Pittsburgh, PA — It was a simple question really meant to break up a series of questions regarding this season’s team but the answer Duquesne men’s basketball graduate student center Jordan Robinson gave was the most fascinating and revealing.
The question was who is your favorite NBA player?
The smile that came on Robinson’s face could not come fast enough. This was not going to be a simple answer and it was clear that Robinson gave it a lot of thought.
“My teammates will tell you Carmelo Anthony,” he said. “I love everything about his game and try to take from it. The way he attacks is versatile, he is in the post, he has moves, he’s outside. The reason I look more towards him than other big men is that I am 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9 on a good day, and that’s like Melo. He still finds ways to attack big guys and that’s who I look to.”
The thing that fascinates most with that answer is that to an extent both Robinson and Anthony are at similar points in their careers.
Anthony is coming off of a year with the New York Knicks in which there was plenty of adversity to overcome and he just never seemed to find a consistent rhythm. Now, Anthony is on the Oklahoma City Thunder with Paul George and Russell Westbrook, in another attempted NBA super team.
Robinson has spent the majority of his playing career trying to fight for minutes from the bench and last year ended up being a transition year for the team that ultimately led to Keith Dambrot’s hiring.
While no one would call this season’s Duquesne men’s basketball team, a “super team”, the popular belief is that the pieces are in place to build this into a program that will once again make all at Duquesne proud.
“I look at how he handled the adversity he was going through,” said Robinson of Anthony. “With the New York Knicks, things weren’t going as well. My year I wasn’t getting to play as much, it wasn’t going as well, but I was still playing hard, when I had the opportunity to. Now he’s in a better place, his mind is focused. I have a new staff, a new coach and I’m going to be playing more, so I have a new mindset as well.”
That new mindset and determination have helped him be put in a place where his contributions will be quite important and playing time will certainly increase, quite possibly to the point of making the starting lineup.
Making a difference
As a competitor, it is always tough when you do not play on a team as much as you would like. Fans made it no secret that they have felt Robinson was the most capable post player the past couple of years, so much so the noise may have been heard all the way in Toronto, Ontario, the 6-foot-8 center’s hometown.
In previous years, the knock then-coach Jim Ferry gave Robinson involved defense. Ferry, an offense-first type of coach knew Robinson had plenty of fire power and ability to put a ball in a basket, but believed strongly enough in his message that he started others instead.
Under Dambrot, not meeting expectations on defense will result in a lack of playing time.
Step one to succeeding in Dambrot’s system, is buying into the mindset and a major overhaul in team dynamic. Robinson certainly has that aspect down pat.
“He’s (Dambrot) a great coach, I love him to death,” he said. “He pushes all of us each day in practice to be great.”
This buy in though really is give-and-take. Dambrot came to the players with new ideas that mentally took time for everyone, returning players included but it also is putting that showing that belief to the team.
Dambrot is opening to hearing a player air feelings out, is approachable and quick to stop a drill if something is done incorrectly, so that it is properly completed during a game situation.
“Everyone has been unbelievable,” Robinson said. “You would think it would be a hard adjustment with new coaches and everything, but really they’re invested in us as much as we are in them. So if we just come together collectively, then we can succeed.”
The second step is the defensive mentality that is being ingrained in this team.
“The style of defense he has, he takes his time to explain it, but if you make multiple errors, he corrects it multiple times, he’ll just stop right away and let you know,” said Robinson. “If you have questions, he’s an approachable person so you can just ask. He makes it really easy for us to play, so it’s just a matter of learning it and soaking up everything he’s saying, plus he has a lot of experience.”
Still believing in the mindset is one thing, but it is meaningless unless you can put words into action and Robinson has shown the ability to do that.
“Defensively it’s just tweaking little things, staying disciplined, staying low, not shooting the gap and having good footwork,” he said. “I take great pride in my defense. I don’t take my mask on because no one should. If you like your mask on you probably shouldn’t be playing basketball. I take pride in not letting my opponent get a bucket on me.”
After that step involves the offense although that has not been nearly as much of a focal point as getting down to the basics and then learning Dambrot’s defensive schemes.
It is no secret that offense, specifically post play is a strength, something Robinson truly takes pride in.
Dambrot has told anyone who will listen that he likes to feed the ball into the post and has been highly complimentary of Robinson all season.
“I’m really confident when I am in the post,” said Robinson. “I still work hard every day, I just don’t take it for granted. In the post I feel as if I am in my element.”
When you put everything together, Robinson sees an all-in effort from top to bottom and it has become contagious.
“The chemistry is going better than it would with a whole new staff, even the guys sitting out this year have been tremendous in practice and getting us ready,” he said.
On a personal note, Robinson had a certain look in his eyes when describing his valuing of on-court time. It was a look of determination and one which showed hunger.
“I take being on the court as very important,” said Robinson. “Every little second is helping us get better. individual work, the coaches are always willing to help us, so that really helps.”
One step at a time
To truly resemble Carmelo Anthony’s current path, Robinson has an important role as helping build Duquesne’s super team.
The first part of that team starts with the 2017-18 Dukes and how long it, if at all it takes remains to be seen, but with multiple faces sitting out due to transfer rules, there is a whole lot to be excited about this season, with some newness also around this time in 2018.
Still this season is about Duquesne’s journey, it takes that adventure before you can become a so-called “super team”. The outside noise such as the predicted last finish Atlantic 10 finish in the preseason poll can be used as motivation but really much more energy and focus is on Dambrot’s principles.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that we are adding different pieces from multiple areas and still come together as one,” Robinson said. “Eventually Duquesne will have its super team, but as of right now we are focused on this team and what we have together as a team in front of us.”
In years past, Duquesne had goals but stumbled to get out of the blocks. Last season in particular an exhibition loss to Mansfield provided several challenges but this year, the goals are clear, and the belief is strong.
“A successful season of course would be winning an A-10 championship and just overall improving, making an impact with Coach Dambrot, the coaching staff and my teammates,” said Robinson. “All of us can rally together and if we put our minds together, we could make something special.”