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Robinson impressing Dixon with development

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 11:36 p.m.
Pitt's James Robinson pulls down a second-half rebound in front of South Florida's Toarlyn Fitzpatrick on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, at Petersen Events Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

James Robinson was in ninth grade when Pitt coach Jamie Dixon started recruiting him.

With that type of constant influence, it's no wonder Robinson, a freshman guard, is excelling in three of the four basketball basics that his coach covets the most:

Pass properly. Protect the ball. Play tight defense.

Rebounds also are high on the coach's list, but considering Robinson is the second-shortest player on the team at 6-foot-3, Dixon gladly will accept his 2.2 per game.

“He's done a lot of good things,” Dixon said after Robinson put the clamps on South Florida guard Anthony Collins in a 64-44 Pitt victory Wednesday. “Ball movement, he's knocking down free throws. I know he's going to be a good shooter for us. We just got to get him taking that right shot at the right time.”

Robinson leads the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio (10 332, 3.2), but defense is what he does best.

Before shutting down Collins, Robinson held Syracuse's Brandon Triche and St. John's D'Angelo Harrison to a combined 5 of 26 from the floor. Add Collins' 2 for 8, and the trio shot 20.6 percent (7 for 34) in three Pitt victories.

Robinson hasn't been perfect, struggling against Marquette's Vander Blue (13 of 20, 29 points in two games) and Providence's Bryce Cotton (9 of 16, 24). But when Robinson shuts down the opponent's best guard, Pitt usually wins.

“The defending part of it, he's picked it up to a high level early in the freshman year,” Dixon said. “That's rare. He has good size, good athletic ability and smarts. He takes pride in what he is doing defensively.”

Last year, when Robinson was at DeMatha Catholic (Md.) High School, Collins scored 22 points in a 56-47 victory against Pitt. With Robinson trailing him Wednesday, Collins had only six points — and no field goals until the final 3:46 of the game.

Robinson said he didn't watch much video of last year's game, but he followed his teammates' advice.

“They told me he was going to force the issue a little bit, he's going to dribble low and he's quick,” Robinson said. “So, I just tried to give him space, just stay in front of him. I knew I had my guys on the help side, so I knew I could be a little bit aggressive.”

After 29 games, Robinson is displaying an understanding of the game, even if Dixon's demands occasionally confuse him.

“He's still figuring things out,” Dixon said. “He doesn't quite understand what I'm saying at times and that's normal for a freshman, for a lot of guys.”

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