July 3, 2014
By Chad Shepard
Glenn Robinson III took in the NBA Draft from a banquet hall in his hometown of St. John, Ind., last week, with roughly 40 friends and family members, including his parents and grandmother. When his name came off the board at No. 40 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, it was an emotional realization of a childhood aspiration.
"It's been a dream of mine forever," he said afterwards. "Every kid dreams of going to the NBA."
Being surrounded by so many of the people who supported him and helped make his dream a reality only made the draft experience even more special for the two-time All-Big Ten player.
"The excitement from everybody was crazy," said Robinson, "My mom and grandma burst out crying."
As part of the celebration, Robinson's mother brought a copy of "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" -- a Dr. Seuss book that was published before Robinson was even born. Everyone in attendance at the draft party signed the book with a parting message for the high-flying NBA-bound guard.
"I think she stole the idea from somebody," Robinson laughed, "But it was really cool. It makes sense to have family and friends write a message down, and for them to show me how much they care is great."
Some told an old story or shared a sentimental memory of how Robinson had gotten to that point, while others wished him the best of luck in Minnesota, where he is eager to get started.
"I can't wait," said Robinson, "Hopefully I have a chance to make a huge impact on this team right away."
Minnesota's new head coach and president of basketball operations, Flip Saunders, described the identity that the Timberwolves will assume under his leadership at an introductory press conference last week, and from the sounds of things, his plans are tailor-made for Robinson's game. Saunders stressed an up-tempo, transition-oriented attacking style and a tenacious defense that causes havoc on the other end of the court, all areas of the game where Robinson excels.
But while every team in the draft could appreciate Robinson's athleticism, Minnesota saw more.
"They see me as having the potential to become a great player in this league," said Robinson, "Minnesota has a lot of opportunities; they have (Ricky) Rubio and (Kevin) Love, but there are holes that can be filled right away."
Saunders and company were convinced Robinson would be long gone by the time they were on the clock for their first of several second-round selections, picks they would later trade away for cash after adding Robinson.
"He's a first-round talent," Saunders reiterated during the team's introductory press conference last week, "We're really excited about him."
The Timberwolves made an organizational commitment to becoming a longer, more athletic team this offseason, adding UCLA guard Zach Lavine in the first round before swooping in to select Robinson in the second.
"A lot of athleticism brings energy," said Saunders, "And many times if you have athletic people that can play and create openings to the basket, it can open up things for other players a lot more."
Michigan fans are used to Robinson's mid-air acrobatics, and though he's ready for takeoff at any given moment, he has always tried to stay grounded. He credits his second season in Ann Arbor with helping him mature, on and off the court.
"It really created leadership for me," said Robinson, "I learned a lot about leadership and how to help my team in ways other than scoring the basketball, on the defensive end and with communication, especially. Those are all details I have to focus on to be successful at the next level."
Robinson has plenty of time to develop his leadership style in the NBA. For his rookie season, he'll be called on for his on-court contributions more than anything else.
Minnesota fans and management would be more than happy just to see him flying out in transition to finish a Ricky Rubio lob pass. Saunders believes Robinson brings a level of athleticism that Minnesota has lacked in recent years.
"We wanted to become a little more diversified in our abilities and that's what these guys bring," Saunders said of his first draft haul at the helm in Minnesota, "If you have athleticism and the will to get better, you have a great opportunity to succeed in this league."
When it comes to Robinson, Saunders can check both boxes on that list. He can also add another: intangibles.
Last season, Robinson was just the fourth-ever sophomore captain in U-M history, an honor he earned after a team-wide vote that was supplemented by a resounding approval from the coaching staff. He never missed a start in 76 games wearing Maize and Blue, earning him the team's Iron Man Award for the 2013-14 campaign.
These were just some of the factors that left Minnesota giddy when Robinson was available with the 40th selection.
"They told me I was twenty-something on their draft board, so they feel lucky to have gotten me," said Robinson, "It's always a good sign when a team really wants you."
It's easy to see why the Timberwolves got so excited. Robinson's rare blend of size, skill, athleticism and the will to get better make him a tantalizing prospect, but his rapid progression and development in a short span of time is one of the most encouraging factors in Minnesota's evaluation of him as a player. Saunders was complimentary of U-M head coach John Beilein, noting the recent trend of Beilein-coached players to find success at the next level.
"[He] does a great job of coaching those guys at Michigan," said Saunders, "They're very fundamentally sound and they've got the tendency to improve and translate well to our level."
Robinson stressed the freedom Beilein and his staff allows their players.
"Coach Beilein really has a system that fits well for us to translate to the next level," he said, "He has his system, but we have the freedom to play. We got up and down the floor and he gave us a chance to succeed; we just executed well."
"That's the only reason why I'm up here today," Robinson told the Minnesota media contingent at his introductory press conference, "Because I was able to fit in that system and play within our team."
Elements of the system at Michigan are becoming more and more prevalent at the next level, and Robinson says it's no coincidence. He credits Beilein and the rest of the U-M coaching staff with being on the forefront of system development.
"(Coach Beilein) is always changing," said Robinson, "Whatever players he has, he knows how to change the system to make it work. Coach B always told us to be a basketball player first."
Robinson had high praise for assistant coaches Jeff Meyer, Bacari Alexander and LaVall Jordan, too.
"They taught me to be a player, and to increase my basketball IQ so I was smarter out on the court than a lot of other guys," he recalled, "They really do a great job helping us understand the game and that's really important because there are times when you need to just play. We saw that in the (NCAA) tournament."
Robinson saw quite a lot in his two years in Ann Arbor. With a pair of Elite Eights, a Final Four, an appearance in the national championship game and a Big Ten championship ring under his belt, it's fair to say there are many places he has been already that most people will never reach.
Down the line, he will be able to thumb through the pages of his copy of "Oh, the Places You'll Go!", reading through lines of hand-written messages from those closest to him. He'll retrace the steps that brought him to this point in his life, and think of the people who helped him get there.
The sentiment rings true, but in all honesty, not even Robinson knows the places he'll go next. For now, he's just focused on his opportunity with the Timberwolves, and getting better every day. Whether it's leaping through the air to flush a lob pass from Ricky Rubio or pulling off highlight-reel jams in a future dunk contest, one thing is certain about his NBA future: he will soar.
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