BOYS PREP BASKETBALL

L.C.'s Robinson hoping to be like father like son

2011-11-18T00:00:00Z 2012-08-30T23:42:22Z L.C.'s Robinson hoping to be like father like sonBy Steve Hanlon steve.hanlon@nwi.com, (219) 933-4198 nwitimes.com
November 18, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Fans packed West Side's Cougar Den last March 2, gathered for a Class 4A sectional opener between Lake Central and Lowell.

On the court, Glenn Robinson III, known as "Tre," inconspiculously warmed up with his teammates.

Then his dad walked in.

That night, in that gym, Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson might have beat out Michael Jackson in a survey regarding Gary's favorite son. The over-40 crowd rushed to greet, even embrace, the former McDonald's All-American, Indiana Mr. Basketball, National Player of the Year, Purdue All-American and NBA champion who had flown in to see his son play basketball.

It was the first time that the elder Robinson had seen his son play in high school.

"He called me and told me he was coming to the game," Tre said, "but I was more focused on winning."

The father picked a perfect game to see his son on the hardwood, who had the best night of his prep career.

In a 70-64, Robinson scored 29 points on just 15 shots, grabbed seven boards and had five assists. And he was just warming up.

"It was a great feeling; I was happy for him," Big Dog said. "When I was at Roosevelt all the big games were at West Side. That gym was where I was introduced to Indiana high school basketball as a kid.

"To see what my son did in that gym was great. I was proud of him. It was nice that people came over to me -- it brought back a lot of great memories--  but I wanted the focus to be on Tre's game."

Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood

The father's story is tough, torn. Christine Bridgeman was an unwed teenager when she gave birth to Glenn Robinson II in 1973. The son had little contact with his father.

Big Dog wasn't a hoops prodigy. He refused to go out for the seventh grade team because he didn't believe he was good enough. When he did make the team, Bridgeman pulled him out of the gym once when she thought his grades were too low.

Big Dog played varsity as a sophomore for legendary coach Ron Heflin. As a junior, Robinson led the Panthers to semistate.

Then, the 1991 season exploded on the scene. It was like few in region history.

Shantelle Clay was a sophomore at Roosevelt. Heflin called her the team "statistician." She caught Robinson's eye and the two started dating.

"Everyone was excited, everyone was jumping on the bandwagon," said Clay-Irving, Tre's mother. "I remember it being a big thing. There were a lot of big games with a lot of people watching.

"Those were fun times."

Roosevelt played E.C. Central in a regional semifinal game people still talk about.

Big Dog hit a turnaround 13-footer as the buzzer sounded and Roosevelt won 81-80 in double overtime. He scored 39 points and was surrounded by the adoring masses in the wonderful aftermath.

"That game was unbelievable," Big Dog said, "probably the toughest game we had the entire tournament."

Last year Robinson III scored his career-high, also 39 points, against E.C. Central on the same floor in East Chicago.

Carolyn Crawford is Tre's grandmother and Clay-Irving's mother. She, like many in the Steel City, stood in line 20 years ago and purchased the yellow T-shirts with the black lettering that said it all.

"Mr. Robinson's neighborhood."

"The whole city of Gary rallied around Roosevelt," Crawford said. "I missed a few days of work keeping up with that team."

All of Indiana expected Indianapolis Brebeuf and its star Alan Henderson to beat Roosevelt. It wasn't just "us against them." It was Indiana vs. Purdue.

Henderson was Bobby Knight's top recruit at IU. Robinson was Gene Keady's top pick at Purdue. The packed crowd of 35,000 at the RCA Dome was forced to Boiler up.

Robinson scored 22 as his Panthers won 51-32.

"I've heard all the stories," Tre said. "It's amazing how magnificent it had to be. Every game was huge."

His father still speaks of what that game all those years ago means to him.

"It was an awesome experience," he said. "The media in Indianapolis was bigger than the media in the region. Everyone said Brebeuf was going to win and (Henderson) was going to win Mr. Basketball.

"Absolutely, my goal was to win the state championship and do it in a way that I would win Mr. Basketball. That's what competitors do."

The No. 1 jersey

The similarities between the two Glenn Robinsons in this story continue when thoughts of the Mr. Basketball award float around. It's the greatest honor any Hoosier hoopster can get.

It does not always go to the state's best player. Politics, playoffs and geography are put into the blender before a name is spit out in April.

Big Dog needed to win state in order to wear the No. 1 jersey in the Indiana-Kentucky basketball series. He did.

Tre will need to make a deep postseason run in order to raise his name to the top. He has yet to win a sectional championship.

"I absolutely believe that Glenn has a shot at Mr. Basketball," Lake Central coach Dave Milausnic said. "We've just got to make a run in March."

Milausnic played against Big Dog twice when he was a sharp-shooting guard at Highland. He experiences the déjà vu all over again haunting every day at practice.

And there are some tapes that both Milausnic and Tre have watched together.

"Yeah, I saw the video," Tre said. "My dad had a monster dunk against them."

Milausnic remembers a game where he got the ball on the wing, beyond the 3-point stripe, and took a step back to launch a trey. Roosevelt's No. 13 was still in the paint when Milausnic caught the pass.

"He threw it into the third row," Milausnic said. "I never faced a guy who was as mean and tough on the floor."

The father was born and raised in a drug- and gang-infested part of Gary. His son lives in an upscale neighborhood in St. John.

Tre was good as a sophomore, but not a force. He improved last winter but did not take it to his father's level until the second half of the season.

Still, every time Tre plays, people talk about how much he reminds them of his father.

"Genetics are crazy," Tre said. "I hear that all the time."

Milausnic said the one feature that is so similar is the Robinson "turnaround jumper." They both have it. It was and is deadly.

"It's uncanny how similar it looks," Milausnic said.

Heflin got Roosevelt into the Hall of Fame Classic in New Castle in that championship season, where the Panthers lost to Martinsville in the championship. He did it for one reason: to let all of Indiana see his best player.

Milausnic doesn't have the same option; 14 of L.C.'s 20 games are locked into the Duneland Athletic Conference's double round-robin schedule.

He worked hard to get one game downstate. On Nov. 26 Robinson will take his road show to Hamilton Southeastern and its star, Gary Harris, who signed to play at Michigan State.

Robinson III signed with Michigan.

Lake Central will also play a big national game in Milwaukee on Jan. 7 against Wisconsin's Menomonee Falls. But to wear the same jersey his dad once did -- No. 1 Indiana -- making noise in his home state will mean the most.

The other leading candidates for this season's Mr. Basketball are Harris, Park Tudor's Yogi Ferrell and Lawrence Central's Jeremy Hollowell.

"Winning Mr. Basketball is a goal of a lot of players in Indiana," Tre said. "Yeah, of course, it would be awesome to win it. It would be a great honor to win Mr. Basketball in this state.

"But I'm a team player. My goal is to win state with my team."

Like his father, he might have to.

Only six Northwest Indiana basketball players have won the award since it was first given out in 1939. In 1955 it was Gary Roosevelt's Wilson Eison. In 1981 it was Michigan City Rogers' Dan Palombizio.

The next year it was Valparaiso's Roger Harden. Robinson, of course, won in 1991. And Valpo's Bryce Drew won in 1994.

One thing will ensure another Glenn Robinson being typed onto that heralded Hoosier Hysteria list.

"We've got to win state," Tre said.

One on one

Many basketball players have a father who played hoops in the driveway at home. Not always so with Tre' and Big Dog.

Clay-Irving and Big Dog remained an item in his remarkable years in West Lafayette. But in 1994, when he was the NBA's top draft pick, the high school romance dissolved.

"When he went to the NBA, it ended," Clay-Irving said.

Big Dog, now living in Atlanta, has been coming home more often in recent years. He returned to see Gelen, his sophomore son at Lake Central, play football.

He was in St. John on Nov. 9 when Tre signed his National Letter of Intent to play ball in Ann Arbor.

That's where the stories of their one-on-one began to surface.

"He beat me all the time when I was little," Tre said. "Last summer, the last time we played, I beat him two out of three."

"He's never beat me," Big Dog said. "He's come close a couple of times, but he's never beat me."

Tre said he remembers exactly what happened last summer in Georgia.

"I dribbled around until he got tired," Tre said. "It was game point. I did a step-back hesitation move. Then, a crossover. I dunked on him to win the game.

"He might give you another story, but that is the truth."

Big Dog said his son's story contains only a sliver of honesty.

"He took about 55 dribbles the last time we played," Big Dog said. "On one possession. I'm not as young as I used to be. I don't remember everything but I know he didn't beat me.

"I made a rule, though, the next time we play. You can only dribble three times. Not 55."

Crawford said the Big Dog is still like a son to her, as is Tre, her grandson. In watching them she got the same feeling many area fans have the last two years.

"It was like déjà vu," Crawford said. "The way (Tre) claps, or laughs, it's so much like his dad. When I see them playing in the driveway they have the same moves. The same shot."

The father, after hassling over who really won a one-on-one game, spoke more like a dad than a competitor. And his words might shock many, especially all those who lived in his neighborhood in 1991.

Or watched him at Purdue. Or took in his game in Milwaukee.

"Tre is a better play right now than I was at his age," Big Dog said. "We have different games. I was more of a post in high school. I learned the perimeter game at the next level.

"He's a better shooter than I was. He's a better all-around player than me, too. His vertical leap, man, it's great. He's shorter than I am but when he plays he's up there where I used to be."

The distance and the time away is not ideal. Tre has built a relationship with future Wolverine teammate Tim Hardaway Jr., whose father was also a NBA star and away from home a lot.

"We've talked about it," Tre said. "He's helped me through it. But that's the way it is in the NBA."

Milausnic, Tre said, is like a second father. So, too, is his stepfather Antwoin Irving, who said for both stepsons, "I try to offer encouraging words and to be there for them when they need someone."

Big Dog said he plans on coming home a lot this winter. He said he feels something special in the air around his son and his son's team.

"I know I am so proud of Tre and what he's done," Big Dog said. "His mother has done a great job raising the boys. They're good young men, good students, much better than I was when I was their age.

"I hope he accomplishes everything I did my senior year, and I plan on being there to see as much as I can."

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