Since Bill Self's arrival at Kansas he has almost always been fortunate enough to have a presence on the interior. The trend actually dates back even further to his time at Illinois but at Kansas it started with Wayne Simien, David Padgett from the Roy Williams era and followed Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur, Cole Aldrich and the Morris twins. By the time the next NBA season rolls around Self will have six big men getting paid to play at a minimum.
With almost each of these big men, Kansas has had one player waiting in the wings. Going back to Nick Collison and Drew Gooden before Simien and Cole Aldrich taking charge as the Morris twins were being introduced to the college basketball world it's always been the case for Self. Great competition and talent yields great player development. Throw in a coach like Danny Manning and it seems the trend is amplified over the past few seasons.
That of course leads us to the upcoming year and what feels like one of the most up in the air teams in terms of talent and depth as Kansas fans have seen in some time. The Jayhawks have a set of five big men with a sixth that might be classified as a tweener. Travis Releford and Jeff Withey have seen time for the Jayhawks in limited roles. Releford could fill in if Kansas goes small and Jeff Withey developing is going to be critical for Kansas. Justin Wesley(redshirt), Braedon Anderson and Jamari Traylor are all new faces on the court for Kansas and while one could surprise, they likely aren't the answer to reliable interior play for the Jayhawks.
All that leads to one player, one player that would appear to be next in line and the one player currently included in the interior rotation that appears to be a lock to play at the next level. That player of course is Thomas Robinson and the question at this point is whether or not he's ready to step up and shoulder the load for Kansas.
Without question there have been times during games where Thomas Robinson has looked like a beast underneath. His motor is off the charts, his strength matches up with anyone and he's explosive with a nose for the basketball. At the same time it's important to remember that he did those things with Marcus and Markieff Morris on the court. The Morris twins are expected to be lottery selections in the upcoming draft and it would be an oversight to say that the play of the twins didn't influence Robinson's ability to work underneath.
In a way Robinson looked like your classic "garbage man" type player. A physical player underneath that cleaned up on the offensive glass and controlled the defensive boards as well. There is nothing wrong with that, but is that the makeup of a player that can lead a team to a Big 12 championship or is that the makeup of a great complimentary player?
It's a tough call. Robinson isn't likely as versatile as Marcus Morris, but he has shown the ability step out to the 15-18 foot range and knock down the shot. At the same time he probably has the physicality to dominate the way Wayne Simien did during his final season at Kansas.
Is Thomas Robinson ready to shoulder the load at Kansas? That's a question that is going to be answered early and often next year as Bill Self is going to have to rely on players like Robinson and fellow returnees like Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson. It's a team that's thin on experience, thin on answers but with players like Robinson the potential is there to keep moving ahead with business as usual in Lawrence.