Easy to see why Thomas Robinson’s so motivated

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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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Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.