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Easy to see why Thomas Robinson’s so motivated

Nov 9, 2011, 9:45 AM EDT

spt-111108-trobe AP

It’s generally accepted that Thomas Robinson becomes the man this season.

Provided Kansas’ junior forward stays healthy, he’ll vie for Big 12 player of the year and All-America honors. When you have his size (6-9, 237 pounds) and a non-stop motor, good things happen. Take Tuesday night’s exhibition.

He ripped off 22 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in his first game since hyperextending his knee on Oct. 27. There’s no stop in this guy, even when he’s wearing a brace on his knee.

“He just looks like a different player from when we were here two years ago,” Fort Hays State coach Mark Johnson said. “Even physically. His body looks even bouncier, a strong body and a confidence level. More than anything, he’s so confident right now as a player. He wants the ball. He’s got the confidence to be a great player.”

He’s always had the physical ability. Consider Robinson a stronger, more explosive Tyler Hansbrough. But where does a guy with those kind of gifts find his motivation?

From a place that usually fosters depression, not inspiration.

This amazing story by ESPN’s Tom Friend provides insight on Robinson’s personal life and his relationship with his 8-year-old sister, Jayla. She’s the motivation.

For those who may have forgotten, Robinson’s mother, Lisa, died last year of a heart attack. This came not long after his grandmother and grandfather also died. Thomas and Jayla were only left with each other. He was already protective of her. Now it’s gone to another level. Expect this to be his last season in college.

He’s focused on ensuring she’ll never want for anything. From Friend’s story.

“I want Jayla with me. I want full responsibility for everything. And I was in a position that if I took care of business with basketball, everything I wanted for her could become possible.”

His teammates could sense what was happening. At first, they had wrestled with the deaths, wondering why a good kid would have to bury three relatives in a month. But they would hear Thomas, quoting Lisa, say that everything happens for a reason. They soon realized what that was: The deaths motivated Thomas to become a star. He had to take care of Jayla.

The plan was delayed, if not derailed, last February when Thomas needed surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee. After coming back, he didn’t even score in KU’s Elite Eight loss to Virginia Commonwealth. But that just made him more determined.

Over the summer, Thomas was a workaholic. He wouldn’t take a day off and was the most electric player at the Amar’e Stoudemire Skills Academy, outplaying even Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger. “He has the speed of Kobe and a body like LeBron’s,” Markieff says. “Sky’s the limit.”

When Thomas wasn’t on the court, he was back in DC with Jayla or on the phone with her. She’d begun asking when she could live with him. He’d tell her: “Soon, baby. Soon.” What he didn’t tell her is that the minute he gets to the NBA, he is going to request full custody and move her in with him.

Even if you’re not a Kansas fan, it’s impossible not to root for Robinson. He’s playing for more than himself and his team. He’s playing for a girl who needs this kind of goodness.

Play hard, Thomas.

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