Q+A: Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson
Front to back with KU’s finest.
by Adam Maher / @ArtoMar1
Thanks to the heroics of their 2012 NBA Draft-declared leaders, Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas captivated the sports world this March with a flurry of comebacks. Robinson and Taylor led their squad all the way to the National Championship—a feat predicted by trace amounts of bracket-fillers at most.
And behind Tyshawn’s 2009 U19 All-Star FIBA World Championships performance, Thomas’ 2012 ESPN.com Player of the Year accolade, before the 2012 Bob Cousy and Dr. James Naismith nominations (much respect to the winners—UNC’s Kendall Marshall and UK’s Anthony Davis), was a partnership of front-to-back court brotherhood that will forever represent the pinnacle of team camaraderie in NCAA sports.
But life hasn’t always been full of fairytales for Ty and Tom—not in the least. It’s common knowledge that they both experienced life’s ups and downs in ways usually best saved for Hollywood’s most epic dramas prior to shining on the country’s brightest basketball stage.
Taylor, the unmistakable 6-3, 185-pound PG, got his feisty playing styles from growing up in the projects of Hoboken, NJ, playing his streetball at 4th Street Park, in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the country. Had he not built up the courage to approach the world-famous St. Anthony HS basketball coach, Bob Hurley, in a park near the border of Hoboken and Jersey City during his rising sophomore summer, Tyshawn might never have escaped the crime-ridden streets of Hudson County.
Robinson, on the other hand, hit rocks in the road later in life—sophomore year of college, January to be exact—as he unexpectedly lost two grandparents and his mother all in the span of just three weeks. All the DC native had left for family was his 10-year-old baby sister, Jayla, and his team. To make matters worse, up until that time the he had averaged only 7.4 minutes per game during his first two seasons under Coach Self thanks to three knee surgeries—much less run than the former top-40 recruit expected to get.
“Most people would back down from something like that and fade away,” Tyshawn says. “But not Thomas.”
The entire basketball community and anyone who’s ever known Thomas still mourns the loss of his family. Robinson has suffered unimaginable losses, but he has used those hardships as fuel to become a better, stronger player than anyone ever imagined except for himself. Acting as both a teammate and friend, Tyshawn Taylor looks in Robinson’s direction for inspiration and with his running mate’s help, molded himself into one of the better floor generals to ever hit the hardwood in Lawrence.
Both Tyshawn, a senior who is set to graduate this May with a degree in American Studies, and Thomas, a junior (he’ll miss his senior year—though he plans to eventually earn his degree down the road), have declared themselves eligible for the 2012 NBA Draft. Thomas is expected to go top 5, while Tyshawn is hoping to get picked up in the second round.
SLAMonline caught up with both soon-to-be former KU studs this week in separate conversations. We spoke about their various transitions and accomplishments, motivations, future plans, and how playing alongside each other for Kansas has turned them into the NBA-ready players and men they are today.
Thomas’ Q+A first, followed by his point man, just ‘cause:
SLAM: Let’s go back to your prep school days at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. Why did you choose to go there your senior year?
Thomas Robinson: That was one of the first big decisions I had to make as far as my basketball career went and all. I went there because Coach Smith and the team won a championship the year before I got there, and they had multiple players move on to the DI level. I wanted to go there to play at the highest level with other top players from the country.
SLAM: But you were born in DC.
TR: Born and raised.
SLAM: Let’s fast forward to the night you scored 30 points and had 21 rebounds against North Dakota in December 2011—you familiar with the name Wayne Hightower?
TR: Yes. I wasn’t before I did that actually, but you know, people told me about him, what his numbers were every time he played.
SLAM: It had been 50 years since Wayne or any Kansas player for that matter pulled 30 and 20 in a game. Amazing.
TR: Yeah, 50 years.
(Note: The only other Big 12 players to hit 30 and 20 in the modern era are Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin (twice) and Mario Boggan. Furthermore, Thomas finished his KU career with a double-double average. A few other players to accomplish that feat are Clyde Lovellette, Bill Bridges and the late, great Wilt Chamberlain.)
SLAM: You were named Big 12 Player of the Year this season. Did you ever expect to nab an award like that when you were coming into Kansas as a freshman?
TR: Before I actually played and before I ever got to Kansas, I remember thinking, Oh, I’m going to just go and play and hop right in as a freshman. But as soon as I got there, I didn’t have that thought any more [laughs].
SLAM: A reality check?
TR: Exactly. The thoughts of Player of the Year, and everything that’s happened, just pretty much kinda went away after that.
SLAM: How does that award rank as far as all-time achievements go in your basketball career?
TR: Well, I’m just at the start of my career, you know? As of now, that award is at the top, yes, but I think there will be more to come.
SLAM: Speaking of awards, how did it feel to go from ESPN.com’s No. 40-ranked high school recruit, to ESPN.com Player of the Year 2012, three years later?
TR: You know it felt good. Them putting me at 40 was a little bit of the reason why I worked so hard to get back to where I always thought I belonged. The rankings and me thinking that I was better than those players above me, you know, really made me work that much harder.
SLAM: And speaking of some of your peers, I’m talking to Tyshawn later today. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about him and how you’ve watched him mature as a player, and how it’s been to play alongside Tyshawn for the last two seasons.
TR: I honestly think as far as him maturing as a player, it was pretty much, [pauses to think] I mean, I can’t say anything less than amazing. Tyshawn, he had his ways a couple years ago, but I watched him grow into a better team leader, a better person, you know, everything. As this year came, playing with him became so much better because I saw the improvements in him as a player and a person, he got a lot smarter too, it made him a lot better on the floor.
SLAM: Definitely agree with you on that. It’s funny, you guys seem so close on and off the court. I was digging through some old twitter pictures—there is this one picture you tweeted of Ty that is so just hilarious. It looks like he’s passed out in a club?
TR: [Laughs] It actually looked worse than it was—he wasn’t really passed out. I just caught him when he was dippin’ his head down. It looks like he was gone, but no, it’s really not that bad as it looks!
SLAM: It was just funny ‘cause, whether he was or he wasn’t, we’ve all been at that point in the club.
TR: Yeah, yeah it wasn’t anything like that though.
SLAM: Are you a big partier? Or are you more of a stay-in-and-chill type of bro?
TR: Well I definitely went out more than I have all year in the past two weeks since the season ended. Just ’cause of the simple fact that I’ve been so focused on basketball—but I usually don’t go out that much—I like to chill.
SLAM: And as far as academics go, do you plan to do something similar to what guys like Vince Carter did? How they pursued their diplomas throughout their NBA careers? Or maybe after your NBA career, will you go back and get your KU diploma, similar to what Shaq has done?
TR: Definitely. I’m not that many hours away, so it would be stupid not to go back and finish. That is very important to me.
SLAM: What are you, just a semester or two away from graduation?
TR: I’m a semester away, yeah. As soon as I get settled somewhere in the NBA, I’m definitely trying to pursue that.
SLAM: So when did you know that you wanted to forgo your senior season and declare for the Draft?
TR: It was a couple days after the Tournament. After all my emotions sat down. After thinking about the year, I had accomplished almost everything, so you know.
SLAM: Are you going to miss anything about Kansas?
TR: [Pauses to think] Pretty much everything, man—the atmosphere and the love that I received there from the fans. They showed me so much love that I don’t think I could have ever found anywhere else. I can almost guarantee that.
SLAM: The Draft, it’s coming up. Nothing is definite, but there is talk. Let’s say you go No. 2 to the Wizards. How amazing would that be? To return back to the DC area with an NBA contract.
TR: It’ll be a great thing, man. Just the simple fact, you know, that’s where my dream started. Me wanting to play basketball, everything originated there. To go back home—that’ll be cool for me. But you know, I really don’t have a preference, man. I just want to be happy to get anywhere in the NBA.
SLAM: Tell us about the effect Coach Self has had on you as a player and as a man. He’s obviously a tenured coach, one of the best coaches in the world. What words come to the mind when I say the name Bill Self?
TR: [Laughs] Um, oh, man, I think…Genius? I would definitely say, Respectful. I watched him do some things over the years, I’ve watched him set a goal and not change it, you know, and do everything in his book to get us there. It’s like he’s still playing on the court with us. He has so much control over us as a team. It sounds crazy—but he speaks to what he knows best. And he does that with everything. He doesn’t change. He did the same thing with the ’08 team, with the ’09 team, with the ’10 team, every year. He doesn’t change with the players. His track record proves for itself that his methods work. Our whole situation this year really showed how good of a coach he is.
SLAM: Definitely one of the best in the country. All right man, best of luck at the Draft. You’re doing amazing things. You have an incredible story and we appreciate the time you took this morning to talk to SLAMonline.
TR: All right man, you need to talk to them for me about putting me up on that SLAM cover sometime soon!
SLAM: Ha! Alright I’ll see what I can do. Oh wait, one more question… all those tattoos. How many do you have, and what’s your favorite?
TR: I wanna say somewhere between… I don’t know, 30 and 50? I dunno, man. I got a lot of big tattoos so. The most important one is my F.O.E. tattoo though… Family Over Everything.