Glenn Robinson III grows into star

ST. JOHN, Ind. -- Shantelle Clay came home on winter break from Purdue in 1993 knowing what she needed to do.

A college freshman pregnant with her first child, she planned to talk with her spring semester professors to find out whether she could take final exams early. Her due date was supposed to coincide with the end of the school year. Little did she know she'd be a mother within the month.

She was supposed to have three months to prepare when she went on Jan. 8, 1994, to Methodist Hospital in Gary, Ind. An hour later, Glenn "Trey" Robinson III entered the world, three months early and clinging to life.

"When they first told me, they prepared me for the worst," Clay said. "And let me know anything could happen with him."

Robinson weighed 3 pounds, 4 ounces. He was small enough that his father, Purdue basketball star Glenn Robinson Jr., could hold him in one of his massive hands.

The newborn immediately was able to breathe on his own. That commonly being an issue with many premature babies, even from the beginning Robinson III -- now a senior in high school and a verbal commitment to Michigan -- was special.

Premature birth comes with a host of issues. The March of Dimes reports that 12.8 percent of children are born prematurely each year, but the risk for birth defects -- ranging from anemia to respiratory distress syndrome to death -- increases the earlier a child is born. The child's eventual height and weight are also concerns.

Fiddling around in an incubator for the first month of his life, Trey Robinson's parents didn't know what he'd become. They were just happy he was healthy.

Inside the incubator was a clue of his eventual destiny: a tiny Purdue basketball.

"I like to say," said Robinson, sitting in his coach's office at Lake Central High School before a preseason workout, "that I was born with a basketball in my hands."

Launching 500

Robinson was out of the hospital two months after birth, already at 6 pounds. By age 3, he started playing basketball in a Hammond, Ind., YMCA children's league.

Basketball became part of his life. In the winter, Robinson would be outside of his home, shooting on a shoveled-out driveway. When no one else would play, he'd turn to his mom, an admitted non-athlete, for help.

"He'd be like, 'Mom, do you want to play basketball or something?' " Clay said. "So I'd say, 'Fine.' But I'd be happy when the neighbors came over."

Neighbors turned into high school teammates. Games outside turned into waking up at 5:30 a.m. his freshman year, waiting for a ride from Clay or his high school coach, Dave Milausnic, to Lake Central for open gym workouts.

He worked out two or three times a week as a freshman. By his sophomore year, it was a daily routine. Growing from 5-foot-6 in seventh grade to 6-foot-1 as a freshman helped. So, too, did wanting to play in college.

Robinson embraced the tradition the older players in Milausnic's program started.

"He's like a lot of other 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds, and once he starts seeing results, they start wanting to do it more," Milausnic said. "Glenn started to see that between his freshman and sophomore year."

From then until now, Robinson still does the same thing. Every school day he wakes up at 5:30 a.m. He goes to the gym, either alone or with teammates, and shoots at least 500 shots.

"It was something I had to do," he said. "And wanted to do."

His game started to mature, but he needed one more thing -- confidence.

Building blocks

Confidence can be fickle. It is something that one day, with one move or one change, can come instantly. Or, it can be something nurtured over time.

In Robinson's game, it is still happening.

He committed to Michigan before his junior season, feeling comfortable with the Wolverines coaches, players and campus. As a player, he was still growing. When he committed, he was nowhere near his present ranking as the No. 52 player in the ESPNU 100.

"His body had an awful lot to do with it," said Wayne Brumm, his AAU coach at SYF Players. "His body started it, and it gave him confidence. When you see your body in the mirror and you see you're stronger, you start believing you're stronger. It just keeps building."

Robinson was a lanky junior. Often in games -- and it is still something needing improvement, Brumm said -- he'd feel his way into the action instead of immediately attacking. As his junior year progressed, his body developed.

Robinson grew to 6-6. He started working more on his ballhandling. He focused on being able to shoot with more consistency, along with being able to use his athleticism to take opponents off the dribble.

Yet Brumm and Milausnic believe he can become a lot better -- and a lot more confident. He has added 30 pounds, mostly muscle, and his build is completely different now, compared to his junior year.

"The weight room is going to be a big factor for me," Robinson said. "Getting stronger to compete at the next level. Also ballhandling and shooting. Playing open gym with them, they don't miss shots.

"So I have to get in the gym more. I'm still waking up at 5:30 to get in the gym to maintain that and shoot, shoot, shoot well in the game."

Growing up

Robinson and his mom went to the doctor's office last month for a routine checkup.

He had sprouted in the past two years and has become one of the country's top high school seniors. The doctor wanted to run tests to gauge how tall Robinson might get.

Robinson said no. He didn't need to know. Clay explained what happened, how her son went from being palmed in his father's hand as a newborn to palming a basketball all on his own.

"My doctor, he told me he was really surprised to see how big I've gotten, and to be so little when I was born," Robinson said. "So just looking back at that, that's just crazy."

The doctor didn't bother asking again. He didn't need to. He saw in Robinson what Clay had said about her son: "He's a blessing."

In more ways than one.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.