From his introductory press conference to his initial River City public appearance, follow the newest member of the Kings as he receives a warm Sacramento welcome.
In the back entrance of Arden Fair Mall, Thomas Robinson sits on the edge of a folding chair, bouncing his feet.
A 6-foot-9 mass of nervous energy, the No. 5 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft is about to make his public debut as a Kings player in front of thousands of elated fans.
Robinson has seen this scenario before, however.
“This is like in (career mode) in NBA 2K12,” says Robinson. “In the game, they show you (after you get drafted) getting welcomed by all the fans.”
Despite having faced the pixelated version of this scenario, the University of Kansas product is still showing an anxious enthusiasm as he slowly begins to realize his video game dreams are about to become a reality.
A little less than 48 hours earlier, Robinson was officially welcomed to the professional ranks when NBA Commissioner David Stern announced he had been selected fifth overall by the Kings.
Soon after, he was greeted by his newest frontcourt teammate.
“(DeMarcus Cousins) contacted me right when I was picked up,” said Robinson. “The talk was just mainly, ‘I can’t wait to see you and get in the gym and start working.’”
After a whirlwind media tour at Prudential Center, “T-Rob” made his way to the City of Trees, but not without some bumps along the way.
His flight from the East Coast was delayed for three hours, causing him to miss his connecting flight to Sacramento, but the Washington, D.C. native was able to take his travel troubles in stride.
“I got here, that’s all that matters,” said Robinson. “This whole process has been long – my coaches told me it happens once, so you might as well enjoy it.”
Just a few hours after touching down in Northern California, the former Jayhawk was introduced to local media by Kings President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie and Head Coach Keith Smart, both of whom were more than eager to share praise about their newest addition.
“He’s going to bring a lot of energy in the game to the Kings,” said Petrie. “I think he’ll be a great teammate, and we’re all looking forward to watching him play.”
Robinson, who was interviewed by Petrie and Smart at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, made a lasting impression on his new coach in the Windy City.
“When we met in Chicago, everything about him just resonated with me – that we have the right people, the right situation here for him to grow and continue his growth as a player (and) as a person,” said Smart. “When I talked with him on the phone (after we picked him), I kind of became a little emotional, because our spirits connected.”
As excited as Sacramento’s coach is to have Robinson on the team, Smart says the 2012 Big 12 Player of the Year still has work to do before Opening Night.
“He’s going to polish up his low-post game, he’s going to understand playing off the elbows, things like that,” said Smart. “His pick-and-pop jump shot, it’s going to get a little better.”
Understanding he has room to grow, the 2012 AP First Team All-American is committed to continually improving his game.
“I feel I’m willing to put the work in to be ready for Day 1,” he stated. “If I’m not ready (for my first NBA game) right now, I will be ready when we get there.”
“I don’t have to ask him to play hard,” added Smart. “That’s already a part of him.”
After being introduced to local media, Robinson met with Kings Season Ticket Holders, who came away impressed with the big man’s personality.
“He seems like a very well-mannered, pleasant young man,” said Shelly Fletcher, a Season Ticket Holder since 2001. “I think he’s humbled to be here.”
“He’s awesome. He’s a really humble guy, really down to earth,” said Alan Liou, a Kings fan since he moved to the Sacramento area from Taiwan in 1993. “We’re so lucky to have him.”
Following the fan meet-and-greet, Robinson took another big first step in his NBA career as he donned the full Sacramento Kings home uniform for the first time as part of his rookie photoshoot.
“It felt great (to put the jersey on), just looking at it, seeing my name on the back and my number,” said an enthusiastic No. 0.
After the shoot, joined by his close friends, Robinson stopped by the Kings Team Store to pick up gear and gifts for family and cohorts, before hopping on a luxury bus with Season Ticket Holders destined for Arden Fair Mall, where a legion of eager Sacramentans awaited his first public appearance as a Kings player.
The stage has been set and Robinson is given the green light to be introduced to the adoring crowd.
In an instant, the power forward sheds any semblance of pre-introduction concern and leaps to his feat.
“It’s showtime!” he shouts.
The doors open wide and the faithful at Arden Fair go wild, as Robinson, pumping his arms in the air and throwing autographed mini-basketballs to fans, increases the crowd’s noise to a fevered pitch.
The newest Sacramento big man sports a wide grin as he hams it up on stage with Slamson and poses for a photo with a group of lucky fans, some of whom match him as he shows off his Kings black jersey.
The mega-smile doesn’t leave his face once he exits the stage. As he heads toward the car that will take him back to his hotel, Robinson watches iPhone videos taken by his friends of the outpouring of support.
“That was the craziest thing I’ve experienced,” he admits between viewing sessions. “The fans were amazing.”
Any doubts about how he would be received have been demolished as Robinson raves about his River City reception.
“I don’t have any worries about ever being loved here, I know that much,” he says glowingly. “It’s a great feeling.
“I feel right at home again.”