NASHVILLE --- Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington is the latest former Tennessee State men’s basketball standout to shine on the NBA stage. His journey from Bellwood, Ill. to the top league in the world hasn’t always been easy.
“My story about where I was when I first started playing to where I am now, it’s about resiliency, it’s about fight, it’s about not giving up,” Covington said.
A 2013 graduate of Tennessee State University, Covington recently completed his third season as a professional and second with the Sixers. In 49 starts and 67 appearances in 2015-16, the 6-9 forward posted 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.
In 2014, Covington earned NBA Development League Rookie of the Year while playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He also spent time with the NBA’s Houston Rockets as a rookie in 2013-14.
“I spent most of my first year in the D-League, but I embraced it because I knew I was being watched 24/7 by the Houston Rockets,” Covington said. “I knew I had to show what I was capable of regardless of if it was on the biggest stage or not because I knew at any moment I could get the opportunity to get a chance to play in the NBA.”
Two-and-a-half weeks prior to the 2014-15 season, he was released by the Houston Rockets and entered his name into the NBA D-League Draft. After being selected first overall by the Grand Rapids Drive, he signed with the Sixers before the start of the season to play for Head Coach Brett Brown.
“I looked at it as another opportunity to show what I could do,” Covington commented. “Coach wanted me to come in and really show a lot. He knew what type of player I was because he had watched film on me.”
His growth as a player is evident by his production. In 2015-16, he finished with the second most points on the team (858) and improved his rebounding from 4.5 boards per game in 2014-15 to 6.3 this season. It is his work on the defensive end, however, where Covington says he has grown the most since entering the NBA.
“This year, Coach really challenged me to become a two-way player,” said Covington. “I guarded some of the best players in the NBA this year, and I gave them problems. Coach went from asking me, ‘Do you think you can guard this player?’ to having me guard some of the best players in crunch time.”
Following the conclusion of the season, Covington was able to return to Illinois to spend time with family. He also made a trip to Nashville to visit friends and his former coaches at TSU.
Covington was a three-time All-OVC performer for the Tigers during his time at TSU. Current Head Coach Dana Ford was an assistant on the staff for Covington’s freshman and sophomore seasons.
“I’ve had a relationship with Coach Ford for a long time,” Covington said. “Even when he left (to be an assistant at Wichita State), we still talked. I know what type of guy he is. He’s passionate and he pushed me to where I needed to be.”
Covington was able to follow the Tigers this season, watching some of the games online. He maintains a close relationship with the coaches and some of the players on the current team. His time at TSU helped him continue on his road to success.
“We had a great coaching staff that really got after us and really pushed us to the point where they only wanted to see us do well, not only on the court but also in the classroom,” said Covington. “Coach Ford is big on that. It’s not just about basketball, it’s about making sure you maintain your grades because there’s life after basketball. That’s what he thinks about as far as his players’ futures.”