NEW YORK -- Thomas Robinson is the toughest player in the 2012 NBA draft, and maybe the world.
Nobody could prove that wrong, because nobody can agree what toughness is, exactly. Some people think it's yelling and being loud. Some people think it's getting injured, making a big bet or staring down a tough opponent.
Me? I think it's never quitting, no matter what happens.
And by that measure, even though Robinson has been called a happy-go-lucky guy and something of a joker, he takes the toughness cake.
Here's what happened to Robinson (and here's the full version, well told): He had no father. He was incredibly close to his much-younger sister, Jayla, as well as his grandparents and mom.
And within a few weeks at the start of 2011, his grandfather, grandmother and 43-year-old mother all died of various health issues.
Devastating. He still doesn't like to talk about it.
But suffice it to say that it left Thomas (then halfway through his sophomore season at Kansas) and Jayla (then just 7 years old) feeling alone in the world, and with every reason to quit, whatever form quitting might have taken.
Of course, that's not what happened.
Within 24 hours Robinson was making a speech to his Kansas teammates, begging them not to take it easy on him. That night he was back on the court before an Allen Fieldhouse audience that was emotionally shattered at the Shakespearean tragedy of the family life of their best player. Within a few months a custody battle, ongoing today, was started for Jayla, between an uncle and her dad, recently freed after serving time on a drug charge.
Six months later, Robinson was deeply engrossed in a determined process to right some wrongs in his personal life -- almost all concerning Jayla -- by making it to the NBA. "The lockout," he says, "was great for me," because it meant Kansas NBA alumni like Markieff and Marcus Morris and Nick Collison were available day in and day out to scrimmage and work out.
Robinson emerged as arguably the most productive player in NCAA basketball. He ran the floor harder, he rebounded as well as anybody. His jump shot was smooth. His effort level was off the charts.
And he did all that work for one big reason: To get to this draft day. To make the NBA. To have the resources to set up his life so that he could be reunited with Jayla, wherever he ends up living.
It has been a tough couple of years for Jayla and Thomas. But they're a tough pair.