Letters From Camp are my dispatches from weekend's Nike Skills Camps in Chicago, with more to come today and tomorrow.
CHICAGO -- What does the name Thomas Robinson mean to you?
To the casual sports fan -- like the helpful videographer sitting next to me at the Nike Elite Skills Camps at Attack Athletics this weekend -- Robinson's name immediately conjures the devastating image of him consoling his young sister at the funeral of his mother, who suffered a heart attack at the age of 43 in January. Lisa Robinson was the third member of Robinson's family, along with his grandfather and grandmother, to pass away in a three-week span in January, leaving Robinson and his 7-year-old sister without any family they had ever been close to.
"Oh, that's the kid from Kansas," the videographer said. "Lost his mom this season, right? Awful story."
It's safe to say Thomas Robinson wants to be known for more than heartache. Who wouldn't?
The good news: If Robinson plays his junior season at Kansas the way he played at the Amar'e Stoudamire Skills Academy on Saturday, that increased recognition -- and a cherished lottery spot in the jam-packed 2012 NBA draft -- is sure to follow.
It's hard to learn much from these camps, which are largely designed with NBA scouts in mind. But on Saturday, as some of the nation's best collegiate forwards (with Jared Sullinger, Alex Oriakhi and Mouphtaou Yarou among them) ran two hours of five-on-five scrimmages with some of the nation's best guards, it was impossible to ignore Robinson's play. The Jayhawk flew down the court, challenged shots at the rim, finished inside rebounds and low-post moves with strength and athleticism, and threw down the indisputable dunk of the day -- a cocked one-handed fast break alley-oop that caused plenty of stone-faced NBA scouts in attendance to cast each other knowingly excited glances.
Those scouts had no doubt seen Robinson before. After all, the forward was a rebounding force as a sophomore. Robinson grabbed 18.8 percent of available boards on the offensive end in 2011, which is nearly as impressive as his 31.1 percent rebounding rate on the defensive end. Robinson didn't play the minimum number of minutes to qualify for Ken Pomeroy's individual player rankings in those statistics. If he did (assuming his rates would have stayed as high in a larger sample size), Robinson would have ranked No. 3 in the nation in OR% and No. 2 in DR%.
The reason -- or reasons -- Robinson didn't get those minutes begins with an "M" and ends with "Orii." Marcus and Markieff Morris lorded over the Kansas frontcourt in 2011, much like Cole Aldrich dominated the Jayhawks' interior in 2010. As Robinson said Saturday (as you can see in the above clip), he had only limited opportunities to showcase his skills.
Now, after the Morris twins' back-to-back selections in last Thursday's NBA draft -- and with no obvious incoming freshmen ready to step in just yet -- Robinson will move into a much larger role in the Kansas frontcourt. He's likely to be joined by 7-foot center junior Jeff Withey, the only other returning forward on the roster.
Whether Robinson will be able to maintain his gaudy efficiency numbers is yet to be seen. Withey won't quite attract the attention of defenses the way the Morris twins did. Robinson also needs to prove he can harness a true post game; in 2011, Robinson was a rim-runner, an athletic forward who saw a shot go up and attacked it with gusto, but not one who frequently initiated his own offense with his back to the basket. Those are among the changes Robinson said he was working on this weekend, in addition to his outside jumper and his passing. He's already anticipating the double-teams.
Still, it's not easy to step into a gym with Sullinger, Yarou, Oriakhi, Mason and Miles Plumlee and even touted Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis and look like the best player on the floor. That's what Robinson did Saturday. If all goes as planned, we'll remember that performance as a mere preview of what Kansas fans have to look forward to in 2011-12. By then, everyone will know Thomas Robinson's name. Only this time, it'll be on his terms.