Purdue ICONS #5: Glenn Robinson

JaJuan Johnson was recently our first opening round NBA Draft Selection since Glenn Robinson went #1 overall in 1994. He is coming off of an All-America senior season in which he was the Big Ten's best player, taking both the Big Ten Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Those capped a stellar four-year career, but he wasn't the Big Dog.

Glenn Robinson wasn't so much a basketball player at Purdue as a force of nature. He lost his freshman season as an academic casualty and he left early, but in two years he dominated on the court like no other. He took Gene Keady to the brink of the Final Four before riding off as the #1 overall pick of the 1994 NBA Draft. he even had a cool nickname, The Big Dog, that struck fear in the hearts of the rest of the Big Ten. For one season he was an unstoppable force that teams could only hope to weather. With 598 votes, Glenn Robinson is your #5 Purdue ICON.


Before Purdue

From the Big Dog's Facebook page:

Robinson was born to Christine Bridgeman in Gary, Indiana. With his mother being an unmarried teenager, Glenn rarely saw his father. In a city known for its crime and drugs, his mother kept him straight. Not receiving the best of grades at school, his mom once pulled him off of the basketball team, and he took a job at an air-conditioning and refrigeration shop.

The 1991 High School Boys Basketball season in Indiana was an epic one in term of the in-state war between Purdue and Indiana. The Hoosiers had their chosen one in Brebeuf's Alan Henderson. Purdue had its own in Gary Roosevelt's Glenn Robinson. Both players were the favorites to take home Mr. Basketball, and their in-season battle was occurring during the height of the Gene vs. Bobby era. When the draw for the tournament came out it could not be more perfect. Henderson and Robinson could not meet until the state championship game.

That's exactly what happened too, and for college basketball fans in Indiana it was like getting a third IU-Purdue game that year. Gary Roosevelt cruised through the Gary sectional and survived an 81-80 Double-OT thriller with host East Chicago in the regional to reach the semi-state at Mackey Arena. Once there, he won a pair of games to take Roosevelt to the State Finals at the RCA Dome (though Anderson Highland nearly pulled off a major upset, losing 42-41). Henderson led Brebeuf to the Ben Davis sectional crown, and both the regional and semi-states played at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Once at the State Finals (Ironically, one in which three of the four teams are not currently in the highest class in Indiana) Roosevelt beat surprise finalist Whitko 83-53 and Brebeuf beat Terre Haute South 52-39.

The title game was on a higher level than 2007's match between E'Twaun Moore (with East Chicago) and Eric Gordon (with North Central). IU and Purdue fans tuned in all over the state not only for bragging rights, but for a preview of what was to come over the next four years. The Big Dog was too much in the end, as Roosevelt won 51-32 to complete a 30-1 season compared to Brebeuf's 27-2 mark. Robinson had 22 in the final and spurred a 16-0 third quarter run to put them away. This was the second year the Finals were played at the RCA Dome, and more than 35,000 people saw it live. Brighthouse Networks even offered it as an OnDemand game for a short time.

Robinson went on to take the Mr. Basketball award that season too. I tried all morning to find the one team that beat Roosevelt that season. Thanks to the crew at Hickoryhusker.com I found it was a surprisingly good Martinsville team (a.k.a., John Wooden High) 66-62 in the Hall of Fame Classic played at New Castle. For the record, it was their 4th game in 3 days after playing in the Gary Holiday tournament too.

At Purdue

Glenn Robinson's Purdue career is mind-boggling from a numbers standpoint. He is the only 2-year player even in the top 50 scoring-wise. His 1993-94 season alone would be good enough to have him 45th on the Purdue career scoring list. It is safe to say that had he played as a freshman and returned for his senior season there is no doubt that he would have obliterated the record books and cemented himself as one of the great college players ever, let alone the greatest to ever wear Gold & Black. As it is, only two players in Purdue history can be considered in the same category as him: John Wooden and Rick Mount. Wooden's numbers don't match up because they are from a different era, but his impact was the same as Robinson's. Mount played in the era of when all-freshmen were ineligible, so his all-time scoring record is a three-year mark.

As noted above, Robinson's struggles academically were not a surprise. He was a Proposition 48 player during the 1991-92 season, meaning he could practice with the team but not play. He worked as a welder during his summers at Purdue and surely was the best player in practice during his freshman season. Purdue could have used him too. We struggled to a 16-14 regular season and 8-10 Big Ten record. We did manage to beat #4 Indiana 61-59 in Mackey Arena on the final day of the season, avenging a nasty 106-65 beatdown in Bloomington. We would lose to Florida in the NIT Elite 8, while the Hoosiers would reach their last Final Four under Bob Knight (with, of course, Henderson).

Needless to say, we were ready for the Big Dog for the 1992-93 season. He did not disappoint as a sophomore. He immediately came in and averaged 24.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game as we improved to 18-10 overall. Robinson was an easy 1st team All-Big Ten choice and second team All-American, but we suffered our last first round loss in the NCAA Tourney to date, dropping a game to Rhode Island 74-68.

Robinson's totals for the season were solid. He had 676 points (currently the 11th best in school history) and 258 rebounds. Best of all, he had a developing core of guards around him that played some good basketball. Most notably, Cuonzo Martin, Matt Waddell, and some guy named Matt Painter that IU didn't want.

The 1993-94 season with Martin, Waddell, Big Dog, Brandon Brantley, Porter Roberts, and the immortal Matt ten Dam is one of the greatest in school history. Though ten Dam did not play due to the fact he really sucked at basketball academics, Purdue went 29-5, won the Big Ten at 14-4, and was ranked #3 going into the NCAA Tournament. Their 14-0 start established a new school record that would be matched by the 2009-10 team. We won the Great Alaska Shootout with ease and only lost at Wisconsin (75-69), at home to Michigan (63-63), at Penn State (71-68), and at Indiana (82-80).

Robinson himself was unstoppable. He averaged an astounding 30.3 points and 11.2 rebounds to lead the Big Ten in both categories. He would earn first team All-America honors (the last to do so before JJ) and the National Player of the Year Award, becoming the first to do so from Purdue since Wooden. He won these awards hands down as the best player in the country.

The regular season was enough to give Purdue a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. We blasted Central Florida in round one 98-67 before beating Alabama 83-73 in round two. The Sweet 16 game against Kansas was a virtuso performance. Robinson dropped 44 on the Jayhawks in an 83-78 win to move us to the Elite 8. Much like the 2010 team, an injury derailed us from reaching the Final Four. Robinson strained his back against Kansas and was limited to a season low 13 against Duke in the Elite 8. We lost 69-60 to Duke.

 

Dunk you very much, Greg Ostertag

Robinson's 1,030 points were not only a Purdue single-season record, but a Big Ten single-season record. That was still only good enough to be named the #35 Big Ten Icon. His 1993-94 season is possibly the single greatest season by a player in Big Ten history. He was unanimously named the Player of the Year by the Conference.

Pro career:

Unfortunately for us, one of the side effects of being named National Player of the Year as an underclassman is that it draws the attention of the NBA. Robinson was a poor kid from Gary. For the 1994-95 season he could go back to school, risk injury, and attend classes that he probably wasn't interested in, or he could make a shitload of money as the overwhelming #1 pick in the NBA Draft. What would you do?

That draft was not an especially strong one, but the Milwaukee Bucks picked Robinson first overall, making him the first Boiler since Joe Barry Carroll in 1980 to go #1 overall. From that draft Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Juwan Howard, and Eddie Jones are still playing in the NBA. Any draft that sees a Heisman trophy winner (Charlie Ward) and Yinka Dare go in the first round has to be considered a weak draft, but Robinson was undoubtedly the class of the draft going in.

Robinson would sign a 10-year, $68 million contract that is still a record for rookie contracts. It will likely stand for all-time with the rookie salary cap going in place the next season (another reason he came out early). He had a solid rookie year with 21.9 points per game and was third behind Kidd and Hill for Rookie of the Year.

His tenure in Milwaukee was a lot like that though: Very good, but rarely great. He is still the #2 all-time scorer in Bucks history behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but his best season was in 2001 when they reached the Eastern Conference Finals with Ray Allen and Sam Cassell. He was named an NBA All-Star in 2000 and 2001, but his career started going down after 2001.

In 2002 the Bucks traded him to the Atlanta Hawks for Toni Kukoc. Leon Smith, and a 2003 First round pick that was eventually used on T.J. Ford. He averaged a solid 20.8 for Atlanta, but it was his only season in the Deep South. He was traded again the following season to the Philadelphia 76ers where he averaged over 16 points per game behind Allen Iverson. He only lasted a year in Philly in 2003-04, as he missed most of the 2004-05 season due to injury. In February of 2005 Philly traded him to New Orleans, who waived him without having him play in a single game.

It seemed as if this waiving would be the end of his career, but a happy coda was tacked on during the end of the 2005 season. The San Antonio Spurs signed him on April 5, 2005 as a veteran needed for the playoffs. He would play in only nine regular season games and 13 playoff games for the Spurs, scoring just 140 points, but he averaged 10 points per game in those final regular season games. Best of all, he picked up an NBA Championship ring as the Spurs won the 2005 title. That was the last time he would play professionally, and he would be the last Boiler to hoist the NBA title before Brian Cardinal this year.

So what else can be said about the Big Dog? His career at Purdue is mostly remembered for that meteoric 1993-94 season when he was the most dominant player in the college game. From November until March of that year we saw 3-pointers, ruthless dunks, and transcendent play from a guy that was often light years better than the other nine on the court. Among the top five, he is the only player that achieved so many votes based solely on one season. The Big Dog's 1994 season is still remembered with great in West Lafayette and with great fear on the other Big Ten campuses.

We will soon see a second coming of sorts, as the Little Dog, Glenn Robinson III is headed to Michigan after this coming season. I know many Purdue fans will watch his son play with a smile, knowing that he comes from greatness.

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