WEST LAFAYETTE -- Glenn Robinson felt the Mackey Arena crowd love -- again. Twenty years after he dominated college basketball as a Purdue Boilermaker, nothing had changed.
“This is,” he said, “a special moment.”
Robinson had many of them while wearing Old Gold and Black. On Thursday night, as the Boilers struggled against powerhouse Michigan State, he relived them.
The Big Dog, retired from basketball for a decade, is still big.
“Very rarely are you around greatness,” said Matt Painter, now the Purdue coach, then a teammate. “He was great. You would see something about once a week in practice that you hadn't seen before.”
Flash back to the early 1990s, when Robinson was a 6-7 superstar. He didn't want attention from a too-bright limelight (“I had so many things coming at me that I just wanted to relax”), but his play demanded it. You don't get a Big Dog nickname by being average.
“I have so many memories. From Matt Painter giving me one of the best alley oops of my career at the college level to beating Kansas in the NCAA Tournament to winning the Big Ten.
“One big thing was the 49 points I put up against Illinois. The whole Mackey Arena crowd was chanting, 'One more year!” I felt special. I felt loved.”
Robinson didn't stay that one more year -- becoming the NBA's No. 1 pick by the Milwaukee Bucks and signing a never-to-be-broken-rookie-contract of $68 million for 10 years (the next season a rookie salary cap was implemented) -- but he said his Boiler time made it possible.
“If it wasn't for Purdue, I don't know where I would be, or what kind of NBA career I would have had.”
Robinson arrived at Purdue good -- Indiana's Mr. Basketball after a McDonald's All-America high school career at Gary Roosevelt that included the 1991 state championship.
Former coach Gene Keady helped make him great.
“The first thing Coach Keady would ask, 'Are you working on your ballhandling? Are you working on your jump shot? Remember, you're a small forward, not a center.' That gave me the confidence to work on those things.
“Plus, I had Cuonzo Martin as my roommate. He was a small forward. Playing one-on-one with him, I picked up a lot of things from him.”
Robinson said he never thought about jumping to the NBA right out of high school
“I was afraid to play in the NBA right out of high school. I didn't feel I was ready. You have grown men out there. The game was more physical then. I had to develop my strength. I was a center. No way I would be able to guard (New York center) Patrick Ewing. I wouldn't have played right away. When I got to that next level, I wanted to play.”
If Robinson had played four college seasons, he would have destroyed most of Purdue's offensive records. In two years he totaled 1,706 points (he still ranks 11th in school history) and 602 rebounds (ranks 21st). The school records are held by Rick Mount (2,323 points) and Joe Barry Carroll (1,148 rebounds). He remains the only Big Ten player to score 1,000 points in a season (he had 1,030 in his final season).
Robinson sat out his first year because of Prop 48 (his high school grades weren't good enough to make him immediately eligible) and it bothered him.
“That was a tough situation. I was used to playing every season since I was a 5th grader. To not be able to do something you loved to do hurt. Plus, I was afraid I wouldn't be the same player when I came back. I worked hard to stay in shape so that wouldn't happen. I saw players who did sit out who weren't the same. I wanted to make an effort to stay at the same level.”
His first season was good -- he averaged 24.1 points and 9.2 rebounds.
Painter wasn't impressed.
“I always tell people he didn't play very well that first year and he was (24 and nine). They laugh, but he didn't play well. The next year, you saw the real deal.”
Robinson's real deal saw him average 30.3 points and 10.2 rebounds. He led Purdue to a 29-5 record, the Big Ten championship and an Elite Eight appearance.
“He was very good,” Painter said. “He could naturally shoot and score from all over. He had great instincts. He was athletic. He had an unbelievable pull-up. He was a scoring machine.
“You could argue he or Rick Mount was the greatest to ever play here.”
And then he was gone, passing on his senior season to enter the NBA draft in 1994. The Milwaukee Bucks made him the No. 1 pick and he went on to play for five teams in 11 seasons. Knee injuries shortened his career, but he still managed career averages of 20.7 points and 6.1 rebounds.
Robinson makes it back to West Lafayette occasionally. He'll return on Wednesday when his son, Glenn Robinson III, and the Michigan Wolverines play Purdue.
“Purdue was the foundation of my career. I had great support when I was here and nothing has changed. It's been 20 years and it seems like yesterday.”