KENNESAW, Ga. — Many know the popular motto "you only live once." But for Kennesaw State senior forward Demond Robinson, he lives by a different phrase: "You live every day, but you die once."
Despite being a star on the basketball court for the Owls during their magnificent March Madness run, Robinson was shaped into the man he is today at an early age.
"I grew to the man that I knew I should be and that I always knew I would be because I was always told I wouldn't be much," Robinson said. "But everything happens for a reason whether good or bad."
Robinson might understand that sentiment a bit more than most. On the outside, you may only see a large 6-foot 8-inch big man on the court, but many don't see the pain inside that Robinson has grown to embody during the past half-decade.
Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, Robinson's roots in basketball were planted early and his love for his southern hometown blossomed. And so did his connections with many he played basketball with.
In March 2016, Robinson's teammate and Montgomery Lee High School star basketball player, Rod Scott, died in a car accident on his way to a tournament.
"What I remember the most about Rod Scott is how hard he played, like what he did to elevate his game," Robinson said. "Just the late nights in the gym. He was the one who kept everybody's energy up, everybody happy and in a way, I got to reflect on his work ethic is what I need."
But then tragedy struck twice. Four years later, Robinson was delivered more devastating news.
"When I first heard that, somebody told me. They were like 'I want to tell you before you get on Facebook,'" he recalled.
Jamari Smith, another teammate and close friend of Robinson, tragically died in a drowning accident in a state park near Auburn, Alabama, in May 2020.
"For 'Chop', it was his smile. That's why I smile so much," Robinson said. "I was hurt but I was just like okay he smiled a lot, he went through a lot, he got through a lot, but what he did most was smile and kept everybody in spirits."
Robinson now bears a tattoo on his left arm in memory of Smith.
"He was here since I was young, since I was 4. He had been with me through it all," Robinson said. "He watched me grow, he watched the bad things I'd done and the good things and I watched him grow too."
And now, Robinson lives life every day for Scott and Smith, because you only die once. The life lesson he learned through it all is simple.
"Life's short. You only live once, that's what people say, YOLO," Robinson said. "You live every day, but you die once, that's what I think. And just by them living every day and just dying that once, it affected me in a way that I can live every day, that's what I learned."
On Friday, Robinson will be part of a historic Kennesaw State squad leading his team onto the court in their March Madness debut against three-seeded Xavier -- looking to turn the Owls into the tournament darling.