This season’s oldest Duke basketball player hasn’t provided many highlights, but his latest performance and budding leadership deserve appreciation.
Let’s paint a brief picture, shall we? It’s late in the first half, and the Duke basketball team is yet again playing down to an inferior opponent. The Blue Devils are throwing up bricks, Mike Krzyzewski is sitting dumbfounded on the bench, and the foul situation against his big men is snowballing out of control.
Sometimes heroes come from nowhere. Sometimes they come from the end of the bench.
The game is Duke’s 113-101 double-overtime loss at Wake Forest on Tuesday, and the hero — despite the defeat — is Justin Robinson. For most, six points on 3-for-6 shooting from the field is a modest stat line; for Robinson, it’s a career day. Until this point, the Duke basketball fifth-year senior has only played for a handful of minutes in blowouts that are usually well before ACC play.
Aside from the quality buckets and serviceable defense, Robinson provided law and order on the floor. Tre Jones is the unquestioned floor general and offensive fulcrum, but even the most seasoned generals need help. Robinson brings the experience and IQ to help steady the ship when Duke is neck-deep in the upcoming ocean of postseason play.
All evidence given leads this writer to believe that Robinson needs more playing time. As Javin DeLaurier starts to fall off, Duke needs a veteran big guy who can give Matthew Hurt and Vernon Carey Jr. a spell.
Robinson and his basketball knowledge could be the spark Duke needs to get back into the driver’s seat come March Madness.
Speaking of knowledge, perhaps the greatest hoops mind in history, Coach K, agrees with me. After Duke’s 88-64 thumping over Virginia Tech, the legend said this of JRob:
“He’s a young man I’d like to see stay around here in coaching in some way. I know if any of my guys got jobs or whatever, JRob’s a guy that really understands the game, and in addition to understanding the game, he understands people. Every time JRob talks in a practice, individually or collectively, people listen to him.
“He runs our scout team, so that’s every game you’re putting in a new offense, he knows everything.”
With that ringing endorsement in mind, I’d like to formally vouch for the prospect of Robinson becoming an assistant in the near future. The 23-year-old is an extremely intelligent guy with a gift for relating to teammates. He could bridge some of the gaps for incoming recruits who don’t know anything about the 2010 title run but would sure love to know what Zion Williamson was like in school.
My final and most important reason why Robinson needs to remain a part of the program is a simple one: he’s a post player. Assistant Nate James does a tremendous job getting the bigs ready for games, but he’ll likely take a head coaching job somewhere else soon. JRob also actually played down low, as opposed to James, who was a do-it-all wing during his Duke basketball playing days (he was still the man; go watch the 2001 highlights).
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Robinson is beloved by his teammates and coaches alike, and he comes from a great family, with his father being 10-time NBA All-Star David Robinson. Justin won’t ever be in the spotlight, but he may be the man to quietly help guide a title run for the current Duke basketball team and for many future ones to come.