Behind The Scenes

Preview College GameDay feature on Kansas hoops star Thomas Robinson

Within the past year, Thomas Robinson has endured the types of losses that would overwhelm most people.

The Kansas junior forward lost his 43-year-old mother Lisa Robinson to a sudden death on Jan. 21, 2011. Just weeks before, her mother and father died.

The horrific series of losses left Robinson, then 19, and his then 7-year-old sister Jayla seemingly alone.

In November, ESPN’s Tom Friend profiled Robinson for ESPN The Magazine and talked about the story on Front Row.

This Saturday on ESPN’s College GameDay Covered by State Farm (10 a.m., ESPNU; 11 a.m. & 8 p.m. ET, ESPN), Robinson’s story is told in a video feature that Friend narrated and Jonathan Sweet produced. It is expected to air in the 11 a.m.-hour of College GameDay on ESPN.

Above, see another exclusive excerpt from the 5-minute, 44-second piece.

Below, read Sweet’s thoughts on the feature.

FR: What challenges did you face in producing this feature?
As with most features, the biggest challenge is usually getting the access you need to tell the story. Tom Friend did an amazing job convincing Kansas and Thomas Robinson to tell his story. He also did an excellent job interviewing him. Biggest hurdle was probably getting access to [Robinson’s] little sister, Jayla. She’s extremely young, so it’s always a sensitive matter when you’re trying to film someone of that age. I had to gamble a little bit by taking a camera with me to Madison Square Garden for the Kansas versus Kentucky game back in November. I’d heard from a source that his sister would be there watching the game. I then spoke with Angel Morris, a close friend of Robinson’s, who said it’d be OK to film him and Jayla embracing after the game.

FR: How was Robinson to work with, considering the sensitive subject matter?
He’s a really nice kid. Very humble. Besides the interview, he worked with me on two posing shoots: one inside the Kansas basketball arena and one in their weight room. That really helped us in post edit so we didn’t have to rely on family photos as much. It gave us some more visual options.

FR:Tom mentioned how much of a role KU’s director of basketball operations Barry Hinson plays in Robinson’s life. How was Hinson to work with?
Hinson was very passionate about Robinson’s story and a very emotional guy.

FR: How much has changed from the time you released the trailer in November to the finished feature?
: We got more access with Jayla down in Washington, D.C. where she lives with her father. This was pretty important, because a portion of Robinson’s story is about how he wanted to take Jayla to Kansas with him after their mother passed away.

FR: What have been among your favorite projects to work on at ESPN?
Probably a couple pieces [ESPN reporter] Colleen Dominguez and I worked on this year. Back in September we did a story on Arizona Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett and how he’s still searching for his mother’s murderer. The other was the friendship between the deceased rap legend The Notorious B.I.G. and Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq was supposed to be in the car with him the night he was murdered in March 1997, but Shaq fell asleep and never made it to the party they were meeting up at the Peterson Automotive Museum in LA.

FR: What’s your background and how would you describe your job at ESPN to the layperson?
I went to college at Syracuse. I triple majored in History, Political Science and Magazine Journalism. I’ve been at ESPN for 8 years. My official job title is a feature producer. I’m in charge of all production matters that go into an on-air feature: directing the camera crew, prepping and helping the reporter I’m working with, plus final post production of the feature itself, which includes the script, video and music used to tell the story. Final approval comes from [coordinating producer] Valerie Gordon, [senior coordinating producer] Victor Vitarelli and the feature managers in the feature unit.

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