Richard Pitino had a lot to sell Liam Robbins. It surely didn’t hurt to say he could replace Gophers standout center Daniel Oturu, but the biggest factor was joining family.
A day after announcing his transfer from Drake after two seasons, the 7-foot, 240-pound Robbins said Sunday night that he would join the Gophers. The whole idea in finding another school was to test himself at the high-major level. Minnesota’s in the Big Ten. Check.
But in addition, Robbins felt at home with his uncle Ed Conroy on the Gophers staff as Pitino’s longest-tenured assistant coach. Conroy’s son, Hunt, is a walk-on guard on the team.
The Davenport, Iowa, native could be Pitino’s new starting center, if he is able to play immediately. Robbins plans on filing a waiver to the NCAA to be eligible next season.
“I originally started this process because I wanted to challenge myself against tougher competition and see what my options were after putting my name into the portal,” Robbins told the Star Tribune on Sunday. “I got contacted by 25 schools, but after talking with Pitino extensively last night and my uncle, this was the best place to challenge myself and also be surrounded by family. With the pandemic going on, to be surrounded by family was very important to me.”
Replacing Oturu was the top priority in spring recruiting for the Gophers once the third-team All-America selection declared last month for the NBA draft. The 6-10 sophomore averaged 20 points, 11 rebounds and 2.5 blocks this season.
“Oturu was a fantastic player,” Robbins said. “Hopefully, I can replicate that and make Gophers fans proud and help Minnesota win some games.”
Robbins had a breakout sophomore season as well. His scoring (4.1 to 14.1), rebounding (2.7 to 7.1) and blocks (1.1 to 2.9) improved significantly from his freshman year in Des Moines. He ranked fifth in the nation and set a Drake record with 99 blocks this season.
“I pride myself on being a pretty good defensive player,” he said. “Hopefully, I can provide that support and on the offensive end try to help them.”
The NCAA’s current transfer rules have Robbins being able to use his two years of eligibility after sitting out the 2020-21 season. The one-time transfer rule for immediate eligibility could be voted on by the NCAA this summer, but it’s unclear whether that would be implemented for next season.
“I hope the one-time transfer waiver goes through,” Robbins said. “But one of the reasons I’m doing this is to play for Pitino but be surrounded by family. Hopefully it works in my favor.”
Robbins’ mother, Bridget, is the younger sister of Ed Conroy, who joined the Gophers staff in 2016. Conroy is from the same hometown and attended the same high school as Robbins, who had no scholarship offers as a senior at Assumption High School in Davenport in 2017.
He spent a year attending Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel-Aire, Kan., and the once-300-pound Robbins’ confidence soared after he lost 70 pounds and was offered by Drake.
His changes physically from high school were night and day. Robbins, who now has NBA potential, felt like being able to make an impact with the Gophers was the next step.
“They have a lot of great players coming back,” he said, “so I’m going to try to help fit in where I can.”