One on One with Chris Dortch: Gerald Robinson
Most college basketball coaches would sooner drink an antifreeze cocktail than overhype a recruit, so when Georgia's Mark Fox bragged about a then-little known transfer last season, people took notice.
"If we had Gerald Robinson and he did not have to sit out, we would have five, six or seven more wins," Fox said. "That's a lot to put on one kid, but we've had a lot of single-possession or two-possession outcomes where an experienced guard with some quickness and some athleticism, the ability to score and break down a defense, would make a huge difference in our team."
Twelve games into his power-conference career, Robinson, who played two seasons at Tennessee State, is making Fox look like a prophet. Robinson is
a difference maker. What sort of a difference maker? How about the difference between the NIT and the NCAA Tournament?
Sixteen brutal Southeastern Conference games are still to come, and the Bulldogs haven’t yet played their way into the NCAAs. But they certainly could have played their way out
of the tournament were it not for the presence of Robinson. Consider this lengthy list of heroics:
• In his first game, Robinson hit two free throws in the final 1:36 and scored 19 points as the Bulldogs, playing without injured preseason All-SEC first-team pick Trey Thompkins, held off a Mississippi Valley State upset bid, 72-70.
• Against Colorado in his second-ever game, Robinson scored 21 points, six in the final 1:32, as Georgia, still without Thompkins, outlasted the Buffaloes, 83-74.
• In his third game, Robinson’s pass to Jeremy Price led to the winning layup as Georgia, with Thompkins again on the sidelines, bagged a big road win at Saint Louis.
• Robinson scored four points in the final 14 seconds as the ‘Dogs defeated a UAB team that is now 10-2 and has a win over Arkansas.
• Just as Fox predicted, Robinson’s “ability to break down a defense” led to another road win at Georgia Tech. With 15.3 seconds to play, Georgia cleared out for Robinson, who jetted into the lane, drew three defenders and kicked a pass out to Dustin Ware, who drained a three-pointer to secure a 73-72 victory.
“He’s been a lot of what we thought he’d be,” Fox said. “Gerald’s a great kid, a winner of a kid. He’s got a complete game, and he’s really made an impact on our team with his ability to score the ball, his ability to shoot the ball, his ability to break down a defense and find a teammate and with his defense. He’s a pretty complete player.”
How does Robinson do his thing? The most effective weapon in his arsenal is quickness. Robinson’s teammates compare him to former South Carolina darter Devan Downey.
“Quick on quick,” Fox told Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook
last summer. “He really brings an element of speed and quickness to our backcourt that we didn’t have last year. He’s going to go by people.”
And so he has. Robinson’s ascension to the game’s highest level has gone exactly the way he knew it would when he chose to leave Tennessee State during his sophomore season after coach Cy Alexander was fired.
“The whole time I was at Tennessee State, I knew I could play at a higher level,” Robinson said. “I didn’t doubt that. Once I got my release, I went back to the drawing board and decided to rethink things. I wanted a better opportunity and better exposure.
“Being in a bigger conference like the SEC gives you a better chance to win, and a better chance of getting to the NCAA Tournament. In a smaller conference, it pretty much comes down to winning the conference tournament. It’s tough to put all your eggs in one basket like that.”
Just as he said, Robinson put a lot of thought into selecting his next destination. Fox hadn’t even coached a game at Georgia at that time, having come from the University of Nevada to replace former Bulldog coach Dennis Felton, and had no previous relationship with Robinson.
Robinson used the Internet and social networking to find out as much as he could about Fox and his system, and though he had plenty of other high-major opportunities, Robinson put his trust in a new coach in a rebuilding situation.
Fox didn’t have to do nearly as much homework to decide whether to recruit Robinson, who had already proven he could excel against the teams Georgia typically plays. As a freshman, he scored 24 points, to go with three steals, against Georgia Tech and hit Vanderbilt with 24 points and five rebounds. The next season, Robinson racked up 25 points, five boards and three steals against Kentucky and 15 points, seven rebounds and five steals against Alabama.
Given that history, and also what he observed on a daily basis in practice as Robinson served out a red-shirt season in 2009-10, Fox had no trouble making a bold statement about Robinson’s potential impact.
“I’m glad coach had enough confidence in me to make a statement like that,” Robinson said. “I tried to make sure I could live up to it and got as much out of my year off as I could. I wanted to work on my game mentally and physically. You learn a lot of things just sitting there and watching one of coach’s practices. And physically, I put a lot of work in on my game and in the weight room [adding 20 pounds of muscle to his 160-pound frame].”
As busy as he was a year ago, Robinson still missed playing in games. He and teammate and fellow red-shirt Connor Nolte had to get inventive to stave off boredom.
“One day after the team left for a road game, we were just shooting around [in Georgia’s practice facility] and I told Connor, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea. Go get your [video] camera,’ ” Robinson said.
The result was a series of trick shot videos that are now floating around the Internet. In one, Robinson bounces a ball high off the wall and into the basket—“I got that one on the first take,” he said—and in another he makes a half-court shot by intentionally bouncing it in the lane.
“I got that idea from our director of basketball operations [Kent Davidson],” Robinson said. “He’d try that shot after practice, and I thought, ‘hey, I can do that.’ ”
Robinson, it seems, can do a lot of things. His father, Gerald, Sr., is the tennis coach at Tennessee State. In the younger Robinson’s sophomore year there, the tennis team found itself short on numbers, so dad asked son to lend a hand. Robinson joined the team, traveled to tournaments and even won a match.
“That was just the competitive side of me,” Robinson said. “I hate to lose—at anything.”