Pitt senior guard Robinson hoping to end career on high note
PITTSBURGH (AP) There will be no tears. That's just not how James Robinson works.
The Pittsburgh senior point guard plans on treating his school-record 130th start on Sunday against No. 15 Duke much like the 129 that came before it.
Other than the pregame ceremony in which he will walk out to center court at Petersen Events Center along with his parents, James Jr. and Rayna, Robinson will push his emotions to the side and focus on helping his team give its uncertain NCAA Tournament hopes a boost by upsetting the surging Blue Devils.
''This year I think we have a special group of guys,'' Robinson said. ''Once we do get into the NCAA Tournament we can really make some noise. As a senior you definitely want to play forever.''
In a way, it feels like Robinson already has.
Coach Jamie Dixon wasted little time throwing the understated, pass-first kid from suburban Maryland onto the court, starting Robinson as a freshman in the fall of 2013. It's a rarity for Dixon to put so much trust into such a young player, but an honor the coach felt Robinson deserved because of his preternaturally calm demeanor and commitment on the defensive end of the floor.
Never a great shooter, Robinson made up for it with deft decision making. His 3.52:1 assist-to-turnover ratio is the best in NCAA history among players with at least 400 assists. It's hard to pick out any one pass in particular, perhaps because Robinson typically opts for the smart play rather than the one designed to get on a highlight reel.
''He certainly leads by example and he is unselfish in that he wants to guard the best guy, he wants to get other guys shots,'' Dixon said. ''He really thinks team-first and always has.''
A thought process that has earned Robinson a steady stream of admirers in the hyper competitive ACC.
''He's one of the most underrated players in the country,'' Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said after Robinson had 18 points, eight assists and four rebounds against one turnover in a victory over the Yellow Jackets in January. ''He just knows how to play. It looks like he's been here for about 14 years but he makes the right play all the time.''
A quality Robinson is trying to ingrain in his eventual replacement in freshman point guard Damon Wilson, who remains very much a work in progress. Robinson gives most of the credit to former Pitt star Tray Woodall, who served as a mentor early in Robinson's career.
''I had a chance to learn on the fly from him and obviously he had a really good career here,'' Robinson said. ''As soon as I got on campus he was teaching me the ins and outs of the college game. I really benefited a lot being around him on a day-to-day basis ... hopefully I had the same effect on the younger guys.''
Though Robinson is working toward a degree in communications, he plans on playing professionally next year. At 6-foot-3 and 198 pounds he has the size necessary to be competitive but needs to improve his shooting touch and work on his quickness. While he's averaging a career-best 10.3 points this season for the Panthers (19-8, 8-7 ACC), he's a career 38-percent shooter from the field, including just 32 percent from 3-point range.
The shot may improve with time. Dixon remains confident Robinson has all the other tangible and intangible qualities pro coaches hold dear.
''He's played against the best,'' Dixon said. ''He's played in the toughest leagues around the last couple years, the last four years, so he's played against the best players.''
Robinson will need to do it again against the Blue Devils (21-7, 10-5), who have won six of seven. Pitt is 0-6 against ranked teams this season and need to put something together over the final two weeks to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time in Dixon's 13-year tenure.
It's an ending Robinson is hoping to avoid. The Panthers played well for 35 minutes on Wednesday against No. 11 Louisville before crumbling down the stretch. If Pitt can put together two good halves against Duke, Robinson will get one final shining moment in front of the Oakland Zoo - the school's raucous student section - while almost assuring him of a chance to push his record for career starts north of 135 games.
''That's a pretty cool stat,'' he said. ''I didn't know that but that definitely means a lot to me because I know there's been a lot of really good players to come through here. That definitely means a lot to me.''
Freelance writer Nate Barnes contributed to this report.