- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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Her favorite player is Horace Grant. She named her son Jordan.
But watching Tulsa junior Jillian Robbins on the court invokes images of yet another former Chicago Bulls player.
Like Dennis Rodman, Robbins is a remarkable rebounder, often making it look effortless because she so effectively reads how the ball caroms off the rim. And just like the Worm, she takes immense pride in her glass work.
"My dad always told me that you can have good and bad shooting days," Robbins said. "But you can always rebound."
The 6-foot-1 forward has more than lived up to that statement this season, ranking as the nation's top rebounder in seven of the last eight weeks. Robbins, who has grabbed at least 15 boards in 10 games for Tulsa (16-4, 7-2), led the country with 13 consecutive double-doubles until the streak recently ended Jan. 27. Since, Oklahoma freshman phenom Courtney Paris has taken over the mark with an NCAA-best streak of 14 straight double-doubles, and Paris' 14.7 rebounds per game just edges Robbins' 14.2 average as the nation's best.
Still, while everyone has heard of Paris, who landed on the midseason top-20 Wooden Award list this week, Robbins remains under the radar, at least on the national level. But she has easily won the respect of those who have faced her.
"Jillian is the best offensive rebounder in the nation," Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke has said. Budke's team lost to Tulsa in double overtime on Dec. 3.
Unlike Rodman, however, Robbins is well-rounded offensively. She has tallied at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in two games, something accomplished by only one other Division I woman so far this season. Robbins, who has reached double figures in every game, is averaging 18.8 points and is just three points shy of becoming Tulsa's all-time scoring leader, a record she'll likely break Monday in the Golden Hurricane's next game, against Central Florida.
Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale says Robbins has come a long way.
"Jillian was so raw [as a freshman] and had so much to learn," said Coale, whose Sooners are ranked 13th in the nation. "She has it all figured out now, and she has confidence to go with it. She's a handful. She's a special player."
Robbins, who needs just two blocks to become Tulsa's career leader in that category, as well, is shooting 56.7 percent from the field (64.6 percent in conference games) and also is averaging 2.6 blocks -- she spent two weeks as the country's top shot blocker. Plus, she averages 2.7 steals and 1.6 assists. Robbins' 22 rebounds against Arkansas on Dec. 1 ranks tied for the fourth-best single-game performance this season.
The numbers speak for themselves, but watching Robbins in person leads to an even greater appreciation of her skills. When you see her stat line, you might envision a chiseled, muscular body like Cheryl Ford's. But whereas the Detroit Shock star is a power rebounder, Robbins' game revolves more around finesse.
But don't let her slight build and lankiness deceive you. She's tough, always goes at full speed, and gets up and down the floor with ease. Always hustling, Robbins is especially relentless in tracking down loose balls, which gives her team countless extra possessions. She's a great defender whose team feeds off her every move. And she can do some amazing stuff in the air with the ball. In one fluid motion, Robbins goes up for the rebound, catches the ball, spins and hits the shot in the lane.
But what really sets Robbins apart is her fresh attitude and commitment -- both to basketball and to a 16-month-old son she's raising by herself.
"My greatest accomplishment is that we're making it work, being a single mother, a basketball player and full-time student," she said. "I wasn't going to mess up and not finish school."
Robbins, who's majoring in psychology with a minor in marketing, is quick to admit the pregnancy was unplanned, but her decision to remain at Tulsa was made from the heart. Two decades ago, her mom, Beverly Burroughs, dropped out of college when she found out she was pregnant with Robbins. Now, Burroughs and Robbins' new stepfather provide a lot of help and support, and Robbins remains friends with Jordan's father, who's also a student at Tulsa. Juggling everything can be hard, "but I get tons of help," Robbins said.
In another year, after her final collegiate season, Robbins hopes to play in the WNBA. Like Rebekkah Brunson, Sacramento's defensive and rebounding specialist, there's a place for Robbins in the league. And she knows her rebounding could be the key.
Just like it was for Horace Grant.
"He just rebounded, that's all he did," Robbins said of her favorite player. "That was his job, and he did it."
Right now, Robbins might have more than one job. But she's excelling at all of them.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.
Favorite player? Horace Grant. Son's name? Jordan. But Tulsa's Jillian Robbins invokes images of Rodman.