Makenzie, Kim make perfect team
Robertson making big impact for Kim Mulkey's Baylor in senior season
With eight seconds remaining in a first half in which her team had already surrendered a bevy of offensive rebounds and second-chance points, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey watched Texas inbound the ball, travel the length of the court and hit a 3-pointer with one second on the clock to take the lead. To say she wasn't in a good mood would be an understatement.
And there is nothing understated about Mulkey's moods.
All the coach wanted to do was get to the locker room and make clear exactly what had not worked in the opening half and needed to get done in the second. The scheduled break might just have allowed her time to get through everything on her list. Only she couldn't. The game marked Baylor's annual Family Night, when players and parents took the court together. Baylor's coach couldn't bring the fire and brimstone because she was also a Baylor mom. So she walked to the middle of the court with her starting senior small forward. And her daughter.
Makenzie Robertson leaned in at one point and joked that she was worried her mom, formerly married to Randy Robertson, wouldn't show.
"She knew at that moment I was focused on what I wanted to show them in the locker room and say to them," Mulkey said.
Of course she knew. No recruit in Mulkey's time at Baylor, or Louisiana Tech before that, ever had a better understanding of what she signed up for than Robertson. That was the experience she wanted.
In her final season, she turned out to be a player Baylor's coach needed.
Although her debut at Baylor marked the first time Robertson played for her mother, it was not the first time she took the court with one of Mulkey's teams. Back before the coach made the move to Waco, when she was still at her alma mater, Robertson used to run out of the tunnel amid the Lady Techsters before games, veering off to the side only once the players began their warm-up drills in earnest.
In those days, Robertson would sometimes accompany her mom on recruiting trips, taking in the scene while trying to figure out which players they were there to see. On really special occasions, she got to miss school to go on road trips.
Children of lawyers don't necessarily spend their youth sifting through legal motions or camped out in the back of a courtroom, nor do the children of accountants, pilots, miners or a hundred other professions experience those occupations. But something about sports, perhaps that they are on some level just the games children play (or less poetically perhaps because the hours and the lifestyle make it such an all-consuming profession), invites a different level of immersion. Robertson didn't just grow up as the daughter of a basketball coach; she grew up in basketball.
Sure, like her mom, a one-time baseball player, Robertson played other sports. People told her that her future might be brighter on the college softball diamond than the basketball court. She listened politely (and played one season of softball in college, including an appearance in one of the most memorable Women's College World Series games of all time, a 13-inning marathon in 2010). She just didn't heed the advice.
"I knew that I enjoyed basketball and that was what I loved," Robertson said. "So, even if I might not be as good at it, I still wanted to do it."
My mom's a very blunt person. She tells it like it is; it doesn't matter who you are. But she'd always give me credit if I did something good. She's just very honest.” -- Makenzie Robertson on coach and mom Kim Mulkey
Yet if she grew up with a mom who coached, she rarely had a coach who was her mom. Once she traded in unofficial mascot duties for the real thing, Robertson was on her own.
Only when Robertson asked for advice would Mulkey intercede. And the daughter knew full well that, once she asked, what she got would not be edited in the interest of family harmony.
"My mom's a very blunt person," Robertson said. "She tells it like it is; it doesn't matter who you are. So yes, she would tell me exactly what I did wrong. And that probably came first and then what I did right was a little later.
"But she'd always give me credit if I did something good. She's just very honest."
There were opportunities to play Division I basketball elsewhere, opportunities that presumably would have come with more immediate playing time. Robertson never really entertained them. It's often said that it's ill-advised for a recruit to pick a college based on a coach, even one it has been a lifelong dream to play for. This might be the exception to the rule. So, mom sent her daughter off to college to play for one of the most successful coaches in the sport.
"There are times where I've wanted to talk back, as I would as a daughter, and I just have to catch myself," Robertson said of the basketball side. "Or if I do talk back, she'll catch me and she'll just stop it real quick.
"We've actually done a really good job of separating the two. Anything she says to me on the court, I never take personally because it's two different roles, being my mom and being my coach."
As are the roles of daughter and teammate, a line that Robertson said has never posed a problem, citing as evidence the freedom with which her teammates gripe about the coach in front of her.
And does she partake in the venting?
"I may do that every now and then," Robertson said with all the understatement her mom lacks. "I may agree with them on some of their ranting and raving."
Day-to-day griping aside, there was certainly opportunity for some personal frustration the past three seasons. Being part of an undefeated championship team helped, but Robertson had to be a competitor to choose Baylor in the first place. For someone who played a key role on a state championship team in high school, sitting on the bench in college, even if she knew it would be part of the deal, tested her patience.
Perhaps with good reason.
Able to play 30 minutes a game this season, even if miscast by personnel needs as a small forward, Robertson is third on the team in scoring and second in 3-pointers. Her coach now admits she erred in not finding minutes sooner, too intent to show that no favoritism was at work.
That she finally found the minutes saved at least one win this season.
Trailing late at Oklahoma State in January, Mulkey nonetheless pulled Odyssey Sims with a little more than four minutes to play. So often the player who carried her team this season, Sims was trying to do too much to again save the day. With Baylor down 57-53 and Sims on the bench, Robertson hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to a single point. With Sims back on the court, it was again Robertson's deep 3-pointer with six seconds left in regulation that sent the game to overtime. She added another 3-pointer in the extra period, and the Lady Bears escaped with a win.
Robertson wanted to watch it all again when the team got back to Waco, but she hadn't recorded the game. So, with her roommates and her boyfriend (she hasn't lived at home during her time in school in Waco), she settled for watching highlights on her laptop. Over and over again. If the opportunity to prove herself this season has been, in her words, a fairy tale, the game at Oklahoma State was happily ever after.
"It was just a great moment that I'll never forget," Robertson said. "Even though you have to keep going and not stay in that moment, as much as you want to, it's one that I will get a copy of the game and make sure I keep it."
For the first time in her life, Robertson can see a world without basketball ahead of her. She graduated early this past December and is enrolled in an MBA program at Baylor that she also hopes to complete early, even if she isn't yet sure what she will do with the degree. Ask her about an interest in coaching and the shrug of her shoulders is just unconvincing enough to make you wonder whether she might end up in the family business at some point. The catch is people keep telling her she is too nice to coach, people including her mom.
The contrast between the two is stark. There isn't a bolder or blunter figure in coaching than Mulkey, who speaks not so much in sentences as in statements. Robertson is soft-spoken by comparison, easy-going.
Yet she wouldn't have persevered to spend this season on the court if she didn't have a reservoir somewhere inside her of the same stuff her mom exudes so freely.
"I just think sometimes she's so unassuming and shrugs her shoulder like, 'Yeah, we did OK,' instead of holding your shoulders back and walk with your head up and have a little air about you," Mulkey said. "It's OK to let people know that. And I've just watched her evolve into this confident young woman."
There is nothing quite so maternal, after all, as a lecture about posture.
That is as it should be. Robertson played for her college coach for four years. She will always be Mulkey's daughter.