Robinson matures right before our eyes
Nate Robinson isn't all Ringling Brothers any more. He has become more than the 360-in-your-face dunk.
Seattle Times staff columnist
The changes in his game have been subtle. Little things he does with the basketball in his hands. Patient adjustments he makes in his game.
Nate Robinson isn't all Ringling Brothers any more. He has become more than the 360-in-your-face dunk. He is more than the little point guard who could. He isn't all air. But he's still all ball.
Sure, he still brings the jolt of electricity that will jump you out of your seat. But, in quiet ways, Robinson is growing his game.
"He's really kind of slowed his game down and still found a way to be effective," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said after the Huskies' 66-48 slog over Washington State. "I just think it's maturity on his part as well as him recognizing there are other guys out here who can make plays."
Occasionally last season there were times teammates waited for Robinson to give them a lift, to pull them out of some inexplicable lethargy. More often than not he responded with a tip jam or a breakaway steal or some hovering, locked-and-loaded dunk that was almost anti-Newtonian.
But this season his 10th-ranked, 16-2 teammates have risen with him. This season, freshman Joel Smith can toss a give-and-go, behind-the-back pass to Jamaal Williams as he did early yesterday, caffeine-ating the sold-out house. Or Tre Simmons can knock down a three-pointer at the end of a withering 14-0 first-half run.
"Nate's playing at his pace," Simmons said. "He's playing like there's other players on the court. He's playing within the team. People just want to see Nate do 360 dunks and shoot from half court, but he's playing like a team and we're playing more like a team this year."
Playing with a stomach so bad he threw up before the game, Robinson had a workmanlike 13 points, six rebounds and three assists against the maddeningly methodical Cougars.
"It's tough for him because he's got everybody focusing on him," point guard Will Conroy said. "He can't go over the top and get the tip dunks because they're boxing him out.
"Everybody's being extra careful with the ball around him because they know he can take it from you and make an exciting play. There's more emphasis on him. Teams are a lot more careful when he's around. He's just making the substance plays. And we'll take that."
In the final minute of the first half, after WSU cut the Huskies lead to 25-16, Robinson blew past Derrick Low, drew a foul on Kyle Weaver and converted two free throws. Then he grabbed a rebound over 6-foot-7 Chris Schlatter, who nearly is a foot taller, was fouled and made two more free throws.
"He doesn't feel like he has to be Superman after every possession anymore to impress or to get someone's attention," Romar said. "He's just going out to win the game and contribute the best way he can."
Robinson, a junior who recently became a father, exploded onto the landscape of college basketball so quickly and so dramatically last season, we sometimes forget that he decided on his basketball-only existence just two years ago. Before that he was a high-hurdling, pass-defending, point/two guard.
He practically was a decathlon man, doing every sport he tried better than most players around him.
"We sometimes lose sight that, for about 14 years of Nate's life, he played three or four sports," Romar said. "For the first time in his life last year he started concentrating on basketball and he's just growing up real fast, getting more reps as a basketball player.
"When the year started I said that Nate was an improved player and people said why. I said he's shooting the ball better and his decisions are better. Now, every once in a while, Nate is still a free-spirited player. There are still times when we have to yank on his hair a little bit, but not many."
Last year, his coming-out year in the game, Robinson averaged 13.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He started 21 of 31 games. This year he has started all 18 games, and is averaging 16.7, 4.3 and 5.2.
But the most impressive part of Robinson's game is that, even though he went to the NBA draft camp last year, he isn't playing for the NBA scouts this season.
He isn't forcing shots, trying to put up dazzling numbers that can wow the nation. He's playing to win. Playing for his team, not himself.
His game is growing up, right in front of our eyes.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
email@example.com | 206-464-2176
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