Sunday’s game against Michigan State was big for a lot of reasons for the Michigan women’s basketball team. Chief among them was a desire for revenge after the Wolverines’ 77-73 defeat in January. But for Kayla Robbins, it was even bigger.
“I’m trying to get a win for the team,” the junior forward said before the game. “But if I could have some bragging rights back home that would be amazing.”
Robbins — who has been one of Michigan’s key contributors during the season’s stretch run — is the daughter of Kevin Robbins, a star offensive lineman for the Spartans’ football team from 1987-88. The Los Angeles Rams drafted him in the third round of the 1989 NFL Draft, after which he played three seasons with them and the Cleveland Browns.
As a third rounder, Robbins had to work hard to earn his spot on an NFL roster, just as he did when he arrived in East Lansing as a transfer student from Wichita State. His hard work helped him carve out a three-year stint in the league, and his determination is something that he passed onto his daughter when she began playing sports at a competitive level.
“Work extra hard — more than anyone else out there — to accomplish your goals,” he told her.
As Robbins continued to develop, she excelled in basketball, where Kevin quickly realized that she had immense potential. Despite her father’s athletic background, Robbins didn’t see Kevin as a football player and admitted that she didn’t realize her father’s connection to Michigan State at a young age.
“My family were MSU fans but I didn’t understand the closeness they had with college and stuff,” she said. “I guess you could say I was a Spartans fan.”
Even if she was a Michigan State fan, it became clear during Robbins’ recruitment process that there was one school in particular that was right for her: Michigan. Despite being his alma mater’s in-state rival, Kevin was thrilled.
“It’s real simple: Michigan was there for Kayla through thick and thin throughout the recruiting process,” he said. “It’s a major school in the Big Ten, and any time you get that opportunity it’s always a great thing.”
Kevin was thrilled to tell his friends about his daughter’s accomplishment. But it took some time to register with one friend in particular.
“One of Dad’s friends called me after my commitment and basically said, ‘You’re a Spartan!’ ” Robbins recalls. “He assumed because he heard Michigan that I was going to MSU. Until he realized I was playing in the maize and blue, then he finally called my dad and was so confused. But he was happy for me.”
While Kevin’s friend took some time to adjust to Kayla representing the Wolverines on the court, Kevin quickly jumped on the bandwagon.
“He wasn’t used to being in the maize and blue,” Robbins said. “But now he loves it.”
While Kevin’s allegiance may have changed, he still sees one familiar sight when he watches his daughter play: his own competitive spirit.
In Robbins’ third season, she has played some of the best basketball of her career, averaging a career-best 6.2 points per game and 3.5 rebounds. With extended minutes during the Big Ten season, she has emerged as one of the team’s key contributors. Of course, Kevin has done his part and even managed to convert his Spartan friends into Wolverines.
Kevin recalled that earlier this year, he went with some Michigan State friends to watch Robbins and the Wolverines play a road game against Maryland. While they were still Spartans at heart, his friends turned up ready to support Robbins along with their longtime friend. That being said, they couldn’t bring themselves to wear maize and blue.
On Sunday, when the Wolverines finally traveled to East Lansing for their rematch against the Spartans, there was no question where Kevin’s allegiance would lie.
When the dust finally settled, Michigan State emerged victorious, 74-64, on Sunday afternoon, sweeping the season series and handing Michigan its first loss since Jan. 27. But Kevin won’t be using his bragging rights. The rivalry isn’t as serious as some might think in their home.
“For her, it’s not really a rivalry,” he said. “She doesn’t look at me as a Spartan.”
Now back home in Washington, D.C., Kevin says that he continues to rock the maize and blue even when he isn’t attending Robbins’ games. That stems from his pride in his daughter’s success and impact.
He sees his heart and hustle in her, even if she may be wearing unfamiliar colors. Even though it may be a school that many members of his alma mater love to hate, Kevin has nothing but love for Michigan.
“You know what, I feel like it’s a very fortunate and blessed situation for Kayla to be playing D-1 basketball at the highest level at the number one public school in the world,” Kevin said. “It’s definitely a good thing and I’m very blessed.”