When Pitt basketball fans think of a prototype Panther basketball player, former Panther James Robinson probably comes to mind.
The former Pitt point guard was gritty, fundamentally sound, productive and a leader.
Robinson made 135 career starts–a Pitt record–and was one of only three Pitt players to finish their careers with over 1,000 points, 600 assists, 400 rebounds and 150 steals.
More importantly, James Robinson won games as Pitt’s unquestioned leader. In his four years with the program, Robinson’s teams finished with a career record of 90-46.
As an observer from afar, the losing that the program has endured was tough to watch and something he wasn’t accustomed to.
“We definitely didn’t get the results that we were looking for,” said Robinson. “Nobody wants to go through a college season like that. I obviously wasn’t there daily in practice, in the team meetings, in the study halls and things like that so I can’t speak on that behalf but watching games, you want to see a winning product on the court. That’s not to say the previous coaching staff and players didn’t put their all into every game or every practice but at the end of the day, you want to see guys out there representing your school out there by winning.”
In the last month, Jeff Capel has made it a point to reach out to players from the program’s past to try and develop a family like atmosphere like they do at his former school Duke.
Recently, Capel and his staff took his team to Washington D.C. to view various historical places and while there, invited Robinson to a team dinner.
“I think it’s very important to have guys who leave the program to come back and be around the current players,” said Robinson. “I’m not just talking about guys who go on to play in the NBA or overseas but also former players that are in the business world and other areas. It’s important for them to come back and to relay to them successes they’ve had after college and tell them that they’ve been through the grinds of long seasons and practices and I took everything I learned and applied it and this is the level I’m at now. You can do the same or do even better.”
“It was a really cool experience to see the team bonding. I definitely miss those days. While with them, I had a chance to talk to Coach Capel and I saw how much he really cares his players, the city of Pittsburgh and improving the culture of the Pitt basketball program. It was neat to sit down and talk to him and hear the direction he has for the program.”
This was Robinson’s first experience meeting Capel and came away quite impressed especially in regards to one area.
“He’s super family oriented. He’s actually coached some former high school teammates of mine like Quinn Cook. Hearing Coach Capel talk about Quinn and the ties that he still has to him and his family and how much he still supports Quinn and is still there for him. It’s apparent that Coach Capel is someone that will always be there for his former players even when they’re gone. I thought that was really neat to hear.”
Despite it being a small sample size, Robinson came away from his time with Capel feeling like the new regime has Panther basketball headed in the right direction.
“I have no doubt that Coach Capel, the rest of his staff and his players will bring Pitt basketball back and maybe even to a higher level than it was before. They have a philosophy and mindset that’s based around winning, teaching and learning. I believe those characteristics will propel the program very high.”
For those of you wondering, Robinson is still playing professional basketball overseas. He recently signed a deal to play in Israel in the 1st division after playing in Germany last year.
After playing basketball in the United States his entire life, I asked Robinson the biggest differences of playing overseas.
“There is a bit of a learning curve. Every place, every team, every country you go to it’s going to be different. My first year, I played in the Bosnia region which is very close to Bulgaria where Sheldon Jeter played. Him and I had similar learning experiences when it comes to basic things. For example, you see Sheldon’s hair, it’s crazy because no barber. There’s also possible language barriers because sometimes players on your team don’t speak as much English as you’re accustomed to so that’s a big challenge. But then you might go to certain places where it’s pretty much like the States. I had a very good experience in Germany. Every year is a learning experience.”
The most important thing is that Robinson says that he still loves and enjoys playing basketball.