He walked off the court slowly, the last Jayhawk wading through a sea of confetti. Thomas Robinson stopped only for a moment, to give a hug to Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis, before finishing his walk to the locker room. KU assistant Danny Manning walked a few paces behind him.
This was the scene inside the Louisiana Superdome, moments after Kansas fell 67-59 to Kentucky in the NCAA championship game. This was Robinson, a junior, walking off the floor in perhaps his last game as a Jayhawk. This was Manning patting Robinson on the back.
Robinson had scored 18 points and grabbed 17 rebounds against the longest frontcourt in the country. But that same length had forced him into a six-for-17 shooting night. Davis, the player Robinson had battled all year in the national-player-of-the-year race, had finished with six blocks and forced Robinson to make this long final walk.
“Nobody in the country matches their talent,” Robinson would say, “or the length that they have.”
All night, Robinson had been forced to bang against Kentucky power forward Terrence Jones, while also keeping one eye on Davis. He knew that Davis would spend the night cheating toward him, keeping his long arms within range of Robinson’s shot.
So did junior center Jeff Withey, who spent the night working against Davis.
“I knew that was gonna happen,” Withey said. “I tried doing some other things to help T-Rob out, but Davis is so long and athletic. And when that happens, usually I can get offensive boards. But, you know, they sunk in with three or four people. So it was just extremely difficult.”
It was just that kind of night, an end marked with missed dunks and careless plays.
With 14:48 to play and Kansas trailing 44-30, Robinson pulled down a rebound with one hand. For a second, he looked at Kentucky’s Terrence Jones, holding the ball with one hand. Davis reached in and poked it out, and Jones threw down a two-handed dunk.
“I still don’t think he’s Superman,” Robinson said. “Just a great player.”
In the coming days, Robinson will have a decision to make. He is projected to be a lottery pick in this year’s NBA draft. He will have the opportunity to make millions and secure his future.
He mostly avoided the questions Monday night. But all around the locker room, Kansas’ players seemed to know.
“I definitely think it’s the last time I’m gonna suit up with him,” junior guard Elijah Johnson said. “… I would be stupid to just think in my head, ‘Hey, Thomas will be back next year.’ I’ve been facing reality. That’s my roommate. I’ve been feeling like he’s about to leave.
“I’ve been feeling like it’s about to end.”
If so, this is how it ended. After a three-year career that included personal tragedy — the death of his mother and two maternal grandparents during last season — and on-court growth, Robinson reflected. He had posted his 27th double-double of the season. But the story for this team ended here.
“I’m definitely proud of my team,” Robinson said. “And I wouldn’t take anything back. But it’s like, being proud and over-passing expectations, and then getting here, and then not getting what you got here for. It still hurt no matter what everybody expected us to do before this.”
Late on Monday night, Robinson sat in his locker and listened to the questions. What was he feeling in the moments after the game? What was he feeling as he walked off the court?
One second passed, and Robinson stayed silent. Finally, after holding it in for nearly five seconds, Robinson spoke.
“It hurt,” Robinson said. “I wanted to win so bad.”