Get an inside look at the integral role Thomas Robinson’s family, friends and teammates play in the rookie’s development.
When second-year forward Tyler Honeycutt enters the Kings Practice Facility for a late-night workout session, rookie Thomas Robinson is already on-court, practicing his post moves and footwork as classic R&B songs stream through his headphones.
“Every time he works out at night, he’s listening to Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers, Barry White or something else slow,” reveals No. 9. “It’s something different he’s trying to do, just to slow down in the game.”
Robinson’s unique method and unyielding desire to improve – combined with continuous workouts with Head Coach Keith Smart, Assistant Coaches Clifford Ray and Bobby Jackson and Special Assistant Ross McMains – have certainly paid dividends.
“He’s a humble guy who’s hungry to grow and get better,” says Smart. “If he doesn’t play well or makes a mistake, the guy will text me or get in touch with me the next day in practice and say, ‘Hey, Coach – my fault last night.’”
The University of Kansas product’s miscues have been few and far between in recent games. According to nba.com/stats, No. 0 has averaged 12.7 points, 12.2 rebounds and one block per 36 minutes over the last 17 contests, grabbing a career-high 14 boards against Phoenix on Jan. 23.
“I’m getting back to who I am as a player – an energy, hustle and motor guy – and everything else (has fallen) in place,” he says.
“I’d just say I’ve gotten better all around – mostly mentally and (learning) the pace.”
Isaiah Thomas, who frequently puts in extra training alongside Robinson, says the 6-foot-9 forward has provided a much-needed spark by crashing the glass and creating second-chance scoring opportunities.
“He’s just finding his niche – he knows what he’s good at and he’s really dialed in now,” says No. 22. “He’s defending, he’s getting hustle points off offensive rebounds, he’s doing everything that got him here, and I think if he keeps doing it, he’s going to be a great player in this league. He’s a guy who listens, he wants to learn and he’s willing to learn.”
While the rookie is renowned on the court for his relentless drive and an unstoppable motor, he’s typically quiet and relaxed while spending free time with his two closest friends on the team.
“He’s a cool guy – a guy who’s really laid back and funny off the court and probably totally different from what he is on the court,” says Thomas. “He’s a good friend and a good guy.”
Robinson and Honeycutt, who are represented by the same agency, worked out together last summer, forging a close bond prior to becoming teammates.
“The fact he was drafted to the same team was kind of crazy, but it was a good thing because we can go through this process together,” says the UCLA product, adding the pair regularly grab dinner and hang out on the road.
“I’m always chilling with Tyler – he’s a pretty cool dude who’s very close to my age,” says the Washington, D.C. native. “I consider him family.”
In addition to receiving advice from Kings coaches and veteran players, not a day goes by when the first-year forward doesn’t hear words of encouragement from two of his biggest supporters, a pair of former teammates whom he proudly calls his brothers.
“I text ‘T-Rob’ every day, especially if I’m watching him play,” says former Kansas and current Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris. “It’s usually mass text between him and Marcus (Morris), seeing how he did. We talk every single day, and every chance we get, we get together in the offseason.”
When the Suns visited Sacramento last month, Morris shared his own first-year experiences with the Kings rookie and reminded him to stay patient and ready to make his mark.
“I went through a lot of ups and downs myself, so I know how he feels,” says the Philadelphia native. “I’ve seen a couple of games where he was just dominating the boards, playing with the high energy he has, and I talk to him a lot about (the fact) he’s only a rookie and he has many more years to come.”
Robinson says he can’t put a price on the unconditional loyalty of the Morris twins, explaining the trio remains as close as ever despite now suiting up for different teams.
“They’re family, point-blank,” he states. “The whole F.O.E. (Family Over Everything) thing is more like what we live by – it’s like a code. They’re there for me whenever I need them and they’re like my brothers.
“I’ve been trying to ask them how to (improve) and for their best advice,” he continues. “They’ve been pretty helpful.”
Honeycutt and Thomas have similarly helped Robinson adjust to a new role in the NBA.
“I tell him not to get frustrated some days (because) he, just like most players, is used to being the star player and everything going through him,” says Honeycutt. “I’m always talking to him and telling him to be patient.”
“Every time he texts me, I tell him, ‘Don’t let anybody outwork you,’” adds No. 22. “I just tell him to work hard and try to stay as consistent as possible.”
With the guidance of his KU brotherhood and support of his tight-knit Kings family, it’s no surprise the fifth-overall pick has rapidly climbed up the rookie ranks, notching the fourth-most rebounds of any first-year player over his last 15 games.
“It just took me a little longer than the rest of them,” he says. “But now I’m back on track.”
– On Jan. 28, Robinson returned to his hometown for the first time as an NBA player, debuting in front of more than 40 family members and friends at the Verizon Center.
“It felt like I was playing a high school game again with everybody out there watching,” he recalls. “I felt like I knew everybody there.”
Eager to put on a show in front of his longtime fans, the forward chipped in nine points, three rebounds, a pair of key blocks and a steal in a hard-fought Kings victory.
“It was definitely a dream come true to play in front of my family and friends as a pro,” Robinson says. “To go back home and have everybody welcome me was a big thing. It was a great feeling to get the win, too.”
– Following in the footsteps of Markieff Morris – who returned to Kansas during last season’s NBA All-Star Weekend to spend time with Robinson – the Sacramento draftee plans to visit his alma mater during the upcoming brief break.
“(The Jayhawks) play Texas that weekend, so I’ll be there for the game,” he says.