Robert Covington hopes to hear his name called next month.
Of course, having it announced last weekend at Tennessee State’s commencement was just as big of a thrill, especially because of who was in the crowd.
“That was the biggest thing to make my mom proud,” Covington said. “Being drafted would make her happy also. But the biggest thing she wanted to see was me walking across the stage and receiving my degree. That was the happiest day because I’m the first [in the family] to do it. I’m the example for my little brothers to show them it can be done.”
With a bachelor’s degree in exercise science in his pocket, Covington is looking ahead to the next personal milestone.
He hopes when his name is called again it will be during the NBA Draft on June 27. The 6-foot-9 forward will get another chance to leave an impression when he participates in the NBA Draft Combine, which runs Wednesday through Monday in Chicago.
Covington, a native of the Chicago suburb Bellwood, Ill., was a late addition to the event. More than 60 players were invited, including co-Ohio Valley Conference player of the year Isaiah Canaan from Murray State. Both Covington and Canaan have been projected as second-round picks. Covington would be the 22nd TSU player to get drafted and the first since Carlos Rogers was taken 11th overall by Seattle in 1994.
“That is one of my lifelong dreams, especially growing up as a kid in the city of Chicago,” Covington said. “I’m expecting it. But I can’t let that disappoint me. I still can get in the NBA or it might not be my time. But I’m not even thinking that way. I’ve got this. It is in my head that I’m going to get drafted because I know how bad I want this and how hard I’m going to work.”
In four years at TSU, Covington was the anchor for program that enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in nearly 20 years. The three-time All-OVC selection finished seventh in school history in points (1,749) and rebounds (876). He started as a freshman and led the Tigers in scoring three years. As a senior, he averaged 17 points and eight rebounds despite missing 10 games when he tore his meniscus in his right knee.
“I had to fight through a lot of adversity,” Covington said. “A lot of people had doubts once I did have my injury occur. Everybody figured I would completely lose what I had. I showed them that I came back like I didn’t even leave. I’m feeling pretty good. I don’t feel any pain in my knee. I have been working on getting in the weight room, getting stronger and building up strength in my leg.”
His versatility — he started at both small forward and power forward — posed matchup problems for opponents. Along with posting up, he can also handle the ball and step further out. He developed a mid-range jumper and shot a team-high 38.8 percent (40-for-103) from 3-point range last year.
Covington said most NBA teams he has talked to have expressed interest in him playing small forward, though TSU coach Travis Williams believes he would be comfortable playing both.
“I think the main thing is continuing to do what he does well,” Williams said. “He can shoot it. He is athletic. He can rebound. He’s got length. He can play defense. … He just has to continue get stronger. At that level, they have to play 82 games. He has to continue to work on his ball handling, his ability to create shots and finish plays.”
Beefing up has been a point of emphasis for Covington. He currently weighs 216 pounds but wants to add muscle and reach 225. Since basketball season ended in March, Covington has tried to strengthen his frame by working with trainer and Nashville native Spencer Richardson. He has also worked out with another Richardson client, Brandan Wright — a former Brentwood Academy star who plays for the Dallas Mavericks.
Covington believes the extra time was beneficial to his play in the Portsmouth Invitational last month. At the prestigious Virginia tournament that invites more than 60 college seniors, he averaged 17.7 points and 8.7 rebounds. He was named to the all-tournament team, along with Belmont guard Ian Clark, while competing in front of scouts from every NBA team.
“I definitely feel like I turned a lot of heads,” Covington said. “A lot of people weren’t expecting me to do what I did as far as going out and showing my talents. My trainer, he helped me get to that point because he made me feel a lot more comfortable with everything we’ve been working on. By the time I went down there, I wasn’t rattled or anything.”
Covington said he has talked to several NBA teams, including Charlotte, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Orlando and San Antonio. The 22-year-old also hopes he will get brought in for private workouts before the draft.
After the combine, he’ll return to Nashville and continue to work out with Richardson and Wright up until the draft. He’ll spend another month around the TSU campus where he not only left a mark on the basketball court but walked off with a degree.
“I grew up as a young man,” Covington said. “I would never take for granted for the guys I met — my teammates, my coaches — they helped me grow into the player I am today.”