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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You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.