09/24/2018 -- Atlanta, Georgia -- Atlanta Hawks forward Thomas Robinson speaks with members of the press during the Atlanta Hawks Media day at the Emory Sports Medicine Complex, Monday, September 24, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Robinson humbled, hungry for spot with Hawks

Thomas Robinson wants to kiss the court every time he enters the Hawks’ practice facility.

During his first five seasons in the NBA, Robinson didn’t realize how lucky he was to be playing professional basketball, but at the age of 27, he realizes he took much of his success for granted.

For years, he pushed himself to be the best player on the floor, but it led only to disappointment when he fell short. Playing basketball in Russia last season forced him to slow down and realize that he was “a mess.”

“I wanted (success) so much, and the opportunity never presented in my time frame,” Robinson said. “You can’t predict when you’re going to get what you want. The timing was never there and then I got frustrated and that caused depression and mental (instability) because you want to do good so bad to the point where it hurts you.”

Robinson played for the Russian club Khimki last season after spending time on six NBA teams in five years. The former All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year from Kansas played in 28 games with Khimki last season, averaging 8.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in 15.8 minutes.

His first time playing basketball in another country, Robinson said he struggled adjusting to life in Russia as the reality sunk in that he wasn’t playing in the NBA. 

“It was rough in the beginning because it was my first time being away from home, but the team over there and the organization over there did a good job of taking me in and making me feel somewhat at home for the time being,” Robinson said. “It was a great experience for me, and it really helped me a lot. It really made me hungrier than ever to get back into the NBA and actually be established in the NBA.”

It wasn’t until he welcomed his first child, a daughter, and Khimki’s season ended that Robinson realized his season in Russia arrived at just the right moment. He was young enough to embrace the culture change, but mature enough to learn from the experience which changed the way he approached the game.

When he signed with the Hawks on Aug. 30, Robinson rejoined first-year Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, who coached Robinson briefly in 2015 with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Pierce said the most noticeable thing he about Robinson during training camp is how high his energy level is — maybe too high.

“He brings the most energy every day,” Pierce said. “Almost too much energy and we got a wind it back, but I’d rather wind it back then try to get them going. Just his energy is contagious, his competitiveness is contagious, but I think he’s just trying to find his way back (into the league).”

Robinson’s most recent NBA experience is the 28 games he played with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016. He started one game and averaged five points and 4.6 rebounds in 11.7 minutes.

Robinson laughed at Pierce’s remark about his high energy level and said he can’t help being excited about being back with an NBA team and being surrounded with so many young players on the Hawks’ roster.

He’s also enjoyed reconnecting with players he’s met during his career like John Collins, who played under current Wake Forest coach and former Kansas assistant Danny Manning,  and former Jayhawk and fellow Hawks training camp invitee Cole Aldrich.

The youth of the team in it’s rebuilding stages actually is one of the factors that attracted Robinson to the Hawks.

“I like the rebuilding, the identity and (Pierce) preaches this a lot, and it’s great for us to build the identity for Atlanta and not just on the basketball court and I love that because this city is a great city to get attached to,” Robinson said.

Robinson’s first priority goal during training camp and preseason with the Hawks is to earn a roster spot, but he also wants to focus building relationships with Hawks coaches and his teammates. He’s choosing to not take another relationship or moment for granted while playing the game he loves.

“We don’t know how lucky we are. We don’t know,” Robinson said of NBA players. “I took it for granted and I’m sure no one thinks about it or tells you about it, but it’s painful and I’ll never take it for granted again.”

The Hawks begin their preseason games Monday against the New Orleans Pelicans at McCamish Pavilion at 7:30 p.m.

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