LAWRENCE, Kan. — Thomas Robinson, the brawny Kansas forward who overcame personal tragedy to lead his team to a national runner-up finish this season, is leaving for the NBA.
Robinson made the formal announcement Monday, with coach Bill Self and 9-year-old sister Jayla by his side.
Robinson, the first unanimous first-team All-American since Blake Griffin, led the Jayhawks to the national championship game against Kentucky, where they lost 67-59. He averaged 17.9 points and 11.8 rebounds per game in 31.8 minutes in his junior season and led the nation with 27 double-doubles.
"Coming to college as a basketball player should be a goal, it definitely was one for me," Robinson said. "Besides that, not winning the championship, I did everything I wanted to do plus more. I felt like I got too much love for it and not even do that much. After I look back at it, like coach was telling me during the season, I had no time to think about what I accomplished. It was a great experience. I wouldn't trade it in for anything."
Coach Bill Self joked that he thought Robinson called everybody together to announce he was coming back.
"In all honesty, I knew this was going to happen since last summer," Self said. "I've said publicly many times that our goal for him was to put him in position where this could possibly be the case."
Even had Robinson wanted to come back for his senior year, Self said he would have encouraged him not to.
What lies ahead are almost assuredly NBA riches. The 6-foot-9 forward could very well go in the first five picks of the June draft, which would mean a minimum rookie salary of more than $2.8 million.
It would be welcome news for Robinson and Jayla after what they've been through.
In January 2011, Robinson received a phone call from his young sister, who told him that their mother had died of a heart attack in his hometown of Washington, D.C. The two had been raised by their single mother, Lisa Robinson. In a span of three weeks, they had also lost their grandfather and grandmother, and Robinson's father had never really been involved in his life.
The program has been something of a surrogate family. They helped raise money to cover some of the funeral expenses, and to set up a scholarship fund to cover Jayla's college education.
Robinson said it will be difficult leaving Kansas -- his teammates, the coaching staff, the fans and the town. He does plan on coming back to obtain his degree. Robinson doesn't have many credit hours left and finishing his degree is something that his mother would want him to do.
He had thoughts about leaving after his sophomore season, which would have been a mistake, he said.
"I wouldn't have been ready at all, I would have been eaten alive," Robinson said. "Coming back, this might have been one of my toughest years mentally and physically — I was playing a lot more this year, there was a lot more going on — that transformation helped me mature."
Kansas will have a difficult time replacing Robinson's output. He raised his scoring average by more than 10 points and his rebounding average by more than five rebounds while being on the court for twice as long compared with his sophomore season.
"There was a huge void when Marcus and Markieff (Morris) left," Self said. "There was a void when Cole (Aldrich) and Sherron (Collins) left. There was a void when Brandon (Rush), Mario (Chalmers), Julian (Wright), Shady (Darrell Arthur) and all those guys left. There's always going to be a void. We're not going to replace 18 points and 12 rebounds. We're not going to recruit a freshman that looks like this when he's 18 years old. We'll have guys that will grow into being their own separate version of what Thomas can give to us. We're never going to have another him. There's no reason to try and duplicate it."
Robinson said he has not yet hired an agent but expects to in the next couple of weeks.
"I hope he would want to be with somebody that would say, 'Hey, we're going to put you on a budget, you're going to live on it, this is how we're going to do things,' and I think he just thrives in that type of environment," Self said. "I think he'll be a hugely successful NBA player."