If anyone really knows what Elbert Robinson III went through last basketball season, it’s Tim Quarterman.
Quarterman knows the rocky times Robinson experienced in his first season with the LSU basketball team, because he went through the same things a year earlier before breaking out as a sophomore.
Which is why Quarterman was there for his road roomie at the end of a personally disappointing season in which Robinson appeared in only 11 games with four starts, averaging 0.5 points and 1.5 rebounds per game.
“I just tried to motivate him at times when he was down, because I know how it feels to be sitting on the bench and cheering your teammates on,” Quarterman said. “You come out of high school with lots of accolades, so it’s hard when you don’t play that much.”
Quarterman knows firsthand. He averaged 2.5 points, 1.8 rebounds and just 12.3 minutes per game as a freshman while watching fellow recruits Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey made big contributions in their first season.
Spurred on by his meager playing time, Quarterman was one of the most improved players in the Southeastern Conference and the nation last season when he averaged 12.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
LSU coach Johnny Jones and his staff can only hope Robinson makes the same leap from year one to year two considering the Tigers sorely lacked a bench last season when they went 22-11 and earned a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Having Robinson as a force in the middle may have helped LSU in several close games that eventually wound up as losses.
If nothing else, he could have drawn some of the defensive pressure away from Martin and Mickey in crunch time.
The problem was Robinson, who measures 7-foot-1, wasn’t ready to play.
In order to help him get up and down the floor more easily in Jones’ fastbreak attack, he lost 45 pounds — going from 310 to 265 after enrolling in school in June 2014 — then suffered a concussion in preseason practice in October that further delayed his development.
The real problem was the extreme weight loss hindered his ability to play around the rim, especially in rebounding the ball.
“He lost some of the muscle mass that allowed him to maneuver and move the way he needed to for a man his size,” Jones said. “We had to help him continue to develop in the weight room and get bigger and stronger, because in high school he was a great catcher and had great feet. None of that changed.”
Robinson averaged 12.5 rebounds and six blocks as a junior and 10.9 rebounds and 4.1 blocks as a senior at Lakeview Centennial in Garland, Texas, but never came close to taking it to the next level.
“It was frustrating at the beginning, but I had to look at it from a different perspective: It was going to help me in the long run,” Robinson said. “Being on the court without playing to the best of my ability wasn’t going to help me or the team. It was just going to put the team in danger.
“We had such great players like Jarell and Jordan, so I just sat and watched and learned little tips from them. It really helped me.”
What really helped bring about a change that has been evident since the start of preseason practice a month ago was Robinson putting 25 pounds of muscle back on his wide-shouldered frame, Jones said.
“I think he’s going to be fine,” he said. “Elbert’s transition has been better. It takes some big guys a little longer than others, but he’s made some real positive strides since the summer.
“He’s shown to be a force inside. If we can keep his improvement and keep him growing and continuing to get better, certainly he’ll be a force. We especially need it after losing Jarell and Jordan (to the NBA).”
Robinson said he can tell the difference in his legs because he’s able to jump higher and run the floor, a prerequisite to play for Jones, a lot better.
“I can play more physical basketball now,” a smiling Robinson said. “Last year, I had to try and play a finesse game because I wasn’t as powerful as I wanted to be.”
Those physical changes, along with some added confidence, could serve him and the Tigers well. His ability to play quality minutes in the middle would allow freshman phenom Ben Simmons to play other positions.
If Robinson does well, he said he won’t forget where he came from and who provided a lot of inspiration to help him get where he wants to be.
“Tim helped me out a lot last year when I was down; he was just always telling me my time was coming and I had to be patient,” he said. “I look at where he came from as a freshman and then having a coming-out party last year.”
“I was just there for him,” Quarterman said. “I’m glad for him, especially seeing him making the strides he’s making now.
“He looks good … he’s a whole different guy, but that came from working hard. It’s not anything I did, because he had to do it all on his own, but I’m really happy for him.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.