Cook: Pitt's Robinson passing a major test
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A wise man once told me the mistakes you make in life never define you as a person. The way you deal with those mistakes is what counts.
"Adversity doesn't build character," Bill Cowher often said. "It reveals it."
I'm guessing coach Cowher would be proud of Pitt's Nasir Robinson.
You might have heard the kid was in the news the past few days.
I'm here to tell you he has plenty of character.
"I'm just trying to be strong," Robinson said. "I'm trying to be the same person I've always been. I know there are consequences that go with everything you do. You have to admit to the things you did wrong and move on."
"Just manning up," Robinson called it.
This was Tuesday afternoon, before Robinson worked out in near-empty Petersen Events Center. It was about the time the Pitt team should have been leaving for New Orleans for a round of 16 game against Wisconsin Thursday night in the NCAA tournament. That trip was canceled when No. 1-seeded Pitt was upset by No. 8 Butler, 71-70, Saturday night in Washington. Robinson didn't lose the game by himself, certainly. But his mistake at the end is the one people remember. He fouled Butler's Matt Howard on a rebound attempt with 0.8 seconds left after a missed free throw by Pitt's Gilbert Brown. Instead of overtime, Howard made a free throw to win it for Butler.
"I'm not going to run and hide from that," Robinson said. "It happened. If people want to talk to me about it, I'll talk to them."
And so Robinson did.
"I felt like I let the fans down, let my teammates down, let myself down by not making a smarter play," he said. "This was the year for us. We had the team and the depth and the talent to do it."
Those were Robinson's first thoughts after the game. Maybe you saw the poignant, pathos-filled picture of him in Sunday's Post-Gazette, sobbing, a towel over his head. He was practically a puddle in front of his locker.
The team's bus ride home from D.C. wasn't any easier. "I had my music on, just trying to zone out," Robinson said. But his mind kept rushing back to the final play, replaying it again and again.
Robinson is known for being Pitt's hardest worker and fiercest competitor. He showed that in the Panthers' tournament win against UNC Asheville Thursday when he leaped over the press table for a loose ball and nearly decapitated Pitt broadcaster Dick Groat. It's no wonder he's high on coach Jamie Dixon's list of favorite players because of his all-out effort. But this time, Robinson's intensity hurt him and Pitt.
"I stuck my hand in there, just trying to make a play," he said. "My hand got tangled with [Howard's]. The ref called the foul. That was it. I knew the situation as soon as he called it. I was in shock."
Robinson called it "a dumb play." There have been others in the NCAA tournament over the years. Michigan's Chris Webber calling a timeout when his team didn't have one late against North Carolina in the 1993 championship game comes to mind. So does Georgetown's Fred Brown throwing a pass right to North Carolina's James Worthy at the end of the '82 title game.
Not that those plays made Robinson feel any better. Nothing was going to do that in the hours after the loss to Butler.
Robinson tried to find sleep at his Oakland apartment after Pitt's bus rolled into town around 3:30 a.m. Sunday. Of course, he failed. Later that morning, he found the nerve to check his Facebook page. Sure, there were a few posts on his wall from troubled people who called him "stupid" and worse. Thank goodness for the delete button. But most of the messages, he said, were supportive. More than a few pointed out that he had played one of his better games against Butler, making 7 of 9 shots and scoring 16 points.
"They told me that one play didn't lose the game," Robinson said. "[Dixon] told me the same thing. So did my teammates. But I still put the blame on me. I don't blame my teammates or the refs. I blame me."
Robinson spent part of Sunday watching NBA basketball. He couldn't watch the NCAA tournament games. And, no, he won't be watching Butler play Wisconsin Thursday night. "Don't think I can do that," he said, quietly.
At some point later Sunday, a text grabbed Robinson's attention. It was from Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, who had spent the weekend as an analyst on CBS bashing the Big East Conference for being overrated and saying it has no great players. But basketball people make for a tight fraternity. Barkley realized that one of their own was in trouble. That he took the time to reach out meant the world to Robinson.
"He said I was a tough kid and he liked the way I played," Robinson said. "He said he knew I was in a tough situation. He said it would hurt for a long time, but I had to move on."
Maybe Barkley's message got Robinson off his couch. By 6 p.m. Sunday, he was at Petersen Events Center, working out. What a sight he must have been, shooting shots alone, the sound of the bouncing ball piercing the quiet of the big building.
"I've got to start getting ready for next season," Robinson said. "I wish it started today. It will be my senior season. I just want to help our team win games."
I asked Robinson what sort of reception he expects to get from the home crowd when he's introduced as a starter before the first game.
"I would think the same ovation we always get," he said.
I told him he was wrong.
Robinson looked at me with a horrified look.
I told him he would get a standing ovation. I told him Pittsburgh people appreciate athletes who don't make excuses or look to pass blame. I told him they know character in a kid when they see it.
I'm thinking it was the first time he smiled in a few days.
First Published March 23, 2011 12:00 am