Nasir Robinson: the pain of a draining season

A knee injury has slowed his final year with the Panthers, but he continues to battle and fight until the end as he prepares for his last regular-season home game tonight against St. John's

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Pitt forward Nasir Robinson has been to the doctor more times than he has celebrated victories this season. That's never the recipe for a prosperous senior year.

There is daily pain in his surgically repaired knee. Regularly scheduled procedures to drain fluid allow him to practice and play in games. Team doctors and trainers have been taken aback by the amount of fluid that has to be taken from his swollen right knee.

"It has the doctors shaking their heads," coach Jamie Dixon said.

Robinson is not 100 percent. Far from it, he said Monday afternoon as he prepared to play the final regular-season home game of his career tonight against St. John's.

Scouting report
  • Matchup: St. John's (13-16, 6-10 Big East) vs. Pitt (15-14, 4-12), 7 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center.
  • TV, radio, Internet: ESPNU, KDKA-FM (93.7),
  • Pitt: Coming off 57-54 loss Sunday at Louisville, its fifth loss in a row. ... First time since 1999-2000 to have two five-game losing streaks in the same season. ... Has to win one of final two regular-season games to avoid worst Big East record in school history. ... Senior G Ashton Gibbs (15.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg) has reached double figures once in the past five games. ... Junior G Tray Woodall (11.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg) is 14 for 53 from the field in the past five games.
  • St. John's: Coming off 61-58 victory Saturday against Notre Dame. ... Is 2-8 on the road this season. ... Won at DePaul and at Cincinnati. ... Led by D'Angelo Harrison (17.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg), Moe Harkless (15.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and God'sgift Achiuwa (9.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg).
  • Hidden stat: St. John's is 14th in the Big East in scoring defense, allowing 73.9 points per game but held Notre Dame to 58 points.

If he were an underclassman, Robinson said he would have considered applying for a medical redshirt.

"Most definitely I would have thought about it," Robinson said. "I'm not 100 percent. I'm not making excuses. It's something I've been battling through all season."

He continued: "It's painful. This is my last year. I just try to fight through it every practice and do what I have to do to help my teammates."

Dixon always has had a soft spot for Robinson, a three-year starter whose game is unpolished in many ways but remains effective. He is the type of player who has thrived in Dixon's program -- an underdog who has to play with grit to have success.

Robinson is a 6-foot-5 power forward who has 871 career points and 572 career rebounds despite routinely going up against players 3-5 inches taller.

This season has been a struggle. He has had to sit out practices and he has to block out the pain when game time comes.

Despite the constant visits to the doctor and the treatment room of team trainer Tony Salesi, Robinson has started every game this season. He is the team's top rebounder (6.8 per game) and the third-leading scorer (11.1 ppg).

"He's battling," Dixon said. "Every time [Salesi] tells me how much is drained he's amazed. Last week, there was one day, he was supposed to get it drained, and it didn't need [to be] drained. The next day there was a huge amount. It's been hard to predict and totally inconsistent as to why and when it comes. Taking days off has not helped it. There doesn't seem to be a correlation between playing and practicing as to when it needs to get drained."

This wasn't the way Robinson wanted his career to end. There were high hopes for him and the team. The Panthers began the season ranked No. 10 in the polls and had expectations of playing in an 11th consecutive NCAA tournament.

Robinson helped the Panthers to a Big East Conference regular-season championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament last season after having the same surgery in October 2010 to repair the same meniscus.

There was little swelling and pain after that surgery, and Robinson felt 100 percent by the time March rolled around. Robinson describes his knee now as feeling "stiff" and it "doesn't bend the way I want it to bend."

"I asked Tony why last year around this time I was good, I was healthy," Robinson said. "He said it was rest. We didn't have the rest [this season]. We had a lot of games back to back and practices, going hard every day."

Doctors encouraged Robinson to take more time off to properly heal the knee, but he didn't want to miss any games. More than anything, he didn't want to let his teammates down.

"They told me I should sit out, but I didn't want to," he said. "I felt like my body could handle the pain, fight through the pain. I wanted to go out my last year with a bang."

He is hoping that can still happen. After the home finale tonight against St. John's, the Panthers play Saturday at Connecticut in the regular-season finale. Then it's a trip to Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournament, which starts Tuesday. The Panthers will need five victories in five days to keep their NCAA tournament streak alive.

"It's real tough on me, how the season has been going," Robinson said. "But I'm not giving up. My teammates aren't giving up. We're going to keep fighting. We know this season hasn't been good for us, but we're going to keep fighting. If we keep fighting, good things will happen."

Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published February 29, 2012 5:00 AM


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