Gelen Robinson’s bloodlines screamed for a future in basketball. But the person who knew best realized early on that wasn’t going to be the case.
“For one thing, he can’t play basketball,” his mother Shantelle Clay-Erving said with a laugh. “It’s probably the only sport he can’t play.”
Seems that despite being the son of Purdue hoops legend Glenn Robinson and the younger brother of current Michigan player Glenn Robinson III, young Gelen has an ugly jumper. It didn’t feel as natural as slamming an opposing running back into the ground or, later, a rival wrestler into the mat.
The youngest Robinson doesn’t disagree with any of those descriptions. The 6-1 Gelen, pronounced GEE-Lyn, acknowledges he stinks at basketball, but has signed to play football at Purdue and is nearing the end of a superb wrestling career. Robinson has won 98 consecutive matches and will go for a second consecutive state title at 220 pounds during this weekend’s state meet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for Lake Central High School. He also finished second in the state track meet last June in the discus and shot.
“Gelen has always been rough,” Clay-Erving said. “I was telling a lady at Purdue that when he was either in pre-school or kindergarten, I got a call from the school that he had popped his shoulder out. They were all worried and upset. He didn’t cry one tear. He’s always had a tolerance of pain.”
Clay-Erving and Glenn Robinson were high school sweethearts, but never married. He has lived in Atlanta for several years and they remained friends. Clay-Erving married another man six years ago. Robinson has stayed in touch with his family and provided financial support for his two sons.
“It’s been just a feeling of joy and fulfillment to go out and see them do what they enjoy to do,” Glenn Robinson said. “It doesn’t matter how high of a level they play or how far they go. I’m going to enjoy it just the same.”
Gelen Robinson is a throwback: A three-sport athlete when top high school athletes are increasingly urged to specialize in order to maximize their chances of earning a college scholarship. Even those that try usually take a few weeks off between seasons.
Not Robinson. Brett St. Germain, Gelen’s football coach, and Lake Central wrestling coach Ryan Alb noted that he was back in the wrestling room for practice less than 24 hours after the school’s football season ended last fall.
“I definitely wanted to be doing something all year,” Gelen said. “Just stay competing. I like my teammates and I like everyone around the wrestling team. All the guys, I’ve been around since middle school.”
It’s made for a lot of driving for Clay-Erving, who raised both of her sons in Lake County while Glenn was in the midst of an 11-year NBA career.
Because they played different sports, it meant rushing from one spot to another, whether it was getting Glenn III to AAU basketball or Gelen to summer football camps. Sunday morning, she and Gelen will leave their Indianapolis hotel after the state wrestling meet and drive to Ann Arbor, Mich., to see Glenn III and the Wolverines play Michigan State that afternoon.
“I don’t think he’s had one week off, ever,” Clay-Erving said. “I think he just likes staying busy and loves his sports.”
The Region has long been one of the strongest wrestling areas of the state, producing several multi-state champions. But Alb noted nearly all of them made wrestling their No. 1 sport. Robinson has a chance to become one even though he seldom competed in freestyle tournaments during the spring and summer. His focus was on track and football drills.
“His athletic ability, just being agile and nimble on his feet and just being to move like he’s 150 pounds as opposed to 220 pounds, is such an advantage,” Alb said. “His skill set almost doubles or triples compares to what others can do.”
At 6-1, Robinson is at an ideal height for a wrestler, Alb said. That would not have been the case if he had grown to his father’s 6-7.
“He would be and could be a dominant force as a heavyweight,” Alb said. “You put more muscle on the kid, you get his movements to be more fluid, clean up his technique a little bit, he would be a star for a Division I wrestling program.”
But the wrestling career ends this weekend. Gelen plans to compete in track this spring and then its football on a full-time basis. He is expected to move to outside linebacker at Purdue.
He wants to determine his own path and said that his father’s legacy played little role in deciding to go there. Robinson said his comfort level with Purdue coach Darrell Hazell and his staff was a major factor in the decision. He’s excited about the chance to play right away for a Purdue team that went 1-11 last season.
Yet, he asked to wear No. 13 – the number his father wore for the school’s basketball team when he was the national player of the year in 1994. The Purdue coaches said yes.
“It’s like a reincarnation,” Glenn Robinson said. “It’s me all over again. I feel like I’m watching myself out there. It’s pretty neat for him to come to Purdue and he didn’t just come here, he earned a scholarship. For him to go to my school, that makes it a lot more special.
“As far as the number, I’m just waiting to get my (Purdue football) jersey.”
Mom suspects dad’s history at Purdue was a bigger reason than her son let on. Gelen accompanied Glenn to Mackey Arena when Purdue honored him with Glenn Robinson Bobblehead Night on Thursday.
“I do think that had a lot to do with it,” Clay-Erving said. “I think his No. 1 choice was to follow in his dad’s footsteps. It didn’t take him long to make that decision.”
Because of their dad’s legacy, the two boys have always been in the spotlight. That’s never been a problem for Gelen, St. Germain said.
“Some kids when they receive accolades at that age, they don’t know how to handle it,” St. Germain said. “They need to get knocked down a peg. He’s not like that at all. That all comes back to mom.”
Glenn Robinson added: “He works very hard. He goes a lot harder than I did at his age and on that level. He’s just a hard worker in addition to God-given talent. When you put that together, it can be scary.”