After most of Iowa’s stay-at-home restrictions ended last Friday, Liam Robbins rushed to a local sports complex in his hometown of Davenport to start working on his game.
The 7-foot transfer from Drake knows the Gophers will be counting on him to fill the role of departed All-America center Daniel Oturu — if Robbins is eligible.
“For me, I’m really lucky because Iowa started to reopen gyms,” Robbins said via phone Wednesday. “So, the past week I’ve been able to get back into the gym, which is really big just to have a regulation hoop and court to shoot on.”
Robbins is preparing himself. Whether he’ll get that opportunity to be Minnesota’s starting center next season is out of his control.
On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Council maintained its earlier stance not to pass a one-time transfer rule for immediate eligibility. Robbins and other non-graduate transfers have to sit out the 2020-21 season, unless they have waivers granted to play right away.
“To be eligible and help fill the role they might need me to fill,” Robbins said, “it would be a special opportunity for me.”
Gophers coach Richard Pitino remains highly optimistic about the waiver request for Robbins. Pitino also knows the NCAA can be unpredictable with waivers. Pittsburgh transfer Marcus Carr had his denied two years ago.
“[Robbins] is a guy we are hopefully going to have eligible next year,” Pitino said, “I think we would have one of the best bigs in the league, if not the country.”
Pitino was banking on another sit-out transfer besides Robbins to be able to play immediately. Rice transfer Drew Peterson committed to the U earlier this month before backing out to sign with Southern Cal.
The Gophers, who have two open scholarships, are a finalist for East Tennessee State transfer Bo Hodges. Utah’s Both Gach, an Austin, Minn., product, also was contacted by the Gophers after entering the transfer portal this week. He’ll seek a waiver as well.
When Robbins hit the transfer portal in early April, there were more than 25 schools interested in him, including blue-bloods Duke and Kentucky. He came a long way from the near-300-pound high school senior who had no Division I offers, not even from his uncle Ed Conroy, a Minnesota assistant.
Now 70 pounds lighter, Robbins oozes potential. He tripled his scoring (14.1) and doubled his rebounding (7.1) averages last season from his freshman year. An All-Missouri Valley League pick, he broke a school record with 99 blocks, ranking fifth nationally with 2.9 per game.
Watching a recent episode of “The Last Dance” documentary, Robbins recalled his own version of Michael Jordan’s flu game. Battling stomach flu, Robbins had 20 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks in a three-point win vs. Loyola Chicago in January.
“I was so sick,” said Robbins, who like Jordan had eaten bad pizza the night before. “I went to the hospital and had IVs in me all day. Doctors said I probably shouldn’t play, but I had to tough it out.”
That toughness and his rapid development is why Robbins feels he’ll be ready for the Big Ten.
“Last year was the first chance I got to play 20-plus minutes,” Robbins said. “So, I have a lot of confidence instilled in me and belief in myself. With the work I put in, I saw success. A lot of that goes to my teammates and people who helped me along the way.”
Robbins didn’t know what the transfer process would be like when he committed to the Gophers a day after he announced he was transferring last month.
“When I hit the portal, people asked me, ‘You know you might have to sit a year,’ ” Robbins said. “I understood that was a strong possibility because I didn’t know how the NCAA was going to vote.
‘‘But I also understood there was a good chance I could get a waiver. So, I’m just mentally preparing myself for both, remaining optimistic I will get a waiver.”