PITTSBURGH — Up 51-50 late in a 2016 Atlantic 10 Championship semifinal contest against Saint Louis, Duquesne women’s basketball senior guard April Robinson took her signature three-point shot.
Duquesne had never been to a championship final in program history, so when the shot dropped with 22.3 seconds remaining in regulation, the Dukes players all let out a collective fist pump and everyone on the bench quickly rose to their feet.
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“That shot at the end,” Robinson said at the time, “I wasn’t sure whether to shoot it, but I just knocked it down and that was just the mentality of hitting the shot.”
Robinson always was a shooter but, as an upperclassmen became a vocal leader a far cry from the team-appointed “mute spittah” given prior to her freshman year.
Duquesne Coach Dan Burt had been looking for Robinson to embrace the leadership role and talk on the court and the breakthrough came during a conference home game against UMass. Through cramps and tears, Robinson refused to exit the game and guided the team to an overtime win.
“That’s the most vocal leadership I’ve seen from April,” Burt said. “She was simply an incredible leader during that time. Frankly, I didn’t even know if she could play because she was cramping so bad. One of the officials came over to ask if she could play. I told the official I didn’t have a choice. Even if I wanted to take her out at any point, she wouldn’t have let me.”
Nothing would stop Robinson from achieving her childhood dream of making the NCAA Tournament, something which happened in her senior year.
As basketball season drew closer to tipping off, appeared to be a normal preseason day as the Duquesne women’s basketball coaching staff was in a meeting for the day, and Robinson was preparing for her day at US Steel, when her cell phone suddenly rang.
Duquesne women’s basketball coach Dan Burt informed Robinson, that the promise he made to her as a student-athlete was being fulfilled. On January 27, Robinson will be the third Duquesne women’s basketball player to have her number retired joining Korie Hlede and Beth Friday.
“I thought I was going to tear up to be honest,” said Robinson. “It’s an incredible honor. I never had the goal of having my jersey retired, but it just goes to show that hard work pays off. I just hope I don’t cry in front of everybody. I might tear up a little bit, but definitely will be all smiles.”
At first, Robinson was not enamored with the idea of attending college at a city school, but Duquesne never felt like a city school to her and she enjoyed interacting with both the coaching staff and players.
Robinson could easily have transferred when Suzie McConnell-Serio left to take the Pitt coaching job, but stayed at Duquesne, and learned from both Burt and the coaching staff.
At Duquesne, Robinson amassed 1,598 points, fourth in program history, made 249 career three-point shots and played in 133 games, both of which are Dukes records. Robinson also had 578 assists, ranking second in the Duquesne record books in that statistic.
“April Robinson is one of the most important players in our women’s basketball program history,” Burt said. “From starting every game in her career, to leading our program to our first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, April has been the catalyst for our success. Many former players have helped build our foundation and April has led the way with her efforts and success on the court, in the classroom and in the workforce.”
The Jan. 27 date that was agreed upon had to match both Duquesne and Robinson’s schedule as Robinson also is an assistant coach at Oakland Catholic High School.
That day will bring back memories for Robinson and she also hopes many of her teammates are able to attend, some of whom have already reached out expressing a desire to attend.
After graduation, Robinson remained in Pittsburgh serving under McConnell-Serio as a graduate student manager and then as director of video.
“(Dan) Burt is one of those guys who sets you up for success,” said Robinson. “He makes you realize that it is not all about basketball, he wants us to be out in the community and to go get an internship. He taught me how to be a better basketball player, but more importantly, a better person. His energy was contagious. Suzie obviously helped me. She gave me a job and allowed me to pursue my MBA while learning underneath her. Seeing two different sides and aspects of coaching is super beneficial for me.”
By going to Pitt, Robinson did not continue her playing career, a decision which was not taken lightly.
Still, Robinson occasionally does get nostalgic, posting how much she misses playing the game with various pictures of her in a Duquesne uniform.
“I don’t ever think that jump shot is going to go away,” Robinson said. “College was probably the best four years of my life, the people I met, the people I got to play with, everyone off the court. It was incredible. “
When Robinson was practicing with her father Jeffrey in Springfield Va, she did so with the NCAA Tournament as a goal, never expecting to have her jersey hang from both the A.J. Palumbo Center and soon the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse.
It took Robinson until age 10 to beat her dad in a game of one-on-one and those daily battles are where the competitive grit displayed at Duquesne were sharpened.
She hopes during that Jan. 27 ceremony she can properly thank her father as well as the various coaches, teammates, academic support, administrators, fans and everyone else who played a role in getting her number hung in the rafters.
While Robinson may not be able to control her emotions during the ceremony, she does hope that when someone sees her jersey, the message of being a well-rounded player shows through.
“Give 100% every single day,” she said. “Have that work ethic and that mindset to do anything you set your mind to do. To be great off the court we well, in the classroom, in the corporate world, anywhere. That same mindset you have as a player should translate off the court.”