The first thing James Robinson did upon arriving in Prague for the FIBA Under-19 world basketball championship tournament late last month was give Syracuse forward Jerami Grant a hug. Grant, Robinson's friend and former high school teammate, had been diagnosed with mononucleosis and was told by doctors he would not be able to compete for Team USA.
Robinson, Pitt's point guard who starred alongside Grant at DeMatha High School in Maryland, had flown halfway around the world on short notice to be his replacement. So when Robinson was among those Americans getting a gold medal placed around his neck Sunday after the championship against Serbia, he had all the reason in the world to give Grant another hug.
"It was crazy how it all came about," Robinson said.
After being among the team's final cuts in late June, Robinson was back at Pitt taking summer classes and working out with his teammates when USA head coach Billy Donovan phoned and asked him to take Grant's place on the roster. Robinson was on a plane the next day and joined the team in time for its first game of the tournament.
Robinson didn't have much time to think about the circumstances. Team USA played nine games in 11 days and won them all en route to just the second gold medal in 18 years for the U-19 team.
From 1979-2007, the FIBA U-19 championship was played once every four years. It has been played every two years since 2007. The other gold medal for Team USA came in 2009 when Pitt's Jamie Dixon was the head coach and former Panthers star Ashton Gibbs was the point guard. That team also went undefeated.
"It was a good feeling for us," Robinson said. "It was a great accomplishment for all of us. Fortunately, we got to do something not a lot of [American] teams have been able to do."
Team USA beat Serbia, 82-68, in the gold medal game. The Americans won their nine games by an average of 39.6 points. The smallest margin of victory was nine points against the Serbians earlier in the tournament.
Robinson played in a reserve role, averaging 14 minutes per game. He finished with 19 points, 19 assists and 10 steals for the tournament. He became the first Pitt player to win two gold medals in international competition.
It was Robinson's second stint with Team USA. He also played for Donovan, the coach at Florida, last summer when the U-18 team won the FIBA Americas championship in Brazil. Robinson's international record is 14-0.
The 6-foot-3 sophomore said his experiences with Team USA the past two summers have helped him develop as a player.
"You're playing with some of the best guys in the country," he said. "You learn so much when you compete against them. And in the game settings, you're competing against some of the best players in the world.
"The concepts we used with coach Donovan are pretty much the same as Pitt, but we went up and down a lot more with Team USA. I think that's going to help me because with the team we have now at Pitt, we're going to get up and down a lot more. We're going to be using more quick-hitting offensive plays."
Robinson is coming off a freshman season in which he started 32 of 33 games and led the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.5 assists per game.
One of his offseason goals is to get in better shape to withstand the rigors of another long season. His work in the weight room is evident in his new physique. He is 8 pounds lighter and has replaced body fat with lean muscle.
"I'm trying to take care of my body and be in the best shape," Robinson said. "I'm trying to be quicker and more athletic."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published July 13, 2013 4:00 AM