Need a rooting interest this weekend? Try Thomas Robinson


In a Final Four of powerhouse programs accustomed to making the NCAA tournament’s final weekend it’s not easy for a casual fan to find a rooting interest. Butler or VCU? Easy to cheer for them.

But when Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State have 49 Final Four appearances combined, most college basketball might just cheer against all four or just watch something else. Who wants to cheer for four Goliaths?

Then again, what if one of the Goliaths has a story that’ll tug at anyone’s heartstrings? Would that sway fans?

Thomas Earl Robinson’s broad shoulders have carried Kansas all season. A unanimous choice for the AP All-American team, he’s also headed for a multi-million deal as a future NBA lottery pick. But it hasn’t been an easy road for Robinson, one of the game’s hardest workers and best players. Not even close.

Not after last season.

Robinson’s sophomore season was beset by personal tragedies. His grandmother died in late December of 2010 and his grandfather died a few weeks later. Then his mother, Lisa, a single mom in her early 40s, died of a heart attack in on January 21. The deaths shook Robinson and his teammates, who could hardly believe so much bad news could come at once. Coach Bill Self called it “the saddest thing I’d ever seen in my whole life.”

His eight-year-old sister, Jayla, was the one who called from Washington D.C. and told Robinson the news.

After burying his mother and rejoining Kansas, Robinson declared his intentions to begin caring for Jayla. That would mean skipping the final two years of college to play in the NBA to provide financial support and being around as much as his NBA schedule would allow.

That didn’t happen. A scholarship was provided to Jayla, who’s still living in D.C. where her father, James Paris is. But he’s a good big brother, protective and worried about what her future holds. And the plan is to start securing that future by heading to the NBA after this season.

From a gut-wrenching story earlier this season from ESPN the Magazine::

“I’m still scared for my little sister,” Thomas says. “I cry and I complain about how it’s not fair for me, but she’s going through way more. She’s 8 years old. She ain’t got the memories that I got with my mom. I just feel like I can’t stop. I got to do something to where I make her so happy that she’ll never have to go through any pain in her life ever. No more bad phone calls. None of us can have any more bad phone calls.”

Basketball and Jayla: That’s about all Thomas thinks about. When Self recently suggested planting a tree in memory of Lisa outside Allen Fieldhouse, a place she never lived to see, Thomas thought it was the quintessential idea. He and Self watched the gardeners dig the hole, and Thomas placed his letter in with the roots. It reads:

I guarantee you have no worries about Jayla.
I will make sure everything is okay. I won’t blink.
My promise.


Lisa called him Earl. She was the only one.

Robinson’s hardly the only guy to place the NBA on hold – Kentucky’s Terrence Jones and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger both did the same – but I doubt any player has more weighing on his shoulders than Robinson. His Jayhawks aren’t favored to win the tournament.

But I’m guessing he’ll have a few more fans than normal cheering for him this weekend.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

SUNDAY’S SNACKS: No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 23 Xavier roll

Ryan Spangler
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This will be updated throughout the evening.


No. 7 Oklahoma 65, Wisconsin 48: One team returned most of its rotation from a season ago and has its roles (for the most part) defined, while the other is still figuring out how its pieces fit together. That was one of the big differences between the Sooners and Badgers in Norman, as Oklahoma got out to a quick start and won comfortably. Ryan Spangler led four Sooners in double figures with 20 points while also grabbing 14 rebounds. Nigel Hayes scored 20 for Wisconsin but did so on 5-for-17 shooting, and as a team the Badgers shot 23.5 percent.

No. 23 Xavier 90, Dayton 61: The rivals’ first meeting since 2013 lacked drama in the second half, as the Musketeers went on a 21-0 run and led by as many as 29 points. Edmond Sumner led the balanced attack with 14 points, with eight Musketeers scoring eight points or more. More can be read about this game here.

Monmouth 83, USC 73: The Hawks avenged their first loss of the season, beating the Trojans in the third place game at the AdvoCare Invitational. Justin Robinson scored 26 points, setting a record for points in the event (passing Michael Beasley), and Monmouth now has three wins over power conference teams (UCLA, Notre Dame and USC). Given their talent and résumé to this point, Monmouth will be a team to keep an eye on as the season progresses.


Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma: 20 points and 14 rebounds in the Sooners’ 65-48 home win over Wisconsin.

Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville: Mockevicius scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the Purple Aces’ 75-56 win over UC Irvine.

Miles Wright, Dartmouth: Wright scored 39 points (13-for-22 FG) and grabbed six rebounds in Dartmouth’s 79-56 win over LIU Brooklyn.


Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Everyone struggled for the Badgers including Koenig, who shot 3-for-18 from the field in their loss at No. 7 Oklahoma.

Anthony Drmic, Boise State: In the Broncos’ loss to No. 11 Arizona, Drmic scored eight points but shot 1-for-12 from the field and committed six turnovers.


  • Grayson Allen scored 22 points and Luke Kennard added 22 off the bench as No. 6 Duke handed Utah State its first loss, 82-52.
  • No. 20 Wichita State completed its trip to the AdvoCare Invitational with an 84-61 loss to Iowa. The Shockers are shorthanded with Fred VanVleet, Landry Shamet and Anton Grady all sitting out, but the losses make upcoming opportunities for quality wins even more important.
  • Keith Frazier scored 23 points and freshman Jarrey Foster tallied 15 off the bench as No. 25 SMU took care of Brown, 77-69.
  • No. 11 Arizona beat Boise State for the second time in ten days, winning third place at the DirecTV Wooden Legacy by the final score of 68-59. Kadeem Allen and Allonzo Trier scored 13 points apiece, with Allen also grabbing seven rebounds.


  • Haanif Cheatham scored 24 points and Duane Wilson added 16 as Marquette beat Jackson State 80-61 in Milwaukee.
  • Four McGlynn scored a career-high 27 points in Rhode Island’s 82-57 win over Rider. He and freshman Christion Thompson, key players with E.C. Matthews out for the season, combined to shoot 9-for-15 from three.
  • Yale played without star forward Justin Sears due to illness and Albany took advantage, blowing out the Bulldogs 88-54. Evan Singletary scored 21 for the winners.
  • Josh Scott led the way with 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks as Colorado moved to 5-1 on the season with an 82-52 win over Northern Colorado.
  • An Eric Jacobson basket with two seconds remaining gave Arizona State a 70-68 win over UCSB. Jacobson finished with ten points and eight rebounds, and UCSB’s Michael Bryson led all scorers with 23 points to go along with five rebounds and six assists.
  • Justin Edwards finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists as Kansas State hung on for a two-point win over South Carolina State.

No. 23 Xavier makes statement, blows out Dayton

Chris Mack
Associated Press
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With in-state rivals No. 23 Xavier and Dayton meeting for the first time since 2013, there was a lot of anticipation for Sunday’s AdvoCare Invitational title game in Orlando. But after 20 competitive minutes the Musketeers removed any doubt, blowing out the Flyers by a final score of 90-61.

The depth, talent, experience and toughness of Chris Mack’s team was on display throughout the event, most especially Sunday evening. Eight players scored at least eight points against Dayton, and as they had throughout the tournament Xavier dominated on the boards. The Musketeers grabbed 37.1 percent of its offensive rebound opportunities and limited Dayton to just four offensive rebounds, turning that into a 17-2 edge in second chance points.

Add in 27 Xavier points off of 22 Dayton turnovers, and it was clear who dictated the terms of engagement in this much-anticipated meeting.

The offensive rebounding and turnovers issues took their toll on the Flyers, who managed to keep the game close until late in the first half. But Xavier was able to stretch out the margin to eight by the intermission, and a 21-0 run pushed the margin out to 29 with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game. Dayton’s gotten off to a good start, despite not having the suspended Dyshawn Pierre, and they’re going to win a lot of games this season.

But there was a clear difference between these two teams Sunday night, with the deep Musketeers looking like one that can not only build on last season’s Sweet 16 run but exceed it.

On the season six players are averaging at least 9.7 points per game, which makes it hard for the opposition to focus its defensive efforts on one or two players. Jalen Reynolds and James Farr can take control of games in the paint. Trevon Bluiett has the ability to score from just about anywhere on the floor, and this team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either. Add in a redshirt freshman point guard in Edmond Sumner who’s hit the ground running in filling the role left vacant by the graduation of Dee Davis, and this is a team capable of being a factor nationally.

Xavier’s reached the Sweet 16 in five of the last eight seasons, so success is to be expected from this program. And if their start to this season is any indication, this group of Musketeers is more than capable of not only challenging Villanova atop the Big East but adding to that recent run of success.