Sidelines with John Clay

Mitchell Robinson’s strange basketball recruiting trip

Mitchell Robinson dunks during the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago on March 29, 2017.
Mitchell Robinson dunks during the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago on March 29, 2017. Associated Press

Even in the often wacko world of college sports recruiting, Mitchell Robinson’s case is crazier than most.

Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde reported Tuesday the highly-regarded hoops prospect and erstwhile Western Kentucky signee would bypass college and spend the 2017-18 basketball season preparing for the 2018 NBA Draft.

If true -- Robinson hasn’t publicly confirmed -- the news is another odd step in the curious journey of a player both Rivals and 247Sports ranked as the ninth-best player in the Class of 2017.

The 7-footer, a Pensacola, Florida native who played his high school basketball at Chalmette High School in the New Orleans area, first committed to Texas A&M where former Mississippi State had coach Rick Stansbury served as an assistant to head coach Billy Kennedy.

When Stansbury became the head coach at Western Kentucky before the 2016-17 season, he hired Robinson’s godfather, former North Carolina guard Shammond Williams, as an assistant coach. Williams was hired on June 16, 2016. Not long after, Robinson switched his commitment from the Aggies to the Hilltoppers.

Eyebrows raised. Why would a Top 10 recruit commit to a C-USA school? Sure, Stansbury had gone 293-156 at Mississippi State before being forced to “retire” after the 2011-12 season. And WKU has a storied college basketball history, dating back to the days of Ed Diddle. Still, it was unusual for a player of Robinson’s reputation to sign with a school that hasn’t reached a Final Four since 1971.

Still, Robinson’s commitment remained solid until July when Williams became the third assistant to leave since Stansbury arrived in Bowling Green. Adding to the mystery, Williams did not leave for another job. The departure immediately prompted concern about Robinson’s intentions.

A week later, however, after failing to make the USA U19 team coached by UK’s John Calipari, Robinson showed up on the WKU campus, enrolled in summer classes and reportedly participated in workouts with the basketball team.

Then, just like that, he was gone again, reportedly packing his bags and leaving Bowling Green without telling anyone. Upon learning of his top recruit’s surprise exit, Stansbury announced that Robinson had been indefinitely suspended. After speaking with Robinson’s family, Stansbury agreed to grant the freshman his release to transfer.

[Copying Calipari, Duke bags Marvin Bagley and probable pre-season No. 1]

With regards to a destination, early speculation centered on LSU, where former VCU coach Will Wade had already secured some early momentum in his effort to quickly turn around the Tigers. No sooner did those in the know predict Robinson would land in Baton Rouge than word came Wade was no longer recruiting Louisiana’s top player.

That left Kansas and the University of New Orleans, both of which Robinson visited. Kansas boasted tradition and an accepting attitude regarding transfers, especially talented ones. UNO boasted proximity.

Neither, however, could reportedly pull the strings to allow Robinson to skip the transfer year required by the NCAA. Instead of sitting out this season and playing in 2018-19, Robinson apparently decided he would just spend the coming months in the gym and the weight room working on his game and his body in preparation for his jump to the pros.

Robinson might still pursue the overseas route taken by Brandon Jennings (Italy), Emmanuel Mudiay (China) and Terrance Ferguson (Australia) on the way to the NBA. There is talk Robinson has waited too long to secure a spot on a team in one of the better foreign leagues.

So how good is Robinson? He didn’t begin playing competitive basketball until the ninth grade but averaged 25.7 points, 12.6 rebounds and six blocked shots per game his final year in high school and on the AAU trail was the second-best shot blocker in EYBL history behind former Kentucky center Nerlens Noel.

Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony, now with ESPN, has rated Robinson as a solid first-round NBA draft pick and a possible lottery selection. Yet surely part of that evaluation was based on Robinson using his one college season to develop his game. The Draft Express analysis of Robinson compared him to Serge Ibaka but also included this observation: “Doesn’t really know how to play.”

Back in Bowling Green, the Toppers are no doubt disappointed about how things turned out and wistful about what could have been. Stansbury’s second WKU edition should be improved, however, thanks to a strong recruiting class now led by Josh Anderson, a 6-4 guard out of Baton Rouge ranked No. 56 by Rivals for the Class of 2017.

During the USA U19 tryouts, Robinson told Reid Forgrave of CBS Sports, “Everybody thought I was going to an SEC school. I was about to go to one, but I wanted to change things up and make my own history.”

A strange history, it turns out.


  • 1. Duke
  • 2. Arizona
  • 3. Kansas
  • 4. Michigan State
  • 5. Wichita State
  • 6. Louisville
  • 7. Kentucky
  • 8. Villanova
  • 9. Southern Cal
  • 10. Florida
  • 11. Miami
  • 12. North Carolina
  • 13. Notre Dame
  • 14. Minnesota
  • 15. Northwestern
  • 16. Cincinnati
  • 17. Gonzaga
  • 18. Baylor
  • 19. Alabama
  • 20. UCLA
  • 21. West Virginia
  • 22. St. Mary’s
  • 23. Xavier
  • 24. Purdue
  • 25. Rhode Island

Source: CBS Sports

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