Then, while the entire Kansas team and coaching staff watched in teary-eyed silence, 7-year-old Jayla Robinson placed a stuffed toy Jayhawk next to her mother.
About 200 mourners were in the Antioch Baptist Church in snowy Washington, D.C. on Thursday for services for Lisa Robinson, who died unexpectedly of an apparent heart attack at age 43 and triggered a family crisis which has touched basketball fans around the country.
Thomas found out his mother had died when Jayla called him about 11 p.m. Friday. In a three-week span, Jayla and Thomas, a sophomore forward for the sixth-ranked Jayhawks, lost their grandmother, grandfather and mother.
Lisa Robinson was a single mother. Kansas officials said the horrific series of losses left Thomas and Jayla with almost no family they have ever been close to except each other.
"It was a beautiful service," Kansas coach Bill Self said after the university plane landed in Topeka. "There were a lot of people who showed up. You could tell she was definitely loved and had a lot of friends."
In the first few days after Lisa's death, Kansas officials had thought Lisa was 37 and Jayla was 9.
"We really didn't get a chance to visit with Jayla at all," Self said. "But she read a letter to her mother that she had written which was very moving. She seems like she's doing OK. She had a lot of people around her that obviously care about her. Thomas is doing about as well as he possibly can. He's crushed, which you would expect him to be. Certainly the service was uplifting though, [it] also brought some laughter to everybody, too, which I think was good."
Self said Thomas, Jayla and Jamah Robinson, their older half-brother, each put a white rose in the casket. Self said Jayla's father, who did not live with Jayla and Lisa, was at the service as well.
"He has been there during this whole deal," Self said. "I don't know exactly the relationship Lisa and he had, but he was definitely there to help comfort Jayla."
Self said Thomas Robinson would return to Lawrence on Friday, but he was not sure whether the promising 19-year-old forward would play Saturday when the Jayhawks host Kansas State.
With the permission of the NCAA, the school has set up the Lisa Robinson Scholarship Fund to raise money for Jayla's education. Whether she remains in Washington or joins her brother in Lawrence is still to be decided. A lawyer in Washington is helping Thomas sort out those details.
Kansas fans, among the most loyal in the country, have responded with an outpouring of sympathy and support for Thomas and his little sister. There have even been inquires from people offering to adopt Jayla.
"We all want what's best for Thomas and obviously for his little sister," Self said. "But she has a father and some family back home. Thomas obviously, as the big brother, would love to have her here. But that's a family decision. And they're going to have to decide what's best for Jayla."
The service was almost canceled because the snow storm on the East Coast had knocked out electricity in the area around the church. But after a delay, it went forward.
Self confirmed the Jayhawks had also been struck with another tragedy. The godson of the mother of Kansas guard Josh Selby was killed Saturday in Baltimore. Selby had planned to stay on the East Coast and attend the service on Friday.
"He went back with full intention, and it was our full intention, that he was going to stay and go to the service tomorrow," Self said. "But with the weather situation and at the request of his family, they thought it was in his best interest not to go and come back with the team."
When they landed Thursday evening, the team hurried to Allen Fieldhouse for a practice.
"We need to," Self said. "We took yesterday off to travel. We're going to have a workout to keep the blood flowing. Then hopefully tonight for the first time in a long time we'll get a good night's rest. And then hit the ground running tomorrow because we've got a lot to do to get ready for a real good K-State team on Saturday."