Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Duncan Robinson turns down Team USA to fight for NBA spot

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He had a choice: To wear the red, white and blue in the Americas World Cup qualifiers or work on reaching his ultimate goal.

For Duncan Robinson, the choice was pretty easy. After all, the former Williams College basketball player wants to play in the National Basketball Association.

"While that was a big time honor, my priority right now is to really prepare for this NBA season and solidify myself as an NBA player," Robinson said. "I felt that taking those three weeks right before training camp when the entire team is back in Miami and working out and all of a sudden I'm out of town, I didn't feel like it was the best look. I thought it was an opportunity to show the front office and the coaching staff that playing for the Heat and being a member of that team was my top priority."

Robinson had signed a two-way contract with the NBA's Miami Heat as the summer league season came to a close. Under a two-way contract, Robinson can play up to 45 days with the Heat without having his contract converted to an NBA deal. Other than those 45 days, Robinson will play for the NBA's G-League team in Sioux Falls, S.D.

ESPN analyst, and former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy is coaching the United States team in the World Cup of Basketball. It's a team that has seven current NBA reserves, five G-League players and two free agents on the roster. That roster is probably highlighted by Jordan Crawford, who has played for five different NBA teams including the Boston Celtics. Former Kansas standout Frank Mason, now with Sacramento, is also on the squad.

But when Robinson told the Heat he was sticking around Miami, Heat president Pat Riley said the team was glad to see the ex-Eph and Michigan Wolverine staying around South Beach.

"I'm really proud of the fact that Duncan Robinson has been invited to play in the international series," Riley said of the September window for World Cup qualifying, "but he decided to stay here because he wanted to make our team, he wants to force us into giving him a real contract."

Robinson can earn up to $385,000 on his two-way contract, and could get paid up to $838,000 with an NBA minimum deal.

"My agent reached out to me, he kind of called and said they had invited me to the training camp for the international series out in Vegas," Robinson said to me in a phone conversation about 10 days ago. "It was a pretty cool honor to hear from them and be invited. It was pretty surreal.

"It's a lot of younger guys, the kind of guys who are similar to my position."

Robinson, who graduated from Michigan in June after helping the Wolverines get to the NCAA Division I national championship game against Villanova, said he's been in Florida since signing, working out at the Heat's complex.

Working with the Heat staff, both basketball and training, have made Robinson a better basketball player. At least when I asked him about it, that's what he thought.

"I think I've improved a lot. Having that hands-on instruction and learning little nuances about what it takes to be successful at this level," Robinson said. "On top of that, obviously, it's about the competition as well. I'm certainly getting pushed every day by the coaching staff and players around me."

Just staying in Florida for the summer does not guarantee Duncan Robinson one of the 15 spots on the Miami Heat roster. He said he understands that and knows how slim the margin is between making the NBA team and playing in the G-League.

"You can only control what you can control, obviously. This is a decision I felt like I had in my control," he said. "I'm very understanding of the fact that you have to get breaks and kind of get lucky here and there to have something like this happen.

"I'm thankful for the opportunity, and I'm going to make the most of it."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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