The last episode of the Mitchell Robinson Saga may very well turn out to be the last straw.
I feel for the Western Kentucky fan, who had such high hopes and such fervor for a young – young – man who is now toying with the emotions of a program and a fan base like a yo-yo. He may not turn out to be a Hilltopper after all. Many of you refused to believe it would indeed come to fruition and your fears and doubts are now warranted.
I will not spend the duration of this column placing the blame on an 18-year-old basketball player or on a 57-year-old coach in regards to the recent turn of events. And actually, blame is not what’s to be concerned with here.
An elite basketball player, one of thousands in this world, is making a decision about his future and the sun will continue to rise and the sun will continue to set.
Of course, there will always be questions as to why Robinson, all seven feet and McDonald’s All American of him, is doing what he is doing.
Why did he steal off in the middle of the night last week after two weeks on and off the court with his new teammates?
Why is he living it up in Pansacola, Fla., while the rest of the Tops are practicing and having team-bonding moments like a paintball competition?
Why is he calling his little adventure away a, “vacation,” and why is he sending Snapchat messages to fans with explanations such as, “if the thing me and the coach agreed on don’t go through then …..” ?
Why did all this come to a head one week before a team trip to Costa Rica and three weeks before the start of the school’s fall semester?
Robinson, as I perceived very early on, was a way better basketball player than he once knew. That’s how Rick Stansbury was able to get him to commit to Texas A&M and then Western Kentucky in the first place.
I once thought that would work to Western’s advantage. Robinson didn’t know he was good enough to play at Duke or North Carolina or Kentucky or Arizona or Kansas or insert-your-college-basketball-blueblood here.
And don’t get upset at me for writing that, friends, because you know as well as I do that five-star, highly-touted basketball prospects rarely, if ever, have Western Kentucky on their radar.
But after the initial commitment to WKU came Robinson’s monster senior season. And then the accolades. And the attention. And the trip to Chicago. And the trip to Brooklyn. And the trip to Colorado Springs.
And I don’t think it’s out of the question to believe somewhere along the way someone took him aside and whispered, “Hey buddy, I know what you’re gonna do, but have you thought about what you COULD do?”
What could Robinson do?
He could ask for a release from his scholarship and transfer. He’d have to sit out a full year at another Division I institution (unless he received some sort of waiver from the NCAA, which is highly unlikely) or could go play at a junior college (and I can’t recall any McDonald’s All American ever starting his collegiate career at that level).
He could turn to professional basketball, an incredibly risky proposition, yet a very real one. Most of the sources I’ve spoken with about the matter believe this is at the heart of the issue.
Robinson could go anywhere in this world that pays someone to play basketball. He could collect a handsome salary, hope to improve on his game, hope to avoid injury and hope to the hoops gods that someone thinks he’s good enough to use a draft pick on him in 2019.
Or, of course, he could return to Bowling Green and be a Hilltopper just like he said he would be June 29, 2016.
Do I have any insight into what may happen here over the next few days? I do not. One would think the issue would be resolved before the Tops leave for Costa Rica on Aug. 7. Then again, maybe this drags on for another three weeks.
Whatever Mitchell decides to do, there’s a silver lining – Western will have a pretty darn good basketball team regardless. Stansbury stockpiled an incredibly talented roster that will give the Tops a chance to compete for a championship, whether that be from November to February or in March or both.
No one should say Western would be better off without a Mitchell Robinson on its team. That’s simply not true. But while his possible absence would be an initial punch to the gut, perhaps the remaining members of the new-look Hilltoppers would use the “you-can’t-win-without-Mitchell” mantra as a direct challenge in 2017-18.
Robinson's choice to take some time off to figure it all out could prove to be a footnote in his collegiate career, or the finale in a long and dramatic – and at times frustrating – life as a Hilltopper. Let's hope, for his sake, he chooses wisely. And soon.
Quote of the week
Western Kentucky offensive lineman Matt Nord on facing Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 2: “Any time we can play an in-state team, that just gets us going a little more. I know no one one the team has had a chance to play EKU, but from what we here it’s a heated rivalry. We’re excited to pick that back up. We know they’re gonna come out swinging.
Musical pick of the week
Paying our respects to Chester Bennington:
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop