Ann Arbor — There might not have been a better place for Glenn Robinson III to start his Pistons career. With training camp opening at Crisler Center on the University of Michigan campus, Robinson felt right at home, in the same facility where he played two years in college.
He’s back where it all started, in a more comfortable position than when he played the last three seasons in his home state, with the Indiana Pacers. He had plenty of supporters there, but it’s not quite like the following he had when he helped the Wolverines reach the national title game as a freshman in 2013.
Robinson surprised the Michigan fan base when he decided to leave after his sophomore season — and many questioned why he’d be jumping to the NBA, with so much more to gain with more seasoning under coach John Beilein. If Robinson has learned one thing in his four NBA seasons, it’s that he’s got to cherish the time he has.
After Paul George left the Pacers, the path was set for Robinson to take on a bigger role.
Not so fast.
In training camp last fall with the Pacers, Robinson tore two ankle ligaments, an injury that kept him out for 56 games.
“I was going into the season with very high expectations after starting a lot of games with the Paul George injury a couple years back, winning the dunk contest and seeing my game grow,” Robinson said. “I was excited and the last two days of training camp, it was a freak accident.”
Robinson, 24, played only 23 games last season and averaged 4.1 points and 1.6 rebounds, but hit 41 percent on 3-pointers.
He learned a lot from that experience about how fragile things are, and how good health and a chance at an NBA career isn’t guaranteed. When he looks back on his time at Michigan, Robinson realizes that he took a chance on himself by leaving early — and used that as motivation to round out his game to become the best player he can in the NBA.
“Every single day, I remember that in the back of my head, from the coaching staff telling me not to leave, to the fans telling me not to leave. That’s the reason I work on my complete game,” he said. “If I knew then what I know now, I would have left (after) my freshman year. It’s a business and an opportunity and it’s about a lot more things than people think.
“We have to take advantage of this opportunity and just go for it. I don’t have anything to lose (now); I was hurt last year and sat out 56 games. I was in a bed for two months last year.”
Robinson clarified that it’s not a shot at Michigan or Beilein. Rather, it’s a statement about how much potential he had even as a freshman and how his ability helped him to develop quickly at the NBA level. Within that, there’s an appreciation for Beilein’s focus on fundamentals and how that prepared Robinson for the NBA.
As a freshman, Robinson averaged 11 points and 5.4 rebounds and improved to 13.1 points his sophomore season, but he decided after talking with his father, Glenn Jr. — who himself had a successful NBA career — that it was time to go pro.
“It’s more of a thing that you have to read the opportunity you have for the league — a lot of people don’t understand that," Robinson said. "I know it’s college basketball and it’s about winning and championships. A lot of people don’t understand that we do this so we can get to this moment and to be professionals and achieve some of our goals.
“I can come back here now that I’m in Detroit and finish my degree. It’s just about when I was coming out and being in the top 15, that lottery slot. If you think you’re good enough and your game can develop at the next level, then you leave. If you don’t think your game can develop at the next level and you need to develop it in college, then you’ve got to do that — everybody’s different.”
On that 2013 team, Robinson was surrounded by NBA talent, including Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Caris LeVert. Robinson was a freshman and hadn’t developed the 3-point shooting that he now possesses, which garnered the Pistons’ interest.
After signing a two-year deal, Robinson is in a position make a big jump, with an opportunity for significant playing time. He’s in the mix to be a starter, but with good health and a springboard from his college career, he’s in line to have the best season of his career.
In no small part, that’s due to some of Beilein’s influence. Robinson wasn’t a highly rated player in high school in Gary, Ind. when he committed to Michigan, but his NBA stock skyrocketed under Beilein.
“Just looking at my situation, I don’t regret (staying at Michigan) because everything happens for a reason,” Robinson said. “I wouldn’t be standing right here if I would have left my freshman year.
“It’s a testament to Coach Beilein, but a lot of guys from other (NBA) teams come from places where they don’t teach them how to play the right way or teach a system and they’re stuck here or they’re out of the league.”
Robinson still values Michigan as home and is buoyed by the support he’s gotten whenever he’s come back to Ann Arbor. With the practice and scrimmage at Crisler Center on Saturday, plus the fan base with the Pistons, he’s looking forward to a warm reception.
“I do want to bring some excitement and get a couple dunks in and a couple 3s in and get the crowd into it and get a little taste of what they’re going to see this year,” he said. “The support I have out here is crazy. I can’t tell you the number of Twitter and Instagram people happy to have me back here and playing for Detroit. I’m excited to put on a show for them.”