UConn's Stanley Robinson back on court, hungry to succeed
A little over a year later, the 6-foot-9 forward nicknamed "Sticks" is averaging over 17 points a game and showing off an array of acrobatic dunks and moves that have caught the attention of NBA scouts.
And UConn coach Jim Calhoun believes the quiet kid from Birmingham, Ala., has just begun to tap into his talent. The Michigan basketball team (9-7, 3-2 Big Ten) gets a closer look at Robinson and UConn (11-5, 2-3 Big East) today in a 1:30 p.m. game at Crisler Arena.
"Stanley Robinson might be the most gifted kid on the court," Calhoun said this week after watching Robinson score 19 points, including the 1,000th of his career, in a loss to Pittsburgh.
"He's a great kid. I've said it a million times over," Calhoun said. "But he's got to be a great player. Right now, he's a great talent. He knows how to play basketball. He knows how to score the ball. But he's got to do more than that."
Robinson is just grateful for the chance to take his basketball career, and his life, off the scrap heap.
After meeting with Calhoun, it was decided that Robinson would take a semester off, get a job, and get his life in order.
"I didn't want everyone to get in my business, so I just wanted to leave quietly and get it done," Robinson said. "I could have played basketball somewhere else instead, but I felt I should go to work and help my family."
So Robinson left UConn. From July 2008 to that December, he spent eight hours a day at Prime Materials Inc. in Windham, Conn., just a few miles from the Storrs campus.
He sorted scrap metal into boxes and stacked aluminum wheels, said Ruslan Inyatkin, the plant manager.
"It's hard work," said Inyatkin. "It's not an easy job, but he managed it well. It kind of opened his eyes."
Robinson called it a great learning experience and said it gave him the perspective on life that he needed.
"It made me more hungry, and made me want to get back to doing what I had to do to get back to playing basketball," he said.
Robinson rejoined the team for the second half of last season, in time to help UConn in its run to the Final Four. But he had to walk on, because the team had already given out its allotment of scholarships for the year.
He earned his scholarship back for this season, and his teammates say he's become a leader — talking more at practice, becoming more a part of the team on and off the court, mentoring the younger players.
"When you look at him, you can't complain about anything," said sophomore guard Kemba Walker. "He's got a lot of responsibility on him. He's the only guy on the team with kids, and he comes out here to work every day. If he's doing it, it shouldn't be a problem for us."
Robinson credits Calhoun with helping him get his life back on track. He said the Hall of Fame coach has always been honest with him about what he needed to do, and what would happen if he followed that plan.
He's scored in double figures in 22 consecutive games and is averaging over seven rebounds a contest. After making just 3 of 23 shots from 3-point range last season, he's hit on 46 percent this season.
"Stanley makes the game look easy," Calhoun said. "And when a guy makes the game look easy, that means there's a lot more that he can do."
His next chance to show what else he can do will come Sunday when the No. 15 Huskies visit Michigan in their final nonconference game of the season.
Robinson believes if he continues on the path the coach has laid out, the NBA will be part of his future, and he's happy about that. But he says his focus right now is elsewhere.
While others might point to a windmill dunk, or a 29-point game as the highlight of his season, for Robinson, it was helping his daughters build their first snowman on a recent trip to Connecticut.
"I didn't have a father-figure growing up, so I want to be there for them," he said. "And I want to finish school. I just made three B's and a C. I'll still have one semester to go, because I took that semester off. So, I'm definitely going to come back and get it done. I've got to get my education, because basketball won't be forever."
That's something Robinson said he learned, just over a year ago.