Upon taking the Oregon State men's basketball job in April, Craig Robinson said he believed his unusual background -- he previously worked on Wall Street and is Michelle Obama's brother -- would help him get in the door with some of the nation's top recruits. "I don't know if we will get them to come to Oregon State, but we will at least get them to listen," he said.
Robinson, who spent the two previous seasons at Brown, did better than that in his first recruiting class, landing a surprise verbal commitment on Tuesday from 6-foot-3 guard Roberto Nelson, a top 50 senior from Santa Barbara (Calif.). Nelson had offers from UCLA, Florida, Ohio State, USC and Tennessee, yet became smitten with Robinson over the past few months and came to the conclusion that turning around the Beavers' downtrodden program would be more satisfying than joining one of those established powers.
NCAA rules prevent Robinson from commenting on recruits before they sign a Letter of Intent. He told Nelson and his summer-league coaches that he viewed him as program-changing recruit. A strong guard comfortable posting up players as well as shooting from the outside, Nelson's versatility was said to appeal to Robinson, who brings the modified Princeton offense to Corvallis.
"I can go there and hopefully start right away and help turn the program around," Nelson said. "My goal is to be the [Pac-10] Freshman of the Year."
Oregon State was not high on Nelson's list early in the summer as he was leaning toward Ohio State (he has family in Columbus), while also waiting on an offer from UCLA. But then Robinson got the job and began a slow push to get Nelson's attention. He watched him at a tournament in Las Vegas in July and spoke with him via phone for the first time.
Shortly after that tournament, Robinson secured a commitment from Joseph Burton, a 6-foot-7 forward and a teammate of Nelson's on the Compton Magic. Nelson and Burton are friends, and Burton's commitment helped Nelson see Oregon State as a more serious contender. He visited the school two weeks ago and, although worried about the adjustment to going to school in Corvallis, was taken by Robinson's trustworthiness.
"The whole time I was up there we didn't talk about basketball once," Nelson said. "I liked that."
UCLA made a late push to land Nelson. Bruins coach Ben Howland recently offered him a scholarship and told the family that he thought Nelson would see minutes as a freshman despite the signing of three guards in the 2008 class. Nelson ultimately decided that the minutes available to him at Oregon State came with more of a guarantee.
Robinson was in Santa Barbara on Tuesday, visiting Nelson at his school.