By Jordan Hall
A three-part series focusing on the three Rider men’s basketball players who competed in their final game will run over the next three issues, beginning today with Justin Robinson.
Three different players, three different backgrounds, but at Rider, one thing in common: winning. When seniors Justin Robinson, Mike Ringgold and graduate student Patrick Mansell stepped on campus for the first time as freshmen, each brought distinctive skills and pasts to the men’s basketball program, and now they depart with a mutual reputation as proven winners.
The veteran trio donned the cranberry and white for the final time on March 15. The short-handed Broncs (23-11, 13-5 MAAC) dropped their first round contest in the College Insider Tournament at Northern Iowa, 84-50, without sophomore Jonathon Thompson who was serving a suspension for violating a team rule and second-leading scorer, junior Novar Gadson who underwent knee surgery following the MAAC Tournament.
Now, Robinson, Ringgold and Mansell will move on, but not without etching their names into the Rider record books.
The threesome notched 82 wins as Broncs, the most ever in a four-year span at Rider while making three postseason tournaments.
“I had just gotten the job so they took somewhat of a leap of faith with me,” said Head Coach Tommy Dempsey. “They’ll be remembered as winners. If they were going to leave a legacy here, it would be guys that came here, did things the right way and won.”
Compared to the majority of his teammates, Robinson took a long distance and challenging road to Rider.
The First Team All-MAAC selection completed a stellar career in which he compiled 1,480 points, 10th most at Rider, 394 assists, sixth-best in program history, and was as durable as they come, starting 125 of 130 games played.
Robinson was brought up in the Brixton district of London, an inner city with a rich culture where soccer ruled the streets.
“London has different people from multiple creeds and lives,” said Robinson. “It was a big city and I had fun.”
Robinson was a part of the soccer fervor in his early days but at the age of 9, his older brother bought him a Michael Jordan poster and the rest was history.
“I started playing [basketball] in the streets and stuff and then my Dad took me to the Brixton recreational center and I went there and started to improve,” he said.
The 6’2” guard honed his skills and when he turned 16, he was ready to take a significant yet scary step in his future. The soft-spoken, thick-accented sharpshooter came to America to play at a higher level and gain an education, a daunting task at first.
“In my family’s eyes, it was seen as an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down,” he said. “My first impression was I hated it. When I first came, I wanted to go back straight away.”
Robinson didn’t become accustomed to the U.S. quickly. He was used to the urban lifestyle where you can catch the subway or bus and move around freely. But the most difficult transition was getting used to the different accents and missing home.
“My accent was crazy-strong, so people had trouble understanding me and I had trouble understanding them because they speak so fast,” he said. “And small things like the food. I missed my Mom’s cooking and I missed my brothers, sisters and friends.”
First, Robinson started in Virginia at Notre Dame Academy which he described as a horrible experience. He left after a month, transferring to South Kent High School in Connecticut where he spent one year. He capped things off by attending Blair Academy in New Jersey, the place where he fell in love with America and graduated.
The Broncs’ four-year starter garnered recruiting interest from big-time programs, but then trimmed his decision down to Saint Louis, UMass and Rider. After visiting all three campuses, the familiarity with the state of New Jersey, staying close to Blair and the opportunity to play major minutes right from the get-go led him to choose Rider.
As a Bronc, Robinson turned into one of the most accurate three-point threats in the MAAC, hitting 43 percent of his career long-ball attempts. Each season, he mastered whatever role was expected of him, whether it was serving as floor general his freshman year, or leading scorer his senior season.
“Obviously, you want to be remembered as a good player and someone who had good individual stats, but it’s always good to leave as a winner,” he said.
Robinson is currently weighing possible agents and will select one as he has his sights set on the professional ranks, whether it be overseas or in America.
“Right now, I’m speaking with agents and I really cut it down to two or three who I’m cool with and actually trust,” he said.
With dreams of coming to the U.S. and playing Division I hoops crossed off his list, Robinson has one more ultimate goal of representing his country in 2012. He made the Great Britain team in 2010 and plans on proving himself again, receiving a roster spot, and hopefully qualifying for the Olympics Games, wearing his country’s colors on the national stage.
“I’m hoping I make it again,” he said. “And hopefully, I’ll be there in 2012.”
So does Rider, his American home.
NEXT WEEK: Mike Ringgold