Nick Robinson knew the deal. Go with his all-star team, the Children’s Mercy Hospital 76ers, to Orlando, Florida, for the Junior Boys’ National Amateur Athletic Union Championship and let college coaches drool over him. In addition, with Disney World hosting the event, it wouldn’t be difficult to have fun when he wasn’t playing basketball.
After all, this was the national high school boys’ tournament. In high school basketball circles, anybody who is anybody plays in this.
And what’s not to like? You play hoops all day against the country’s best high school players, many who will eventually play the game for a living. Meanwhile, sitting in the bleachers are college coaches—famous guys you’ve watched on TV—who have contacted you about possibly playing for them. They’re there to watch you.
Heady times for 16-, 17-, and 18-year-old kids.
Especially for Nick Robinson from Liberty, Missouri, who can shoot, post up, and create his shot off the dribble. His 76ers, a team made up of the Kansas City area’s best high school players, earned a spot in the prestigious tourney with their second-place finish in the local AAU tournament. Now it was time to see how they measured up against the nation’s best players and teams—all expenses paid.
As Nick sat in the chartered bus as it rolled along, he was excited. He was with his friends, the weather was beautiful, school was out. Life was good. As the bus came to a stop, Nick unfolded his 6-foot-5 frame from his seat and stepped from the bus with the rest of the kids, happy to be in … Nauvoo, Illinois?
You don’t have to be Rand or McNally to know that Nauvoo is a long way from Orlando. Nauvoo does not have any amusement parks, and when you think of Nauvoo, basketball doesn’t usually leap to mind.
Ah, but Nauvoo had one thing Orlando didn’t: the Liberty Missouri Stake’s youth conference.
“I knew the team would go to Orlando sometime in July and I was excited. For a couple of weeks I didn’t realize youth conference was at the same time as the tournament,” recalls Nick. “All of a sudden I was saying, ‘Mom, both things are on the same date.’”
To complicate matters, following the Orlando tourney, the 76ers planned to play in additional tournaments in Augusta, Georgia, and Las Vegas, Nevada. It would be three straight weeks of basketball. It was then that Nick realized Especially For Youth, scheduled at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, would conflict with the other two hoop tournaments.
“I knew if I were to go to Orlando I’d be traveling for three weeks. I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to spend three weeks traveling all over the country. I didn’t want to be away from my family that long,” he says. Nick’s six younger sisters felt the same way.
“So I thought about it, I talked with Mom and I talked with Dad, then I prayed about it. I decided that it would be better if I went to youth conference and EFY instead.”
Some people might call his decision a gamble. After all, this was a college scholarship he was talking about. Orlando was where coaches evaluated players. How players played at this tournament often determined if a scholarship would be offered. Nick knew he was a good player. But he also knew getting a scholarship was no slam dunk.
Nick, though, thought about how his coach concluded practice each day. He’d ask his players questions then answer them. “What’s the number-one important thing? God. Number two? Family. Number three? School. Number four? You.”
“That’s the order his list went in,” Nick explains. “He knew if I needed to do something for Heavenly Father, then that was more important than playing basketball. My teammates understood my decision. And I knew I had to be patient and realize that even if I wasn’t seen by college recruiters, Heavenly Father would bless me.”
Once he decided to attend youth conference, Nick didn’t look back on what he was missing in Florida. Not until after he returned did he find out how the 76ers had done. He had other things on his mind. At youth conference in Nauvoo, Nick and the rest of the young men and women separated into “families” of two “parents” and five or six “children” for the different activities, which included a devotional near Parley Street, a visit to the temple site, and a fireside. In Nick’s “family,” he was one of the “sons.”
“You felt the Spirit there. It was wonderful and I had a great time. It was good just to talk and be with my friends in the stake,” he says.
The following day the group went to Carthage, Illinois, and toured the jail where the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred. The following week at EFY, Nick roomed with his buddy Matt Nielsen. “It was the last time we would be able to go, so we wanted to go together. It was a wonderful time,” he says.
After his two weeks of Church-related activities, Nick thought about his choice. “I was glad to be there with my church friends. And after I made the decision, there wasn’t much thought about Orlando.”
A month after youth conference, Nick began his senior year at Liberty High. A few weeks later basketball practice began.
A year earlier when Nick was a junior, Liberty had begun the season winning 21 consecutive games before losing three of its last five and dropping its first game in the state tournament. It was a major disappointment. Nick didn’t want history to repeat itself.
It didn’t. By the time the season was over, the Blue Jays had a 31–0 record, they were the Missouri 4A champions, and Nick had a choice of colleges he could attend to play basketball. He eventually signed with Stanford.
Nick’s been out of high school for about a year now. But instead of enrolling immediately at Stanford and learning the system of a perennial top-20 team while playing alongside all-Americans and appearing on TV, he deferred his scholarship for a couple of years. Today you can find Nick serving in the Brazil Maceio Mission.