Pitt freshman Robinson makes rapid progress

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Pitt freshman James Robinson has not had to deal with much fanfare since arriving at Pitt six months ago. Much of the attention has been focused on Robinson's classmate Steven Adams, the Big East preseason rookie of the year who is considered one of the top centers in the country.

That might be about to change for the young point guard. Robinson is making a name for himself after Panthers coach Jamie Dixon elected to start him over several veterans in Pitt's first exhibition game.

For those just starting to pay attention because college basketball season is a week away, here is a recruiting refresher course: Adams alone did not make Dixon's highly regarded class worth being ranked among the top 15 in the country.

Robinson, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound graduate of DeMatha Catholic in suburban Washington, was a well-known prospect in his own right. Maxpreps.com ranked Robinson as the No. 3 point guard in the country. ESPNU ranked him the No. 6 point guard and Rivals.com the No. 8 point guard. All the scouting services ranked him among the top 75 players in the country and a few had him among the top 50.

Scouting report
  • Matchup: Pitt vs. Hawaii-Hilo, 7 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center.
  • TV: Pitt Panthers Television (Comcast 188 or 210).
  • Pitt: Coming off 69-54 victory against IUP in first exhibition game. ... Senior G Tray Woodall led the Panthers with 16 points. ... Junior F J.J. Moore added 14 off the bench. ... Two freshmen started against IUP -- C Steven Adams (6 points, 6 rebounds) and G James Robinson (3 points, 4 rebounds).
  • Hawaii-Hilo: Coach Jeff Law is entering his 15th season as head coach. ... Law is the son of former Pitt assistant coach Norm Law, who served as an assistant under Paul Evans from 1986-94. ... Will stay in Pittsburgh and play another exhibition game Sunday night at Duquesne.
  • Hidden stat: Pitt's starters contributed 35 points and its bench 34 points against IUP.

Dixon does not pay attention to recruiting rankings. He loved Robinson's game and the fact that he has been a winner in high school and AAU. That is something Dixon values above all else.

Robinson finished his career at tradition-rich DeMatha as the school's winningest player. He finished with 120 victories over four years and helped the Stags win three city championships.

Pitt plays its second and final exhibition game of the season tonight against Hawaii-Hilo, the final dress rehearsal before the regular season opener next Friday against Mount St. Mary's.

Robinson has not officially earned a starting position, but the fact that he earned the trust of the coaches at such an early juncture suggests he will have a big role this season.

Dixon thought so much of Robinson's progress through the first few weeks of preseason practice that he revised his rotation and began to use a backcourt of Robinson and senior Tray Woodall just one week before the first exhibition game.

It was not a smooth transition as the Panthers looked disjointed in a 69-54 victory against Division II IUP. But Dixon wasn't looking at offensive potential when he determined his starting five. He was looking at finding his five best defensive players because the Panthers were such a poor defensive team a season ago.

Dixon acknowledged Robinson's defensive prowess, but said it wasn't the only reason he earned the start.

"Physically, he has those attributes, but he's got just got a great understanding of the game," Dixon said. "His body has changed since he got here. He's quicker, he's stronger. That's been part of that development. And he's very unselfish. He's done a good job. He didn't play great [against IUP], but he was solid. I think that's the thing you're always going to get from him is solid play."

Robinson had three points, four rebounds, two assists and no turnovers in 26 minutes against IUP. Only Woodall, who led the Panthers with 16 points, played more.

Woodall is the reason Dixon believes a two point-guard lineup can work for the Panthers.

Robinson is not a scoring point guard. He is a pass-first player who gets his teammates involved in the offense and excels on defense.

Woodall is among the top 3-point shooters on the team and has the ability to take on a versatile role within Dixon's motion offense.

"When we got on the court, it seemed pretty comfortable," Robinson said. "I knew if he had the ball, I would take his spot. If I had the ball, he would run the lane and I would find him. It's always good to know I have my guy on the wing ready to knock down a three."

After graduating from DeMatha, Robinson enrolled at Pitt in June and took advantage of the new NCAA rule that allowed coaches to spend more time with players in the summer. For the first time, coaches could spend time with players in one-on-one or group settings and allow them to digest the team's system.

It might not be a coincidence then that Dixon could start two freshmen for the first time in his career.

"Especially for the new guys, it helped us," Robinson said. "We got more familiar with the coaching staff and teammates, building that chemistry. Getting a sneak peek at the offense and how it would be run. The summer workouts were really beneficial."

Dixon likely will let the competition play out into next week before he decides on a starting five for the opener. Even then, Dixon could shuffle things early in the season as he tries to figure out how to introduce three new players into his rotation.

Transfer Trey Zeigler, the leading scorer at Central Michigan the past two seasons and a candidate to play at shooting guard and small forward, figures to play a big role on the team as well.

"It's wide open across the board from what the coaches are saying," Robinson said. "Everyone is going to practice, giving it their all. We're going to compete every game."


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published November 2, 2012 4:00 AM


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