Even if Wednesday’s venue weren’t his father’s old palace, Glenn Robinson III's game-winning shot in No. 16 Michigan’s 77-76 overtime win at Purdue -- a victory that helped the Wolverines maintain control of the Big Ten title race -- would have meant something.
No player on the Michigan roster has faced more pressure than Robinson following last season’s Final Four. Trey Burke’s departure, it seemed, meant that Michigan would be Robinson’s World in 2013-14.
He’d return to a more natural small forward slot after competing at the four-spot last season alongside Tim Hardaway Jr. on the wing. John Beilein would run his best stuff through the promising sophomore, who had a chance to make a lot of money last summer before choosing to return to Ann Arbor with his buddy Mitch McGary.
All seemed right for Michigan -- until it all went wrong.
McGary’s season-ending back injury only complicated the program’s transition to life without Burke. Plus, Nik Stauskas' emergence as top dog and Caris LeVert's growth pushed Robinson to the background. And he didn’t seem prepared to handle it all.
There were times when he forced everything (see his 4-for-14 effort in a November loss to Iowa State). In other moments, he just disappeared (eight single-digit scoring outputs this season). But he’s also looked like a star in multiple outings.
Consistently being a star has been the unattainable feat thus far.
It has been much easier to note his shortcomings than his strengths. He’s ranked 15th in the Big Ten in Ken Pomeroy’s individual offensive efficiency ratings. He boasts a stat pool (12.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 49 percent from the field) that would be an overachievement for many. But his numbers are down compared to last season.
Therefore, he has been clothed in scrutiny.
Where has he been in late-game situations? Why isn’t he more aggressive? Why the here today, gone tomorrow pattern?
All of those are honest questions.
But they fail to capture the reality that Robinson is a sophomore who is still figuring things out. If his father weren’t a former No. 1 pick, if there wasn’t NBA chatter hovering over his season and a national title game appearance inked onto his resume, it’d be easier to acknowledge that his struggles are the norm for most underclassmen.
That’s not an excuse; just the truth.
He was on the drums last season, but everyone expected him to play lead guitar this one. Sure, he can do it. But that’s a tremendous chasm for any young player to navigate.
As the season comes to close though, Robinson is reminding all of us that his potential never changed. He just needed more time to get there.
With Michigan down one point Wednesday, Beilein drew up an intricate scheme with 2.9 seconds left that had LeVert toss a pass to Robinson on the right side of the floor. He’d found some room by rushing toward LeVert before curling off Spike Albrecht’s screen and reversing to his original spot, a sequence that momentarily perplexed Purdue. But when Robinson caught the high pass, he was trapped. He split a pair of Purdue defenders and scored on a buzzer-beating layup off the glass, a shot that took its time before finally dropping, and crushed a Boilermakers squad that had a 19-point lead in the first half.
On the same floor 20 years ago, Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson averaged 30.3 PPG for a Purdue team that he ultimately carried to the Elite Eight. So there’s certainly a poetic element to what Robinson did on his father’s court in those closing seconds on Wednesday.
But that’s not the full story.
Robinson finished with 15 points in a Sunday win against rival Michigan State. On Wednesday, he added 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
That Beilein would put the ball in Robinson’s hands on the final possession showcased the trust he has in the talented sophomore.
Michigan has a deep roster again and is capable of a return to the Final Four. Its versatility has been a thorn in the side of the (arguably) nation’s best conference for months.
And now the youngster who was supposed to lead this potential charge toward Arlington, Texas, before the year began has mustered up the mojo that’s most desirable as the postseason approaches.
Robinson didn’t answer everything with one shot on Wednesday. But there should be fewer questions now about the second-year man who’s growing at a respectable pace.