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Pitt freshman point guard Robinson makes good impression

| Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012, 11:22 p.m.
Pitt's James Robinson scores past Lehigh's Mackey McKnight during the first half Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

NEW YORK — Pitt had lost to Michigan just 10 minutes earlier, but outside the team's locker room at Madison Square Garden, assistant coach Brandin Knight and former point guard Levance Fields couldn't help but smile.

They were watching freshman point guard James Robinson facing the same interviews that once had been their responsibility, just as running the Pitt offense is becoming his responsibility.

He's doing so under watchful eyes as the prodigy has become the protégé of two of the great floor generals in school history, who are helping Robinson try to exceed their accomplishments.

“Just look at him,” Fields said, unable to contain his smile. “He's already special. And he's only starting.”

Fields worked with Robinson this summer. Knight works with him every day. They agree that the line of great Pitt point guards — it started with Knight and continued with Carl Krauser and Fields — is in wonderful hands with Robinson, whose impact has been stronger so far than that of fellow freshman Steven Adams.

“I have spent a lot of time with him on and off the floor,” Knight said. “I see really great things in him.”

Robinson is averaging 7.2 points and 2.8 assists through five games, but statistics reveal only a small part of his value.

Like Fields, Robinson seems blessed with the innate ability to perform late in games. He was the player most responsible for Pitt's dramatic comeback against Oakland last week, hitting two free throws in the final seconds to force overtime.

Robinson almost produced more late-game theatrics against Michigan, scoring on three consecutive drives in the final minute.

“And that's something you can't coach,” Fields said. “He's got it. He's always had it. He played at a big-time high school program, and he had it then. He will always want the ball, and no stage will ever be too big for him.

“He probably turned it on a little too late against Michigan, but next time, he'll learn. He's a sponge.”

When Pitt's offense was flowing nicely in the first half against Michigan, Robinson dictated the play. He had five assists in the first 15 minutes.

Even on a night when Robinson didn't shoot particularly well, he was a presence.

“And the one thing I don't worry about with him is his shooting,” Knight said. “A lot of his shots come late in possessions with the shot clock winding down. Those are tough shots.”

Robinson's ability to find the open man, to slow down the pace when necessary and to rarely turn the ball over — he's done so only three times in five games — are aspects Knight appreciates.

Knight saw those attributes when Robinson played at DeMatha Catholic High in Maryland.

“Don't ever look at his stats,” Knight said. “His stats only tell part of the story. He was the same way in high school. He didn't always put up the biggest numbers, but it was so obvious that he was the most important guy on the floor.

“He'll be like that here, too. He's got the perfect temperament for a point guard. He'll always be clutch. He's been that way his whole life.”

Robinson said he isn't finished improving.

“This game hurts because I feel like we should have won,” Robinson said following the 67-62 loss to Michigan. “But on a personal level, it was good for me to play against a team like that in a place like Madison Square Garden.”

Knight said he believes Robinson can be the best Pitt point guard of them all.

“And the best thing about James is what kind of a person he is,” Knight said. “That's what people need to understand. He's a great teammate, a great leader. He's the ultimate kid.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1975.

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