BRYANT Bryant High School’s football team won the program’s first state title last fall. Junior point guard Khalen Robinson used the historic win as motivation to ensure that the football team didn’t entirely overshadow the basketball program.
A few months later, Robinson helped Bryant win its first conference basketball championship in 30 years, as well as a state-championship-game berth for the first time since 1981.
For his efforts, Robinson earned the 2019 Tri-Lakes Edition Boys Basketball Player of the Year honors.
“It was just coming out every day and playing and practicing hard and not taking anyone for granted,” Robinson said. “We opened everybody’s eyes, and now they know we are a basketball school and not just football.”
Robinson earned all-state honors by averaging 18 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals per game.
“The thing about Khalen is he is so talented and is such a good teammate and has grown into a leader,” Bryant coach Mike Abrahamson said. “He is a great kid.”
Robinson, who won a state championship at Episcopal Collegiate as a freshman, made a seamless transition to floor leader of the Bryant team his sophomore year. Still, he was conscious of his upperclassmen teammates.
Last winter, he put his stamp on this team and, at times, carried them.
After a 3-3 start, the Hornets caught fire in the 6A-Central Conference season. In the first half of the conference slate, Bryant played then-No. 1 North Little Rock and then-No. 2 Conway in back-to-back games. The Hornets made a statement with the sweep, fueled by a combined 56 points from Robinson. In the Conway game, he hit a 3-pointer to tie the game and a layup to secure the win. Robinson scored more than 50 points in the first two state-tournament games, including 33 in a semifinal win against Bentonville.
“The game speeds up for everyone else, but for Khalen, it slows down,” Abrahamson said. “He is a different kind of player.”
Bryant matched up with conference rival Fort Smith Northside in the 6A state-championship game. The Hornets owned a 2-1 advantage in the regular season, but a disastrous first half proved to be too much to overcome as the Grizzlies evened the season series and won the title with a 44-41 victory.
After the disappointing late-afternoon title game, Robinson went back to the gym for the rest of the night.
“I was so mad; that was a way of letting out my anger,” he said.
That late-night workout was the beginning of a rigorous offseason regimen that includes four-a-day sessions with an emphasis on running to improve conditioning. In addition to the workouts, he also began playing summer basketball with Dallas-based Pro Skills Elite, a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League program. Robinson flies to tournaments every Friday after school.
Even though the season ended not even two months ago, Abrahamson says he can already see improvement in Robinson’s game.
“What I see so far this offseason is that he is playing with a fire in his belly,” Abrahamson said.
Robinson said the state-title-game loss is a constant reminder of how much work he needs to do to bring the Hornets back to Hot Springs next season.
“I just use [the loss] as a way to motivate me to work hard,” he said. “When I am tired and don’t think I can do one more set, I think about the missed shot or the defensive stop we didn’t get. I felt like I let a lot of people down. I am working even harder to bring them a championship. That’s really why I do it — for them.”
Robinson, who owns a 3.4 grade-point average, is also working hard to prove to Power 5 NCAA Division I programs that he belongs. Mid-major programs Southern Miss, Oral Roberts and Arkansas State have offered. Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Louisiana Tech, Missouri State and Abilene Christian have shown interest.
“Whoever gets him in college is going to get a great player, and the others will have to answer to why they didn’t offer him,” Abrahamson said.
Robinson politely shrugged off recruiting questions.
“I am not focused on that right now,” he said. “I hope to get as many offers as I can and be ready to play on the next level.”
He did add that playing on a Pro Skills Elite team that includes highly recruited players such as Duncanville, Texas, product Micah Peavy should help his own stock by giving him a chance to showcase his skills in front of big-time college coaches.
Regardless of where he decides to continue his career, Robinson knows he has one more year to play in Bryant and further its reputation as a basketball town.
“He tells me, ‘Coach, I am not just playing for myself, but I am playing for my family, the future of our team and to get everyone else more recruiting recognition,’” Abrahamson said. “He is awesome.”