Self said. “Let’s recognize number zero, Thomas Robinson.”

Not for the first time, Kansas fans cheered and wept for the Washington native, whom they had come to love and respect, not only for his skill on the court, but for his inspiring maturity off it.

Texas was the visiting team on this night, which was somehow fitting. A year ago, the Jayhawks hosted Texas on Jan. 22, the day after Robinson found out his mother had died, here in Washington, of heart failure. In fact, in one terrible month, Robinson lost his grandmother, grandfather and mother. His remaining family is his sister Jayla, who was then 7. The team stayed up all night with Robinson as he wept over his mother’s untimely death and comforted his sister via cellphone calls.

Robinson, who was not a starter last season, insisted on playing against the Longhorns before returning to D.C. to deal with funeral arrangements. He and his tired teammates suffered their first loss of the season, but no one seemed to care. The crowd at Allen roared every time he touched the ball. The athletic department was busy making arrangements to get the entire team to Washington for the funeral. And people all over Lawrence were already calling the basketball office, offering to take in Jayla so Robinson could be close to the only family he had left.

Robinson was a steady contributor and a “character” player before his mother’s death. This season, he has been on a mission. Kansas was ranked No. 13 in the AP preseason poll, and that was considered optimistic by even some of the staunchest Jayhawk fans. The team returned exactly one starter, Tyshawn Taylor, a talented but erratic player who could not fill the role of one man band.

But he doesn’t have to. Robinson stepped up. It became clear early that he was something special this season. Jayla remained in Washington, living with her father, but Robinson has made no secret of the fact that he misses her and wants to spend more time with her. And although a fund was set up for Jayla’s education, nothing would guarantee Jayla’s future, and Robinson’s ability to be in it, like an NBA contract.

Some players wait to see how their team will perform in March before deciding whether to come out for the draft, but Robinson is gone. KU fans are not only resigned to that fact; they are supportive of it. As sorry as they are to see him go, they understand his need. They realize how lucky they have been to have a player the caliber of Thomas Robinson, as a person and player, for three years.

And the fans and Robinson, too, realize how wrong they were about one thing – Jayla is not the only family Robinson has left. His other family said goodbye to him Saturday night, sending him off with tears and smiles and assurances that he will always be welcome. Isn’t that what family does? If so, Robinson has a bigger family than even he realizes.

“I’m never going to regret being a Jayhawk,” Robinson said. “Ever.”

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