Created on Sunday, 09 December 2012 23:05 Written by Nate Barnes / Staff Writer
Pitt men’s basketball freshman point guard James Robinson is a winner.
In his four seasons at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., Robinson won more games — 120 — than any player in the school’s history and lost only one home game. Over the summer between his senior season at DeMatha and freshman year at Pitt, Robinson played on the USA Basketball Men’s U18 team — coached by Florida’s Billy Donovan, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart — that won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas Championships held in Brazil.
“He was originally on the outside looking in,” Donovan told ESPN in an interview after the tournament. “But once we started practicing, we saw that he’s a winner and a great role guy. He’s a typical Pitt player. Jamie [Dixon] will love coaching him. I’m not sure of his impact on the team, but people will say, ‘Where did this guy come from?’ The kid is a winner. I liked coaching him. He was the same guy every day.”
Now Robinson has carried his winning ways to Pitt — ways that have already paid dividends less than 10 games into the Panthers’ season. Robinson’s numbers are not spectacular: He is averaging 7.4 points and 4.2 assists as the starting guard alongside senior Tray Woodall. But for Dixon, it goes beyond those numbers.
In coach Dixon’s decade as the leader of Pitt basketball, not many freshmen have started for the Panthers, but Robinson is validating his coach’s decision with one of the nation’s best assist-to-turnover ratios at 5.25.
And Dixon and Pitt fans have already witnessed Robinson’s winning demeanor on display Nov. 17, when Pitt trailed the Oakland Golden Grizzlies by as much as 18 points in the second half. Until, that is, Robinson decided Pitt would not lose.
Robinson scored five points, hitting 5-of-6 attempts from the free-throw line, and assisted on three baskets in the second half, but his performance culminated in the final minute of the game. After helping the Panthers battle back to within two points, Robinson stole an inbounds pass from Oakland star Duke Mondy, who then fouled Robinson. With 10.6 seconds left on the clock, the true freshman stepped to the line and nailed both free throws to tie the game and eventually send it to overtime, where Pitt would secure a 10-point victory.
After the Oakland game, coach Dixon raved about Robinson’s mental toughness and his ability to avoid making mistakes.
“He’s a tremendous player,” Dixon said. “There’s a reason why we’ve got him out there starting. He’s got a sense of maturity that’s beyond his years both physically and mentally. He’s got a strong, physical body. He’s a good athlete and has the mental part of it.”
Even though Robinson is still in the first semester of his freshman year, Dixon says he has been extremely impressed with how mistake-free his young point guard is.
“I go through practice and schemes, jotting down mistakes and watching the film for things we need to improve on for each guy individually. There’s this little box, and every time I look at it, there’s James’, and it’s empty. It’s just very few mental mistakes,” Dixon said. “There are just no mental mistakes, and that’s so valuable.”
After keying the comeback against Oakland, Robinson experienced something that he isn’t very familiar with: a loss. The Panthers eventually fell to No. 4 Michigan on Nov. 21, but Robinson did everything in his power to try to avoid defeat.
With Pitt down five late and the contest seemingly over, the freshman didn’t quit, scoring six points in the game’s final 30 seconds. It wasn’t enough to complete a miraculous comeback, but yet again, one thing was obvious: James Robinson will compete until the final buzzer.
“I definitely feel we need to play a lot harder, play tougher,” Robinson said after the game. “We got out-rebounded and beat in transition tonight. I think those two things we need to work on.”
Pitt (9-1) hasn’t lost since.
Just last week, Robinson received the Big East Freshman of the Week award after he averaged 11 points and seven assists in two games against Howard and Detroit. Even with his personal recognition, Robinson remains unselfish and credits his teammates.
“[Winning the award] feels good,” Robinson said. “I’d say it’s kind of a team award. That’s the way I look at it because if I didn’t have my teammates, then I wouldn’t be able to get it. It’s a small step for me personally, but we have a greater potential as a team that we’re trying to reach.”
As for Robinson’s winning ways at both DeMatha and Pitt, he again credits those around him for the success he enjoys.
“At DeMatha, I was coached by a lot of great coaches and had a lot of great players alongside me, so I guess the winning came not easy, but a little bit easier than it maybe could have,” Robinson said. “And I feel like that came to Pittsburgh as well. We have a great coaching staff and a lot of great players, so all the pressure’s not on me, and we kind of take it on as a team.”