For five months, the change from high school basketball to the college game has been one big transition after another for LSU center Elbert Robinson III.
Certainly, playing with bigger, stronger and quicker players was something he had to get used to when he arrived on campus this summer from Lakeview Centennial High School in Garland, Texas.
That’s the main reason anyone who saw Robinson back then might not recognize him now.
Packing 315 pounds on his 7-foot-1 frame when he joined coach Johnny Jones’ program in June, Robinson is now a svelte 272 pounds after trimming down to 265 for the start of preseason practice last month.
The transformation of his body has helped put Robinson on the fast track to be the starting center for Friday night’s exhibition with Morehouse College and the season opener against Gardner-Webb on Nov. 15.
Running the floor with more ease, Robinson is excited about the possibility of giving the Tigers lots of minutes as part of an imposing frontcourt that also includes forwards Jordan Mickey (6-8) and Jarell Martin (6-10).
Robinson, who averaged 12.5 and 10.9 rebounds the past two seasons, believes he can give Jones about 30 quality minutes a game at this point — much more than he could have provided in the summer.
“Back then, I could probably play 15 or 12 (minutes),” a smiling Robinson said. “But now, my stamina is a lot better.”
That’s potentially good news for Jones, who has certainly taken notice of Robinson’s improvement daily since practice began Oct. 9.
“Because of his work and diet, he’s really put it together,” Jones said. “He really wants to be great. Elbert has seen what Jordan and Jarell do to compete at a certain level, and he’s improved every day. It gets us, as coaches, really excited when you have a guy that size that can take up space inside with the strength he has. He has the ability to score down on the low block and also defend, so it gives us a reason to be excited.”
Robinson credited Mickey and Martin with helping him in the transition, saying both have provided tips and lots of mentoring to prepare him to play at the college level.
“It’s been intense because it’s a whole new learning curve for me, but I think it’s all coming together,” said Robinson, who averaged 11.7 points and 6.0 blocked shots to go with his 10.9 rebounds to earn all-state honors as a senior. Yet he knows he’s far from a finished product.
Robinson said he’s already gotten used to the speed of the game but has some other things to work on.
“On the defensive side, the pick-and-roll is going to take some time,” he said. “Defensive rotation has been the biggest thing I have had to work on most. You can learn it in practice, but I think it’s going to be better when the games start.”
“The thing about Elbert is this is totally different for him because of the speed of the game — everything happens so quick — and the size of the guys he has to compete against every day,” Jones said. “He’s used to playing against guys that were much smaller and he was able to get away with so many things. He’s been able to adapt to it and make the necessary adjustments.”
Mickey and guard Keith Hornsby have been pleased with what they’ve seen so far of Robinson, who’s basically taking the place of Johnny O’Bryant III. O’Bryant, the Tigers’ leading scorer and rebounder last season, left school a year early and is now with the Milwaukee Bucks.
“He’s had to adjust to the speed of the game,” said Mickey, a preseason All-SEC first-team pick. “He’s got his weight down, and that’s helping him get down the floor and keep up. He’s done a great job.
“He’s extremely physical and tough. He’s a big-body kid who isn’t afraid to use his body, so he’s kind of filling in where Johnny was as our big-body guy.”
Hornsby said he has been amazed by the combination of size and strength Robinson possesses.
“He gets certain rebounds that I couldn’t picture anybody but him getting just because of his strength,” Hornsby said. “There’ll be a bunch of guys jumping up and somehow he’ll just come down with the rebound. He’s continuing to get in better shape and is still making strides, so it’s been great.”
Note: Friday’s 7 p.m. exhibition game against Morehouse at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center will be free to attend. At halftime, 10 fans will be selected from the crowd to take part in a contest in which two winners will each receive a pair of tickets to Saturday’s LSU-Alabama football game.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.