How Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman got away – and ended up at Boston College

North Carolina’s Kenny Williams (24) and Boston College’s Jerome Robinson (1) hit the court after a loose ball during the first half on January 9, 2018 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina’s Kenny Williams (24) and Boston College’s Jerome Robinson (1) hit the court after a loose ball during the first half on January 9, 2018 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. rwillett@newsobserver.com

It will happen. It always does.

Early in Tuesday’s game between Boston College and N.C. State, it will be pointed out during the Fox Sports South broadcast that the Eagles’ two best players, junior Jerome Robinson and sophomore Ky Bowman, are from North Carolina.

In conference play, nobody has scored more this season than Robinson, a 6-6 guard from Garner, who averages 25.9 points per ACC game.

Bowman, a 6-1 guard from Havelock, is the only player in the ACC to average at least 16 points (16.4), 7 rebounds (7.0) and 4 assists (4.9) a game.

Then the question will be asked: “How did these two All-ACC quality players get from North Carolina to Boston College?

The long-story short: Boston College wanted them while UNC, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest did not.

And here’s the short-story long:

The classic late-bloomer

Jerome Robinson nearly gave up on his basketball dreams before they started. He figured he wouldn’t be tall enough. As a kid growing up in Garner, baseball was his best sport, anyway.

Robinson was 5-9 when he started high school at Broughton in 2011. His younger brother, Jeremy, was taller than him. Robinson figured the height gene in his family (his dad is 6-6) had somehow skipped him.

“He had a complex about that for awhile,” his dad, Jerome Robinson Sr., said. “He thought he was going to be the short one.”

But Robinson grew five inches by the time he hit 10th grade and he started making 3-pointers in bunches for Broughton. The Caps, led by current Kansas star Devonte’ Graham, reached the state title game in 2013. They lost a heartbreaker in the last minute, 56-53 to Charlotte Olympic.

While at Broughton, Robinson was teammates with Cameron and Aaron Gottfried. Cam Gottfried and Robinson became good friends. They also played AAU basketball together for Garner Road.

The Gottfrieds’ dad is Mark, who was N.C. State’s basketball coach from 2011 until last year. The former Wolfpack coach saw the potential in Robinson early. He let Robinson use N.C. State’s practice facility to regularly work out.

“He is the epitome of a late-bloomer,” Gottfried, who is now working as a scout for the Dallas Mavericks, said in a recent interview.

“He got taller, he kept working on his skills and he just kept getting better and better.”

Robinson grew another two inches and was 6-4 by his junior year (he has grown two more inches at Boston College to reach his dad’s height). He had a breakout performance in Broughton’s annual holiday tournament as a junior.

Boston College's Jerome Robinson (1) plays against Pittsburgh on Feb. 13, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Keith Srakocic AP

He and his dad put together a highlight video from the tournament and sent it to as many college teams as they could, including UNC – Robinson’s favorite team growing up.

Campbell, N.C. Central, Richmond and Radford were ready to sign Robinson. The big schools were not.

A UNC assistant, who was not identified by Robinson’s dad, sent them an email back that read: “We see you but you’re not quite there yet.”

Initially, Robinson was excited just to hear anything from UNC but he realized there was more work to be done.

Boston College assistant Scott Spinelli noticed Robinson at an AAU tournament in Georgia that spring.

“He wasn’t putting up big numbers but you could see something in him that could be special,” Spinelli said. “We were lucky what we saw in Jerome has come true.”

Spinelli recruited Khris Middleton, a taller shooting guard, to Texas A&M. He said Robinson reminded him of Middleton, who is now in his fifth season with the Milwaukee Bucks.

The summer before Robinson’s senior year at Broughton, Boston College had offered him a scholarship. Robinson didn’t believe it at first.

He took a visit to the campus in Chestnut Hill, Mass., in the fall and thought it was a bigger version of Broughton.

It also helped that it was in the ACC. The Eagles, who went 13-19 in coach Jim Christian’s first season, also had a need for guards and plenty of minutes to offer.

The opportunity was there right away and they really wanted me. The ‘want’ factor was a big part of it. It wasn’t that hard of a decision when you think about it.

Boston College’s Jerome Robinson

“The opportunity was there right away and they really wanted me,” Robinson said. “The ‘want’ factor was a big part of it. It wasn’t that hard of a decision when you think about it.”

Robinson committed in the fall signing period in 2014, before his senior season at Broughton. He was ranked No. 308 in the class, according to 247Sports composite rankings.

Robinson never heard back from UNC and was never recruited by Duke or Wake Forest.

Gottfried had liked Robinson but wanted him to wait until the spring period to sign to see what his roster would look like.

N.C. State had slew of wings and guards on its roster that season. Gottfried never offered Robinson a scholarship.

“That’s the (question) that’s going to get me,” Gottfried said. “I think he would have multiple ACC offers had he waited until the spring.

“But I’m really happy for him. He’s a great kid.”

Falling through the cracks

If Daniel Griffee hadn’t heard the words with his own ears, he wouldn’t have believed it.

The Havelock High basketball coach was at the Smith Center on Jan. 9 after Boston College’s 96-66 loss at UNC.

In his post-game press conference, UNC coach Roy Williams complimented Ky Bowman, who had 21 points and five assists in the loss, and then retold the familiar story of how Bowman was once committed to play football for the Tar Heels.

“I wish somebody from Havelock had called us and said, ‘You know he’s really, really good in basketball, too,’ ” Williams said.

Griffee, who is a big Carolina fan, thought to himself, “Wait a second, I did.”

Griffee said the first school he called, when Bowman gave up football before his senior year at Havelock in 2015, was UNC.

UNC assistant coach Hubert Davis told Griffee he would put Bowman on the Heels’ recruiting radar.

Boston College's Ky Bowman (0) plays against Notre Dame in Boston on Feb. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Michael Dwyer AP

Bowman, a standout receiver at Havelock, had committed to play football for the Tar Heels as a sophomore. Bowman grew up a UNC fan and his cousin, Bruce Carter, was a standout linebacker for the Heels from 2007 to 2010.

But Bowman gave up football before his senior year to concentrate on basketball. After his junior season, he played AAU basketball for the first time, for Team Wall out of Raleigh.

“He wasn’t on the AAU circuit long and he didn’t have a mix-tape on YouTube,” Griffee said. “He fell through the cracks.”

Former East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo saw enough of Bowman to offer him a scholarship that spring. Western Kentucky and Alcorn State were the only other schools interested in Bowman.

Bowman, who had helped Havelock play for the state title in football as a sophomore and junior, had a standout senior season in basketball. He averaged 23.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists for the Rams.

Griffee, who has worked at the school for 13 years, figured ACC schools could use Bowman.

One Wake Forest assistant told Griffee that Bowman “wasn’t good enough to play in the ACC.”

Griffee had preliminary talks with N.C. State that went nowhere and he never had any traction with Duke.

Saved by rankings

That’s a decision Bowman remembered on Dec. 9 when he scored 30 points in an 89-84 upset of then-No. 1 Duke.

Bowman, according to Griffee, made a point to tell Duke’s highly-rated freshmen before the game: “The rankings aren’t going to save you today.”

There was a small window of hope with UNC during the recruiting process. Davis had gotten back in touch with Griffee and said that if guard Seventh Woods didn’t pick UNC, the Heels would take another look at Bowman.

Woods, the No. 48 player in the recruiting class, signed in the fall with UNC.

Bowman, the No. 324 in the class, figured he would go play for ECU. Griffee told Bowman to call Lebo and tell him he was ready to commit.

Problem was, Lebo never called or texted back.

“I probably would have went there,” Bowman said. “Coach Lebo didn’t show interest.”

Lebo resigned as ECU’s coach in November.

Spinelli, who knows Bowman’s AAU coach, Kendrick Williams, started to take an interest in December.

Spinelli remembered Bowman from a tournament in Georgia (the same one, different year, where he first saw Robinson, by the way).

He noticed the swagger and confidence of Bowman, and his strength.

“He was labeled as a ‘football player,’ ” Spinelli said. “A lot of recruiting gurus label kids at certain ages. Sometimes that can be good, sometimes that can be really bad. Fortunately for us, it was really good.”

A visit to Boston College

Christian and Spinelli came down to Havelock multiple times, the last time to see Bowman’s last home game.

Bowman didn’t shoot well and he struggled. But the game itself didn’t really matter to Spinelli. The BC assistant noticed before the game that fans of both teams were applauding Bowman.

“The entire gym at Havelock — and I mean the home team and the visiting team, everybody — stood up and gave him a standing ovation for his time there,” Spinelli said. “You could see the appreciation for this kid and the impact that he made.”

Boston College wasn’t the only major team recruiting Bowman by that point, though. Cincinnati, Memphis and Connecticut had started to come on hard.

Bowman decided to take a visit to Boston College in March, right before the Final Four in 2016.

“They were honest with me,” Bowman said. “They never promised me anything. That’s what I liked about it. I wanted to earn my role.”

Both Robinson and Bowman have done that. And then some. They haven’t forgotten their North Carolina roots, or the teams that passed them over, either.

They have won two of three games against in-state schools this season and beat N.C. State in their only meeting last year.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

Boston College at NC State

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh

TV/radio: Fox Sports South, 101.5-WRAL

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