Cook: Future of Pitt is in good hands with Robinson at the helm
Pitt freshman point guard James Robinson looks for an opening Sunday against Villanova's Darrun Hilliard.
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The talk began early in the college basketball season, back when Pitt was beating teams such as North Florida and Bethune-Cookman beyond recognition. Freshman James Robinson is going to be the best point guard in Pitt history, longtime observers of the program predicted. I immediately thought of Brandin Knight's No. 20 jersey hanging in the rafters at Petersen Events Center. How could it be? How could anyone say Robinson is going to be a better player?
I'm not thinking it's so crazy now.
Nor is the great Knight insulted.
Knight has a front-row seat to watch Robinson as a Pitt assistant coach under Jamie Dixon.
"I hope he is the best because that means we'll be winning a lot of games," Knight said.
That was in December. Robinson already had established himself as the man to run the Pitt offense, starting the first game against Mount St. Mary's. "He won the respect of his teammates early on with his work ethic and his unselfishness," Dixon said Tuesday. "He's really a team guy. He's really smart. He can really defend. He's probably the biggest point guard we've had, but he guards well for his size and handles the ball for his size."
Handles the ball well?
Robinson's assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.2-to-1 is the best in the Big East Conference.
The shot was the last thing to come for Robinson. He made a 3-point shot Jan. 28 against Louisville, then missed all eight of his 3-point attempts in the next seven games. The drought ended Sunday afternoon when he made a 3 late in regulation to tie Villanova, then hit another in overtime to give Pitt a 69-64 lead. He also made two crucial free throws late in Pitt's 73-64 win.
"Every shot I take, I think it's going in," Robinson said. "If the shot is there, I'm going to take it. My teammates have trusted me all year. They trust me enough to pass me the ball in big situations."
A clever tweeter noted late in the Villanova game that Robinson had enough ice in his veins to be Ted Williams.
I love that.
That's a good thing for Pitt as it prepares to play some serious March basketball. They say you need great guards to be successful in the NCAA tournament. Pitt is comfortable with fifth-year senior Tray Woodall, who has a ton of experience and has made the team his team. But it's also comfortable with Robinson. The kid is a winner. He played in 120 wins at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., more than any player at a school that produced so many famous alums, including Adrian Dantley and Danny Ferry. Do you think DeMatha missed Robinson this season? It went 13-14.
"He's just one of those guys that you get the feeling that there's something special about him," Knight said. "He has the poise and he really understands the game. He's very mature beyond his years."
Robinson turned 19 on Monday.
"His body still is changing," Dixon said. "He's still got baby fat. He's going to get stronger and quicker."
It will be nice for Pitt if it happens this month. It plays its final regular-season game Saturday at DePaul with a good chance of finishing fourth in the Big East and getting a double bye in the conference tournament next week at Madison Square Garden. It was there that Knight made his name by leading Pitt to three consecutive championship games and its first title in 2003. Of course, the NCAA tournament follows the Big East tournament. Knight was successful in the NCAAs, as well, getting Pitt to the Round of 16 in 2002 and 2003.
Knight gets credit as the player most responsible for starting this golden age of Pitt basketball. Robinson has a chance to take the program to new, greater heights.
"We're going to see if I'm ready to do it," Robinson said. "I just want to keep getting in the gym and working to get better every day."
Robinson said his favorite player growing up was Georgetown's Austin Freeman, who also played at DeMatha. He liked Pitt point guard Levance Fields, who helped Pitt get its first No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in 2009 and took it to the Round of Eight before a crushing loss to Villanova. Robinson remembers watching Freeman and Fields in the postseason tournaments. He said he often wondered what it felt like to play in the big games and make the big stop or take the big shot.
Robinson is about to find out.
I'm thinking he's ready for the challenge.
Correction, posted March 6, 2013: James Robinson's assist-to-turnover ratio has been corrected.
First Published March 6, 2013 12:00 am