KK Robinson Knows What LR as Arkansas’ Only NCAA Tournament Team Would Mean

KK Robinson, Arkansas basketball, Little Rock basketball, NCAA Tournament
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Little Rock Athletics

Khalen Robinson – known by many as KK – has found a college basketball home in a familiar place.

The highly regarded high school prospect from Little Rock, who played two seasons of Arkansas basketball with the Hogs and another at Texas A&M, has thrived at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

With Robinson leading the way, the Trojans (20-11) won the regular-season Ohio Valley Conference Championship with a 14-4 conference record. They are only two OVC Tournament wins away from qualifying for Little Rock’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2017.

“It has been a crazy journey and not expected,” Robinson told Best of Arkansas Sports via phone from Evansville, Ind., the site of the league tournament. “We have worked hard every day and shown up, and this is the result. It has been great to be able to come home and have the kind of success we are having. I am very grateful to have this opportunity. We have done some great things, but we all know the job isn’t done.”

Leaving Arkansas Basketball

KK Robinson began his high school career at Episcopal Collegiate in Little Rock and led the Wildcats to the 2016-17 Class 3A state title. He transferred to Bryant to play his sophomore and junior seasons and led the Hornets to the Class 7A state title game in 2018-19, but fell to former Hogs star big man Jaylin Wiliams and Fort Smith Northside.

He spent the 2019-20 season as the starting point guard at the prestigious Oak Hill (Va.) Academy and was the starting point guard on a team ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation in some prep polls.

He chose Arkansas, but his two years there were forgettable. The 6-foot, 180-pounder battled injuries as a freshman, playing in just 11 games in 2020-21. He totaled 15 points and 3 assists and a steal in his collegiate debut against Mississippi Valley State. That ended up being his best game as a Hog.

A healthy Robinson played in 18 games as a sophomore, averaging 1.9 points and 1.3  assists. He made the decision to transfer hoping for a fresh start.

“Me leaving Arkansas was looking for a better position and to have an opportunity to be on the floor and to develop,” Robinson said. “I wanted more playing time and opportunity.”

That desire led him to Texas A&M. However, he didn’t get much more playing time in College Station, either. Last season, he appeared in 18 games while starting twice. He averaged 1.8 points in 5.6 minutes per game and shot 64.7% from the charity stripe and 47.6% from the field.

Robinson Finds a Home with Little Rock Basketball

So again, KK Robinson was dissatisfied following the season and already contemplating his options when tragedy struck. On March 31, a large tornado plowed through Little Rock and the Robinson family was affected. That was the first step in him returning home to continue the next chapter of his collegiate basketball career. Little Rock made the move official in June.

“I wanted more playing time and (after the tornado), I wanted to be closer to family,” he said.

For sure, he’s enjoyed being able to watch his younger brother, Kellen, star at Bryant High. Kellen is just one of KK’s four brothers.

“They turn me up a lot after big shots,” KK Robinson told THV11. “I hear them in the crowd. It’s always good to have a familiar face in the crowd while playing the game I love.”

There have been many more big shots this season since Robinson is getting a lot more playing time and making the most of it. He has started all 25 games in which he has played for Little Rock and is averaging 33.3 minutes per contest. The first-team All-OVC selection is averaging 15.8 points (leading the team) and 5.5 rebounds. He has also dished 4.3 assists per contest, which ranks third in the OVC.

He’s seeing the three years of SEC experience finally paying off.

“The level of competition you see in practice every day and the workouts helps,” he said. “That has prepared me for this year. Those three years have translated to improvement now.”

Former Razorbacks at Little Rock

Little Rock head coach Darrell Walker, a former Arkansas basketball star, NBA journeyman and NBA head coach, upgraded his roster with KK Robinson and another former Hog, Makhel Mitchell, whose identical twin brother Makhi Mitchell has been an improved force with Arkansas as of late.

Compared to last season, Makhel Mitchell has upped his averages from 3.6 to 9.7 points, 1.5 to 2.4 blocks, 0.3 to 2.4 assists and 3.2 to 6.0 rebounds.

“I didn’t know (Mitchell), but I met him when he came on a visit,” Robinson said. “He has been huge for us inside. He knows what it takes being in the SEC and has good experience.

“When we went on the trip to Italy this summer, I knew we could be a good team. We have had some guys come, and we have all come together to have success. We just need to keep it going.”

Robinson said another part of his individual and team success has come from Walker, who was the OVC Coach of the Year.

“He stresses that we be professionals,” Robinson said. “He said after practice, we either need to be getting up more shots or taking care of our bodies in the training room. That’s what pros do. I have learned a lot from him, and he has really helped me develop.”

Potential Arkansas Representative in NCAA Tournament

To make the NCAA Tournament, the Trojans need to first win the OVC Tournament. On Friday at 7 p.m. CT, Little Rock begins that quest by playing the winner of Tennessee State-Western Illinois for a trip to the OVC finals. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

“We are really excited, it’s like a new season – everyone is 0-0,” said Robinson, whose team got a two-round bye. “It is a great opportunity for us to make the NCAA Tournament. We are taking it one game at a time.”

Robinson doesn’t want to look ahead, but he is optimistic his team, which would most likely be a 15 or 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, could match up with one of college basketball’s heavyweights.

“We go into every game with a chip on our shoulder,” Robinson said. “There is always a mid-major team that knocks off a Power 5 team. We have been preparing all year for an opportunity like this. We are ready.”

In 2017, UALR guard Josh Hagins’ late-game heroics pushed the Trojans to an upset of Purdue. They were the only team from the state of Arkansas in the tournament, which put the spotlight solely on them and gained the program, which was coached by current Ole Miss coach Chris Beard, support in the city and beyond.

Barring a major, miraculous run by Arkansas through five rounds at the SEC Tournament, Little Rock could be the sole representative … again.

“Going to the NCAA Tournament is big, period,” Robinson said. “(The prospect of) being the only team from Arkansas in the tournament is great because it gives our program a lot of attention and recognition. More people will see how good our team is as long we keep handling our business.”

With so much excitement and success this year, it has been hard to look to next year for Robinson. With all of the NCAA eligibility rules adapted for COVID and the transfer portal, it can be confusing on just how much eligibility a player has.

At least one college basketballer has managed to play as many as eight(!) seasons after different hardship waivers, but Robinson “thinks” he has one more year. He doesn’t know exactly what he will do except that his beloved sport is still in his future.

“I am not against (playing more college basketball),” he said. “I just want to keep playing basketball. I hope it works out.”

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More coverage of Arkansas basketball and the transfer portal from BoAS… 

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