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Loud When it Counts: The Quiet Emergence of Glenn Robinson III

By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 14, 2013

For all of his life, Glenn Robinson III listened.

He listened. And he thought.

So while he listened, while he thought, others spoke. Even in his house, he was the quietest one there, “boring,” even, according to his mom.

For his entire life, he’s listened to people tell him he should talk more. Especially on the court.

Not even the massive Cowboys Stadium video board — the one that read: Kansas 70, Michigan 60 with 3:47 to play — could illustrate the Wolverines’ doomed fate like the faces inside the team’s huddle.

“A lot of people were looking down, and a lot of people didn’t think that we would be able to do it on our team — even the coaching staff,” Robinson remembers. “I saw it.”

So in what was the biggest game of his life, he listened to the banter of his teammates — “people were talking about plays or this or that or what we should do” — and then, finally, he listened to something else. A voice in his head. An impulse.

And for the first time as a member of the Michigan basketball team, it was time for his teammates to listen to the thinker.

“Shut up.”

He rose to his feet, silencing Trey and Tim, Josh Bartelstein and Corey Person. His AAU coach, his most-trusted mentor, had always told him that sometimes people misconstrue talkers with leaders; that “even if garbage came out (your) mouth,” your teammates would listen. Listen, because you’re the listener.

So that’s how Robinson recalls beginning: “ ‘Listen, let’s focus on defense, and let’s get the job done.

“ ‘We can win this game. I don’t know if you’re all ready to go home, but I’m not. Let’s go. Let’s step this up, let’s get a couple steals and get right back in it.’ ”

Michigan did, of course, and now Robinson has a ring and a new title, captain, to show for it. But to understand how he got there, how he got here, you must understand the things the listener has heard.

****

You’re not big enough.

The son of two-time NBA All-Star Glenn Robinson Jr. was born prematurely — so underdeveloped that he fit comfortably in his father’s palm. But before he could be held, he was placed into an incubator that, for days, housed two things: baby Glenn and an equally miniature Purdue basketball.

But for all of his athletic prowess now, he admits that surprisingly, he couldn’t dunk until his sophomore year of high school — but not for a lack of effort.

As a freshman in high school, he bought shoes from a magazine that promised to increase his vertical and wouldn’t take them off.

“I don’t know what my obsession with dunking was,” he says, unable to hold back his laughter. “I used to sleep in the shoes, sleep with ankle weights on, just so I could dunk.”

Four years later, his 360 dunk at Minnesota was No. 1 on SportsCenter’s top-10 plays. Robinson isn’t satisfied, giving it a ‘5’ on a 10-point scale — nothing compared to the dunk over his Jeep that he has been working on.

But at age 15, with his dad living hundreds of miles away in Atlanta, Robinson’s stature hardly resembled ‘Big Dog.’ Without a day-to-day father figure, the two biggest basketball mentors entered his life not long after the completion of his freshman season on the Lake Central High (Ind.) JV team.

The first was Lake Central varsity coach Dave Milausnic, who realized that Robinson would likely be his best player the next season. Milausnic saw raw talent, so he prompted Robinson to come into school with him at 5:30 a.m. to shoot. When Robinson needed a ride, Milausnic was there.

“There were times when he would be sitting out in the truck in my driveway, and I was still in bed — I didn’t want to get up,” Robinson said. “I thank him for that.”

As summer approached, Robinson — playing on a younger team in one the Midwest’s best AAU programs, SYF Players — caught the eye of famed coach Wayne Brumm. Brumm, the under-17 coach, has turned the organization into an Indiana basketball factory that has pumped out, among others, Michigan’s Mitch McGary, Spike Albrecht and Max Bielfeldt, Michigan State’s Branden Dawson and Travis Trice, and recent NBA Draft picks Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and Luke Harangody.

“He knew he maybe wanted to be along the lines of his dad, but I don’t think he really knew how to get there,” Brumm said of his earliest memories of Robinson.