By Charles Guthrie
Basketball is clearly becoming an international game.
It can be seen in the increased competition at the Olympics and even in the NBA, where there are 68 active players who were born outside of the U.S.
In its search for a point guard, the Rider men’s basketball team hopped on the bandwagon when it signed London-born freshman Justin Robinson.
“We recruited him because he’s a great athlete,” Rider Head Coach Tommy Dempsey said. “We targeted him right from the beginning and went after him hard. He has a chance to be a great player here.”
Rider was in the hunt for Robinson’s services with several big name schools. Among them were St. Louis, coached by the great Rick Majerus, Iowa State, Massachusetts and George Mason, a school put on the college basketball map after its 2006 Final Four run.
But Robinson didn’t come to Rider straight from London. He moved to America when he was 16 and attended a prep school in upstate New York for a year. He then moved on to Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J., for two years.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound guard excelled at basketball while at Blair, where he led his school to the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) title as a junior and was named First Team All-MAPL and Second Team All-State by the Star-Ledger.
The offers from schools started coming in as he entered his junior season, and that’s when the rookie guard realized he was capable of playing at the next level.
“After my sophomore year I was getting looks, but no offers,” Robinson said. “At the end of my junior year schools were calling my coach and I was starting to build confidence knowing that schools wanted me.”
Robinson started playing basketball at the age of 10, when his older brother bought him a poster of Michael Jordan for Christmas. From there, his dad started taking him to the local club of the Brixton Top Cats to shoot around, and he’s been playing ever since.
What made the Lawrenceville campus the right fit for Robinson was the comfort he felt with the team and its proximity to home.
“When I came here the players gave me a good vibe and were good to me,” he said. “Plus my high school coach is only an hour away, and I wanted to keep up the contact with my teammates and classmates from Blair.”
Making the adjustment from high school to college ball took some time for the starting point guard because Division-I players are on a higher level than the competition he faced in high school.
“It’s hard because the guys are a lot stronger than in high school,” Robinson said. “In high school I was able to out-muscle all the guards I played against, but here, especially being a freshman playing against older guards, it’s a lot harder to have your way. Especially since a lot is on my shoulders to run this team and get guys involved.”
The Broncs have played some major conference schools, such as No. 24 Kansas State, Penn State, N.C. State and Rutgers. In the beginning, Robinson was a bit in awe of these big schools, but after playing them he realized that he can compete with those teams.
“At first it was like wow, I used to watch them on TV in England,” he said. “As the game went on you realized they’re normal people just like us and that Division-I is Division-I. At the end of the day it didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me, it just seemed normal.”
Robinson, along with freshman point guard Matt Griffin, was recruited because Rider needed a point guard to manage its explosive offense. Dempsey said it’s a tall task for a freshman to meet, but Robinson’s a vital part of the team’s success as it makes a move toward a MAAC regular season championship.
“It’s not easy to be a freshman point guard on a good team with high expectations,” Dempsey said. “We need him to play well for us down the stretch if we are going to make a run.”
In high school, Robinson considered himself a scorer, but now says he’s finding a middle ground and becoming more of a distributor.
“I’m playing against other Division-I players here so I couldn’t come down and take the first shot,” he said. “So obviously I would come down as more of a disher. As time has gone on, I’ve been in between. Coaches know that I can score, but they want me to get guys involved, so I’m in between.”
Robinson said his freshman season has been an up and down learning experience.
“Some days it’s just clicking when I know when to pass and when to shoot and the offense is going smoothly,” he said. “But, there will be some games where I try too much and go at a different pace than everyone else. I’m going too quickly and I have to slow down sometimes and let the game come to me.”
Right now the Broncs are in a four-way tie for first place with Niagara, Siena and Loyola. He’s only a freshman, but with a team this good, Robinson said they can’t settle for anything less than a championship.
“The expectations are to win the MAAC,” Robinson said. “Can’t settle for less. We want to win the MAAC and go to the [NCAA Tournament].”