Glenn Robinson III got the ball on the wing, felt his man on one side then spun his body the other way. It took the freshman forward two dribbles to get to the edge of the key, where Purdue forward DJ Byrd tried to meet him.
But Byrd can only rise so high. Robinson can fly — Byrd cannot.
Robinson hung in the air, passing the inaptly named Byrd, before viciously dunking the ball with his right hand.
The St. John, Ind. native took an extra second to hold onto the rim, then shot a look over to Purdue’s bench on his way back down the court.
Robinson has a relationship with Purdue. It isn’t just another Big Ten school for him.
After No. 2 Michigan’s 68-53 win over the Boilermakers, Robinson was asked whether the game was personal for him. He looked down at the ground, and paused for a couple seconds before answering, “No, I wouldn’t say it got personal. Nothing against (Purdue coach Matt) Painter or Purdue.”
After all, Purdue is the school his father played for back in the early 1990s, the school that Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson averaged more than 30 points a game for and the school where the older Robinson played alongside Painter for a year.
Robinson went on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, where he had an 11-year career. It made sense that Purdue was one of the interested schools when it came time for the recruitment of the younger Robinson.
You’d think that an Indiana native would wind up at the alma mater of his father, the former NBA All-Star, who just so happened to play with the current head coach. That would make sense.
But Purdue ran out of scholarships, and Robinson committed to Michigan and coach John Beilein.
So it’s hard to believe the game wasn’t a little personal for Robinson, playing his father’s team — the team that couldn’t take him on.
“He might not say this, but it’s personal for all of us guys from Indiana,” said freshman forward Mitch McGary, another Indiana native. “They all talk smack if they beat us because we’re from Indiana and we came here to Michigan. So, we have to win.”
Purdue or not, Robinson turned in another efficient night. He scored 12 points, including two 3-pointers, and missed only two shots to go along with his game-high nine rebounds.
He also played a team-high 37 minutes, often rotating from the wing to the post depending on the other Wolverine personnel on the floor.
“Tonight, he just had the urgency,” McGary said. “Not just with the dunk, but he hit a couple 3s and was crashing the glass all night.”
On a team loaded with young talent, Robinson is proving to be the most important Wolverine freshman.
This week it was the dunk over Byrd; last week it was a 360-dunk against Minnesota.
These highlight-reel plays are what get the attention, but that’s not necessarily where Robinson’s value lies.
The hyper-athletic freshman is leading the team in rebounds, averaging even more than McGary and redshirt junior Jordan Morgan, two big men whose biggest jobs are rebounding and defense.
On Thursday, Robinson got most of his nine boards from the wing, from where he was able to crash into the post. He’s 6-foot-6, but he’s quick and agile, so he gets his rebounds from out-maneuvering, not out-muscling.
Offensively, he has the highest field-goal percentage of anyone who isn’t a post player on the team, but his range extends from the post to the 3-point line, where he is shooting 41 percent.
He also plays like an upperclassman, and is the calming presence of this talented, hyped freshman class. McGary is known for his energy, his screams and his frantic pump-up gestures to the crowd. Guard Nik Stauskas is known for the goggles he forms on his face with his hands after he makes a 3-pointer.
Robinson is known for his highlight-reel plays and the focus and intensity that come with them.
“He’s just doing the little things to make our team better and knocking down open shots,” said junior forward Tim Hardaway Jr.
On Thursday, Purdue could have been just any other team, another Big Ten opponent Michigan needed to defeat at home. Robinson makes those plays against everyone, not just the Boilermakers.
The stare, though, gave it away.