Liam Robbins finds a home on West End
Everyone knows Liam Robbins transferred to Vanderbilt, but how many truly know his journey to Nashville?
December 9, 2022
Six years, five schools. Liam Robbins has seen his fair share of the United States through his basketball journey.
The 7-footer had changed locations for all but one year prior to coming to Vanderbilt, but before he could embark on this ever-changing college basketball career, Robbins had to do some transforming.
“I was a late bloomer, and I grew like eight inches in my junior and senior year [of high school]. So, I had a lot of weight on me, and I was pretty uncoordinated due to the massive growth spurt,” Robbins told The Hustler. “I didn’t really get any playing time my freshman, sophomore, even junior year. I didn’t really see playing time until my senior year.”
With just a year of starting experience under his belt and still learning how to play with his newfound height, Robbins needed an extra year of high school. Ideally, somewhere that he could get seen by college coaches across the country. So, after four years at Assumption High School in Davenport, Iowa, Robbins decided to travel across the midwest and plant a pin at Sunrise Christian Academy in 2017. Vanderbilt fans’ ears might be ringing already, as Robbins isn’t the only current Commodore the school has produced: Junior Tyrin Lawrence attended Sunrise two years after Robbins made his mark.
Aspiring college basketball players often take a post-graduate year at the academy because of its reputation in the high school basketball world. Despite being in the remote suburb of Bel Aire, Kansas—essentially the middle of nowhere—it is nationally recognized as one of the premier talent producers in the country.
At Sunrise Christian Academy, Robbins evolved into a full-fledged center who now received heightened interest from colleges, originally deciding on Western Illinois before de-commiting in favor of Drake.
“I decided [Western Illinois] wasn’t really a good fit. So, I de-committed and played in some open gyms that coach [Darian] DeVries at Drake was having. They offered me a scholarship, and that [location] was pretty close to home,” Robbins said. “It was in MVC [Missouri Valley Conference] which was a conference I really wanted to play in, so I ended up just deciding to go there.”
Drake, a 5,000-person university in Des Moines, Iowa, was Robbins’s third stop on his tour of the Great Plains.
During Robbins’s freshman year, he contributed as a role player on the team’s way to a regular season conference championship. However, once he secured a starting role his sophomore year, Robbins exploded onto the scene, capturing All-MVC Second Team, MVC All-Defensive Team and MVC Most Improved honors. Stat-wise, Robbins posted 14.1 points per game and a school record of 99 blocks on the season. That block total was also good for the third most in MVC single-season history.
After this performance, Robbins had eyes for a bigger stage.
“I’d watch a lot of Big Ten basketball—I grew up a Wisconsin Badger fan—and I felt like I could compete with the Big Ten bigs and other bigs at Power Fives,” Robbins said. “My dream has always been to play in the NBA, and so I felt like I needed to move up to Power Five basketball to prove I could play with these bigger guys.”
Robbins put his name into the transfer portal to see what was out there. Luckily, he made a connection pretty quickly. His uncle, Ed Conroy, was a coach at the University of Minnesota at the time. Robbins felt that the fit was right, and he initiated the transfer.
Just like that, it seemed that Robbins had found a home up north. He was playing Big Ten basketball and had a strong relationship with both the players on the team and the coaching staff around him. Robbins excelled during his sophomore year, averaging 11.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, good enough for second and first on the team, respectively. Similar to his time at Drake, Robbins was a monster shot-blocker, racking up 62 on the season and finishing as the Big Ten’s leader in that category.
However, after injuries plagued the rest of the squad and the team underperformed, head coach Richard Pitino was fired, leaving Robbins looking for a new home—his fifth in six years. Robbins’s Uncle Ed first made the move to Vanderbilt, and the 7-footer, technically classified as a rising senior, would also decide on Nashville as his next home.
“I actually talked to [head coach Jerry] Stackhouse the first time I was in the portal. I really liked what he had to say, but Minnesota was just a really good fit at the time, especially because it was closer to home than Nashville was during the pandemic,” Robbins said. “I went on some zoom calls—talked to [Stackhouse], Coach Curry, Coach Fox, and it just seemed like the right fit for me.”
Once again, Robbins was ready to dominate the court. However, he would be sidelined before the regular season began due to a stress injury to his foot. The knock kept him out of the lineup for much of the season; he played only 15 of the team’s 36 matches.
Robbins described still feeling supported by Stackhouse and the Vanderbilt coaching team throughout his recovery.
“There was no rush on the process. The only thing he’d ever say to me is, ‘Just take your time. The most important thing is getting healthy and the basketball stuff—we’ll deal with later.’ I can’t be more appreciative of that,” Robbins said. “[Stackhouse] really cared about me as a person before anything else.”
Robbins came back late in the 2021 season and helped Vanderbilt make a deep run in the NIT. This stretch made Commodore fans all the more sad about Robbins’s earlier absence, as he suddenly added a new dimension to a fringe NCAA Tournament team that was in serious need of depth. Luckily, Robbins had an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 NCAA policies. The fifth-year senior decided to come back for another year of tutelage under Stackhouse.
“He [Stackhouse] played in the NBA for a long time—he scored 17,000 points. He understands everything we’re going through and everything we’re trying to accomplish. He’s accomplished it,” Robbins said. “I feel like I’ve gotten better as a basketball mind, not just as a player since I’ve gotten here.”
Already, Robbins has played an integral role in this year’s squad. He is averaging 12.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game while characteristically dominating the boards—Robbins has 21 blocks overall thus far, with the next highest on the team being Quentin Millora-Brown with 4.
Though Vanderbilt has had a rocky 5-4 start to the year, Robbins feels that the squad has a lot of potential moving forward.
“We have good chemistry, good trust, and you’re going to keep seeing that build as the year goes on,” Robbins said.
The battle-tested center is nearing the end of his college basketball career, and while this could lead to bigger and better things, Robbins is simply trying to enjoy the here and now.
“This is my last college basketball season. I’m really trying to enjoy it with my team and I want to win,” Robbins said. “I’m hoping that maybe we can hang a banner, something to make the fans of Vanderbilt proud and something I can remember with my teammates that’ll last a lifetime. So, that’s my only goal for the future right now.”
Robbins started at Assumption. Then, he took a year at Sunrise. Afterward, he committed and subsequently de-committed at Western Illinois in favor of Drake. There, he dominated so much that he decided to trade up to Minnesota, where things went awry in just a year. But, after a great deal of change, life has a funny way of working out: Robbins finally found a home at Vanderbilt. The perpetual traveler has settled down on West End.
Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be seven feet tall, Robbins filled me in on what we’re all missing out on.
“You hit your head a lot. You’ll find that a lot of places aren’t built for 7-footers. Then, clothes and shoes can be a little tough to find, but outside of that, it’s not too much different,” Robbins said. “You’ll get the occasional stare from someone in the supermarket—they’ll make some joke about you being able to reach the top shelf, which is a perk.”