Bringing His Best–
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s Mentality
It was at a steakhouse in Chicago where Jeremiah Robinson-Earl heard his name called in the 2021 NBA draft. The Oklahoma City Thunder traded its 34th and 36th pick to move up to 32 in order to select the 6-foot-9 forward out of Villanova. From that moment, Robinson-Earl was ready to work, determined to prove to the organization that they made the right choice in moving up to select him.
“I was excited,” said Robinson-Earl. “Knowing that a team traded up to get me and knowing that they really wanted me means a lot. I was ready to give it all back to them and for them to know that it was worth doing all that.”
Just 10 days following that surreal night in Chicago, Robinson-Earl would have the opportunity to prove his worth as he and his fellow Thunder draft picks travelled to Las Vegas to compete in the NBA Summer League. However, as Robinson-Earl laced up his shoes and donned the blue Thunder uniform for the first time, his goal of proving his worth didn’t include numbers on a stat sheet. Instead, the Villanova standout set his sights on simply bringing out the best in himself and his teammates through his work ethic and mentality.
“I just want to be the best version of myself as I can,” said Robinson-Earl following his Summer League debut. “Just go out there and compete at a high level and just make sure I give it my all every single game.”
It’s a mentality he cultivated during his two-year stint at Villanova under longtime head coach Jay Wright. Doing the little things, sacrificing yourself for the good of the team, rebounding, and disciplined defensive execution were all priorities for Wildcats playing under Coach Wright and Robinson-Earl took on that responsibility with gusto. He prided himself on defensive rebounding and hard work. After earning Big East Freshman of the Year honors, the Kansas City native was named co-Big East Player of the Year while leading his team in scoring and rebounding after his sophomore season.
“Coach Wright really talks about giving yourself up for the team because if you're worried about the team and wanting the best for the team, it also makes you look really good,” said Robinson-Earl. “Just focusing on those habits and those details that lead to team successes is just really important for Coach Wright.”
Those lessons from Villanova’s high-level program shined through during his pre-draft workout with the Thunder. It was something that Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti tabbed early on about Robinson-Earl – his toughness, physicality and mind for the game flagged him as a solid fit with the organization. During the team’s introductory press conference following the draft Presti noted that each of the Thunder’s four draft picks were selected not just because of who they are as players, but also as people.
That notion resonated deeply with Robinson-Earl who not only credited Coach Wright for his mentality and character, but also his family. His father, Lester Earl was a legendary high school player and McDonalds All-American at Kansas before playing professionally in Spain. His mother, Katie Robinson also played basketball overseas and has been with her son every step of the way in his basketball journey, making sacrifices to help him achieve his biggest dreams of playing in the NBA.
“It means a lot. It gives a lot of credit to my mom, the people around me that kind of helped me become who I am today and the young man I am,” said Robinson-Earl. “I feel like for [Presti] to want me to be a part of this organization and be a part of a bunch of great young men and also other men that have helped those on the team is a great opportunity and gives a lot of credit to the people around me.”
Standing at 6-foot-9 with a 230-pound frame, being the best version of himself meant not only demonstrating his hard work ethic and character, but also putting his versatility on display on both ends of the floor. During the Thunder’s first Summer League game against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday, Robinson-Earl did just that as he lined up as the starting center alongside returners Théo Maledon, Jaylen Hoard and fellow rookies Tre Mann and Josh Giddey.
"Just go out there and compete at a high level and make sure I give it my all every single game."
Robinson-Earl found an early connection with Maledon on the offensive end. His ability to set solid screens opened up options on pick and pops for not only the Thunder’s French point guard who finished with a team-high 15 points, but also for Robinson-Earl who benefitted from five of Maledon’s 11 assists of the night. His made baskets came from multiple spots on the floor: behind the arc, at the basket and off the dribble on the way to 14 points and 6-of-12 shooting from the field.
In one highlight-worthy example, after setting a high ball screen at the top of the key for Maledon, Robinson-Earl spaced out behind the 3-point line as two Pistons defenders converged on the point guard in the lane. With a swift pass from Maledon back out top, the wide-open Robinson-Earl now had the ability to play against a closeout against the much smaller Killian Hayes. Robinson-Earl gave a brief head fake before putting the ball on the floor to get past the Pistons’ point guard, muscling his way through the desperate reaching arms of help defenders and gently laying the ball up off of the glass uncontested.
Defensively, Robinson-Earl battled through early fouls in the first quarter before settling into his coverages. His IQ and solid footwork culminated into two steals and a massive block in the third quarter by the end of the night. With one game under his belt, Robinson-Earl now looks forward to putting in the work and building upon that experience as Summer League continues.
While he’s taken many lessons from his family and Coach Wright at Villanova, perhaps the biggest piece of advice Robinson-Earl received heading into his opportunity with the Thunder is to savor every moment. There’s still much work to be done for the 20-year-old, but one thing is for sure – whether he’s at a steakhouse in the Midwest or under the bright lights of an NBA stage in Nevada, Robinson-Earl is not only working to make the most out of every single opportunity, but he’s also embracing them.
“It’s cool just to be able to compete out there, to live out my dreams of being in the NBA,” said Robinson-Earl. “The work is only just beginning, but it’s fun. I love competing against the best guys in the world so it’s just a lot of fun.”