LAWRENCE — Kansas freshman Thomas Robinson has been working on his autograph signature a lot since he committed to KU during his senior year of high school.
"It's getting a lot better," Robinson said. "It was terrible."
Robinson says the key to his improved style was finding a smooth way to incorporate his jersey number (0) into it. He got plenty of chances to practice on Sunday afternoon at KU's annual holiday clinic as kids and adults alike waited in line for the chance to bring home a signed piece of memorabilia or a photo with Robinson, a 6-foot-8 forward.
Many fans also had something to say to Robinson, who didn't have to think very long to remember his favorite remark.
"That I'm their favorite player," Robinson said.
A third of the way into Robinson's first college season, it's easy to see how a Jayhawk diehard could fall in love with his potential. In just 11.6 minutes per game as KU's fourth big man, Robinson is averaging 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds, and the "motor" that KU coach Bill Self hinted at early this season is hard to miss.
But despite Robinson's effort to say the right things — that he wants to just keep working on his game and become a more mature player — he wants to show more right now.
"He has said, 'I want to play more,' " Self said. "It's frustrating to him sometimes because he forgets he's a freshman, because he wants it to happen so fast for him. There's a natural maturation process that has to take effect. He's probably further along than what I thought he'd be, but he's not as far along as what he wishes he was, which is good. That means he's competitive."
Robinson said he knows that he has to improve defensively before Self will trust him with more minutes. The next few weeks — without classes and the distractions of college life when 20,000 other kids are on campus — will be crucial for Robinson to gain a further understanding of KU's defensive principles.
"The freshmen have a chance to prove themselves going twice a day," Robinson said. "Personally, I want to improve on my defense and continue working on my 15-foot jump shot."
Self appeared less concerned with Robinson's jumper. When Robinson has talked with Self about his playing time, Self has been honest about his expectations for him.
"Well Thomas, you gotta get where you get what we're doing as much from a defensive standpoint as anything," Self said. "And he's coming — fast. He's still a little bit away. Cole (Aldrich) wasn't ready at the same stage, and we're talking about him being a lottery pick. It's hard for freshmen to come in and impact a team, especially when you return your top nine scorers."
Self doesn't want Robinson to get down about his minutes.
"I'm really happy with Thomas because he tries so hard," Self said. "I really think his best ball is still a month from now, when he can react instead of think. When that occurs, he's going to look even more athletic."
More help coming? —KU redshirt freshman center Jeff Withey has been eligible to play since Dec. 19 after sitting out a year because of NCAA transfer rules, but Withey has yet to make his debut because of the lingering effects of a knee injury suffered in October.
"You take anybody out of activity for seven straight weeks, you're not ready," Self said. "Even now he's not ready to play in a game. I mean 4 to 5 minutes at a time. I think he will be soon. He's still probably a couple weeks away. Talentwise, he can definitely help us going into league."