Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Maker not surprised by Robinson's success in NBA
My social media exploded last week. When Duncan Robinson does Duncan Robinson things, that's going to happen.Robinson, the former Williams College basketball standout who plays for the NBA's Miami Heat, torched the Cleveland Cavaliers for nine — count 'em — nine, 3-point baskets in a Miami win over Cleveland.
What also made this interesting is the Cleveland coach is John Beilein, who coached the ex-Eph at Michigan.
Many may have been surprised by this performance, but the voice on my cell phone Friday morning was anything but.
"I have to be honest. I'm not surprised that Duncan is playing at the highest level. He's just a really special player," said Mike Maker.
Maker recruited Robinson to Williams, where the two helped push the Ephs to the NCAA Division III Final four in 2014. Robinson ended up being the D3hoops.com National Freshman of the Year.
"I can't say I'm surprised he's playing in the NBA and flourishing," Maker said when we spoke. "I'm not going to say that we expected it or predicted it or anything like that. We never put a ceiling on his hopes and dreams and development."
Maker is currently living with his family near the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., where his wife Erica is the women's cross country coach at St. Olaf, and is an assistant track and field coach. The Makers and their son Jack have been in Minnesota since Mike Maker was let go now two years ago from his head coaching job at Division-I Marist.
"When we first got him at Williams, I thought his skill level and his basketball IQ were on a par with some of the great players I had the great fortune of recruiting and coaching at West Virginia, when I was an assistant under Coach Beilein," Maker said. "I think that transition of him leaving Williams after his freshman year to play for Coach Beilein was a perfect fit for him."
Robinson had eight of his nine 3-pointers in the first half, and he finished up with 29 points.
"I'm going to be honest I wanted the 10 pretty badly," Robinson said after the game. "But we got the win that's all that matters."
It was the most 3-pointers Robinson had made since he went 7 for 10 in a 69-64 win for Williams over Bowdoin in January 2014.
"He's one of the world's best shooters," Maker said to me. "But he's not just a shooter. He's a really good basketball player. He's an elite shooter, but there are other things he does well."
When I wrote a column back in 2016 about Robinson's success at Michigan, I asked around about how Division I teams missed on the New Hampshire native.
"Could he have played at a higher level? Certainly, he's proven that," Maker told me then. "There have been a lot of good players that played small college basketball, or any other sport, that have developed if given the right circumstances and are productive at the very highest level of their sport or industry, and Duncan's no different than that."
Kentucky coach John Calipari told me that sometimes, it is hard to look inside a player and see his or her heart. Amherst College coach Dave Hixon watched Robinson grow as a player in that one Division III year. Robinson scored 12 and 9 points in two regular-season games, had 26 when Amherst won the NESCAC Tournament and then scored 30 in Williams 98-69 romp at the Final Four in Salem, Va.
When I asked Hixon back then, he did not mince words.
"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."
For his part, Maker has a long history as a Division I assistant. He worked for John Beilein at West Virginia and for current Oregon coach Dana Altman at Creighton. He was also an assistant at Dartmouth and Samford.
"I can't speak for anybody else. There are a lot of people in our business that are really good at what they do," Maker said. "I don't know. How did Tom Brady slide to Round 6? It happens. I think we were fortunate at Williams that the timing worked for us."
If you are looking to see Duncan Robinson catch fire on the court, you can do it Dec. 1 in Brooklyn, Dec. 4 in Boston, Jan. 10 in Brooklyn and Jan 12 at Madison Square Garden.
Mike Maker said that Duncan Robinson should, as long as he stays healthy, have a long and substantial NBA career.
"I think I share with everybody that's been fortunate to be touched by him, whether you coached him, played with him, rooted for him in The Berkshires, it's a wonderful story," Maker said. "I'm awfully proud of him."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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