Former Williams standout Robinson having success at Michigan


Ask anyone who knows Duncan Robinson about his success at the University of Michigan this year, and they'll all say that it is not a surprise. How quickly it has happened might be another story.

But if you ask the man himself.

"In terms of what I've been able to do on the court, I definitely thought I was capable of this to say the least," Robinson said. "Obviously, it's really exciting and it's been a lot of fun."

Why wouldn't it be fun for the former Williams College basketball standout. Robinson was the No. 2 scorer on the 16-5 Wolverines going into a game with Penn State on Saturday. It's the same quiet confidence Robinson grew into during his one year at Williams.

Robinson left Williams after his freshman season and in the wake of former coach Mike Maker departing for Division I Marist.

Robinson's freshman year was one for the books at Williamstown. He was the national rookie of the year and a fourth-team All-American. He was also the NESCAC rookie of the year. As a freshman, he played in all 32 games, started 31 and had a 17.1 point per game average.

He was part of a Williams team that routed Amherst 98-69 in the NCAA Division III national semifinal game in 2014, a game that saw Robinson score a career-high 30 points.

"Nothing he does surprises me," said Derek Johnston, an assistant basketball coach at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, who was on Maker's staff in 2014. "I knew he'd play some this year, but I didn't realize that he'd start by the second week of school."

After sitting out last year, Robinson is a redshirt sophomore at Michigan. Through Tuesday, he was second on the team with a 12.4 point average. In 27.7 minutes per game, he was shooting .506 from the floor and 67 of 131 (.511) from outside of the 3-point arc.

"We were thinking he could eventually play, but I don't think anybody in their right mind would say he would come in and play at the level that he's playing right now," Michigan coach John Beilein said to reporters in a Big Ten Conference conference call. "I thought over time this is where he could get to. Not in your first 15 games."

Which begs the question: How come Robinson started his career at Division III?

"That's a great question," said Jeff Goodman, a college basketball insider for ESPN, and a long-time recruiting analyst. "It really is amazing to think about it. Especially in these days, everybody wants shooters.

"There aren't that many great shooters out there."

Two seasons ago, coaches and players across New England got to watch Robinson improve at Williams. Amherst College coach Dave Hixon had seen Robinson since his high school days. The Amherst coach didn't have to think long when the question about Robinson's rapid ascension in the Michigan rotation is a surprise.

"I thought he'd be a top-eight guy. I didn't think he'd start," said Hixon. "He needed to get stronger and he got stronger. That's what happens when you have a redshirt year at that level.

The kid has absolutely been a phenomenal shooter from the get-go."

When it comes to how Robinson is at Michigan, Hixon said it was the Beilein-Maker connection. Michigan runs a similar offense to what Williams ran under Maker, who worked for Beilein at West Virginia.

But in the eyes of Hixon, Robinson at Michigan now was a complete whiff by Division I coaches.

"I watched the New England Division I schools walk by him in the same gym where I sat and watched him," said Hixon. "I've never seen a kid put on a show like this, and they walked right by him.

"And they went over and talked to a kid that I [wasn't interested in]."

John Calipari is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Calipari, who took the University of Massachusetts to a Final Four and won a Division I national championship at Kentucky, is known as one of the game's top recruiters.

When Calipari was asked how so many missed on Duncan Robinson, he cited NBA most valuable player Stephen Curry, who played at mid-major Davidson. Ironically, Davidson was one of three finalists for Robinson's services after his freshman year. The other two were go to Michigan or stay at Williams.

"The hardest thing for all of us to judge is a kid's heart, his desire, the pride he has and his competitive spirit," Calipari said during an interview at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield. "That's normally what you miss on. You can see if a kid can shoot or can do this or that.

"It's like Steph Curry. Everybody missed on his heart and his pride and his competitive spirit, his work capacity."

Robinson isn't the only NESCAC transfer in Division I this year. Dylan Sinnickson, a Middlebury graduate, is playing at Vermont with his extra year of eligibility. Matt Hart from Hamilton transferred to George Washington and recently earned a scholarship.

"I'm not saying I'm smarter than anybody else. I'm saying I've coached at the Division III and Division II levels and there are really good players that could play at any Division I school," said Beilein.

Robinson is proving that in Ann Arbor.

Robinson's .511 percentage from three is third best in the nation. The only two players in the country with better shooting percentages are the Oklahoma duo of Jordan Woodward (.544) and Buddy Hield (.523).

"I don't like to admit it, but I definitely do keep my eye on [the statistics]," Robinson said during a phone interview with The Eagle from the Michigan basketball offices in Ann Arbor. "Not necessarily to compare myself to anyone else, but for myself."

During his one year in NESCAC, Robinson got to play in front of standing-room-only crowds in Williams' Chandler Gym and Amherst's LeFrak Gym. But those crowds of 1,500, raucous as they might be, pale in comparison to the almost 12,000 that enter the Crisler Center.

The first home game for Robinson was Nov. 13, when the Wolverines hosted Northern Michigan.

"It was a surreal moment," he said, when asked about looking up at the crowd. "The idea that all those people are there to watch my team play."

The Wolverines went into the weekend 16-5 and 6-2 in the Big Ten. Robinson said the Wolverines had high expectations coming into the season and despite the loss of "our best player" Caris LeVert to an injury, Robinson's team has been able to string together some wins.

"I think we like the spot we're in right now," said the former Eph. "We're excited about where we are."

Those who have followed Williams basketball over the years, while they probably wish Robinson was still raining threes down on Amherst and the rest of NESCAC, are smiling when they see what he has done at Michigan.

"I've been preaching it for a while that NESCAC is riddled with scholarship-level players," said Robinson. "People say you're not the typical Division III kid, which might be true. But at the same time, I don't think the NESCAC is typical of Division III either. It's such a high level of basketball."

As Johnston recalled, Robinson was Williams' No. 1 recruit in a year that also brought Mike Greenman and Dan Aronowitz to the Purple Valley. Maker had been recruiting him hard when Johnston and Scott Day came on board as assistants at Williams.

"With every kid, the first thing you do is Google him. You Googled 'Duncan Robinson' and all you could find back then was stuff about Tim Duncan and David Robinson," Johnston said with a laugh. "Now you can't get away from him."

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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