College basketball’s second-shortest player is also the nation’s 15th-best in points per game. Meet 5’5” Mount St. Mary’s guard Junior Robinson.
Jamion Christian found Junior Robinson by accident. It was 2013 and Christian, then in his second year as head coach at Mount St. Mary, was sitting in the bleachers at an AAU event in Suwanee, Ga., ostensibly at one court, but really looking at another court in the gym, hoping to keep people off the scent of who he was actually interested in. Christian was there for a 6’5” guard who would eventually sign with an SEC school, but quickly found the player not to his liking. So he took a glance at the court in front of him. And he saw a small guard making a lot of plays.
“I remember thinking, I love watching how he plays,” says Christian. “I look at the guys sitting around me, and I could tell, a lot of people were intrigued, but because he’s so small, a lot of people dismiss those guys pretty quickly.”
Christian wasn’t worried that Robinson was only 5’5”. He was more interested in something else. “His enthusiasm is infectious. I could just feel that he could change someone’s program,” he says.
Fast forward and Robinson is now Mount St. Mary’s star senior guard, averaging 21.9 points-per-game—15th-best in the nation—and leading a young Mountaineers team with a shot at the NCAA tournament.
Even though scouts had told Robinson that he wasn’t good enough—read: big enough–to go to a high-major, Robinson knew he could do it. “Of course,” he says. “Of course.”
And so it was that Robinson, who finished his high school career in Mebane, North Carolina ranked third in state history in free throws made (554) and 17th in points scored (2,228), quickly adjusted to D-I basketball. He started all 30 games his freshman year, averaging 8.2 points, and was named to the NEC all-rookie team. It was evident early on that his height would not be a problem.
“He has high-major speed,” Christian says. “We play these high-major teams, and he’s the fastest guy on the floor. He has high-major athleticism. He has high-major shooting ability, and high-major understanding of the game. You need big personalities and big egos. People get caught up on size. But he has both those things. All the things that’s happened since he’s been here, that’s not an accident.”
What’s happened is a steady increase from quality guard to star player. He averaged 12.6 points as a sophomore, and then 14.1 as a junior last season, leading the Mountaineers to the First Four in the tournament. Against New Orleans, Robinson scored 23 points. As a No. 16 seed against Villanova, he had a tough game, only scoring seven, but the buzz was out about the 5’5” kid with the big hops.
“That’s when I got all the recognition,” he says. “But I’ve been doing this my whole life. It was great to finally get the recognition I’ve been wanting.”
Ask Christian if there’s anything that Robinson’s height precludes him from doing on the floor, and he makes a crack. “He struggles with post defense,” he says with a laugh. But then he gets serious. “I’m a big believer in the things that people do well,” he says. “It’s hard for me to say what does a guy not do. You’re going to win with the things guys do well. When I look at him, I felt he could be one of the best guards in the country. And I think he has been.”
Robinson is one of three seniors on Mount St. Mary’s, and at 10-9, their lack of experience shows. (Though Robinson’s game-winning layup in overtime last Saturday against St. Francis put them one game back of the conference lead.) Still, in an NEC conference without a true alpha team, Mount St. Mary’s is very much in play for another tournament bid. And no team in the conference has a player like Robinson.
When he’s asked about the next level, Robinson is a bit hesitant. He wants to play in the NBA, but he’s also realistic. There’s only been two players in NBA history 5’5” or smaller—Earl Boykins and Muggsy Bogues. But Christian thinks a team should give him a shot. “I think it would be smart for some team to say, let’s bring him to a camp, or summer league and see what he can do,” he says. “He’s going to surprise some people.”
As for this season, there’s still work to do. But even after a middling start, Robinson thinks that there’s no better team than Mount St. Mary’s to become your mid-major darlings. “We’re just a fun team to watch,” he says. “We have constant energy. Our bench is the loudest people in the gym. We play with a relentless effort, with so much heart and passion for the game. Why not watch us?”
And when you tune in, hold off on the short jokes, because Robinson has heard everything imaginable. Yes, an opponent once told him he needed a high chair to shoot free throws. (He’s a career 85.3% shooter.) And yes, he knows he’s small.
But Robinson doesn’t care. “Once I hear that,” says Robinson, “I’m like, ‘Man, it’s going to be real fun.’”