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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Jayhawks doing their best to cope with grief off the court


BOULDER, Colo. -- Marcus Morris walked out of the Kansas locker room, down the hall, settled in next to a group of reporters, then whispered a few words into the phone stuck to his ear.

"Hold on, T-Rob," Morris said. "Let me do this interview and call you back."

T-Rob is Thomas Robinson.

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He's the one Jayhawk who wasn't here Tuesday taking part in KU's 82-78 win over Colorado. He was instead back home in Washington D.C. biding his time between funerals. He buried his grandmother three weeks ago, buried his grandfather Tuesday, and he'll now bury his 37-year-old mother, Lisa Robinson, on Thursday. She died of an apparent heart attack last Friday night. Thomas' little sister, a second-grader named Jayla, was the person who called Thomas to deliver the news because there was, quite simply, nobody else to make the call.

"It was crazy," Morris said. "Me, Kieff [twin brother Markieff Morris] and T-Rob were all together, and he got a voicemail from his little sister. T-Rob checked the voicemail, and she was crying, and he said he couldn't call her back. He just said, 'I can't bear no more bad news.'"

Still, he called Jayla back.

He had to.

"And she told him their mother had died," Morris said. "He just broke down."

Robinson played against Texas less than 24 hours later but subsequently left the team to be with Jayla. The rest of the Jayhawks will join him Thursday in Washington D.C., and this sort of puts turnovers and missed shots in perspective, doesn't it?

"It's really sad," said KU guard Tyshawn Taylor. "He's only 19 years old."

And Jayla is only 9.

Thomas Robinson is in D.C. after his mother Lisa died at age 37. (AP)  
Thomas Robinson is in D.C. after his mother Lisa died at age 37. (AP)  
That's the truly heartbreaking aspect of this story. It's awful enough that a 19 year old is enduring these losses, but Robinson will be OK. His teammates insist he's strong, and sources close to the program believe he could, by the weekend, be back in Kansas, where he has structure and a family of basketball players to lean on and cry with. He'll mourn and hurt, sure. But ultimately, he'll be OK.

But what about Jayla?

She's a second-grader who just lost the only three adults she really knew besides Robinson -- "Thomas is all she knows," said Kansas coach Bill Self -- and Robinson is currently enrolled in school 1,150 miles away. As I processed this information I couldn't help but think of my son, who's also a second-grader. He's a sweetheart. But he can't hold it together if Pizza Hut forgets to put marinara in the box with his breadsticks. Ask him his biggest problem, and he'll tell you how he recently had trouble downloading a Playstation 3 game. He is in the same grade as Jayla but he's nothing like her, and I can't stand to think how he'd cope if he was suddenly surrounded by relative strangers because every adult close to him had suddenly died.

Again, it's just heartbreaking.

That's what Jayla is dealing with now.

"I've got a little sister her age," Taylor said, at which point I asked if he could imagine his little sister going through what Robison's little sister is going through. "I think that would be tough, man. Being that young, I'm sure it's real hard. I'm sure she just wants her brother around."

Which is why the NCAA might soon have an interesting case on its hands.

There are legal issues to resolve, and nothing is certain. But pretty much everybody around the KU program seems to believe the best thing for Thomas and Jayla is for Thomas and Jayla to be together in Kansas.

Nobody wanted to talk specifics on the record out of respect for the family, but it's already clear there are no shortage of people -- KU coaches, KU boosters, etc., -- willing to, with the proper blessings, become Jayla's legal guardian and move her close to her brother. That's an option being discussed, but there are hurdles that must first be cleared because a KU coach or booster financially assisting a relative of a KU student-athlete would technically be a violation of NCAA rules.

The NCAA could make an exception in this unusual and tragic case, and it should be noted that the governing body has already made multiple exceptions on Robinson's behalf. But the biggest questions going forward -- What will happen with Jayla? Will the NCAA allow representatives of KU's athletics interest to assist her financially? -- remain unresolved.

"We understand they have rules, but [the NCAA is] trying to make as many allowances within the rules as they can," Self said. "With this situation and as much hardship as there is, I think the NCAA is looking out for the student-athlete first. I can't say anything remotely negative at all about how this has been handled by them."

For Jayla's sake, let's hope that statement remains true.

In the meantime, if you pray, pray for her.

She's only 9 years old.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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