Beavers' new coach leaves big impression
What's not to like about Craig Robinson?
He looks you in the eyes when talking to you. He's bright, candid, good-natured. He asks about you, tells you you've made an interesting point, occasionally begins answers with something like, "as you well know, so-and-so."
That's another thing. He addresses you by name. Hears it once, uses it often, doesn't forget it. Some of us aren't so good at that, so when it happens, you notice.
Robinson, Oregon State's new men's basketball coach, is hard not to notice. And it's not just because he's 6-foot-6, not just because, on a recent visit, he was a black man in a very white setting. His confident bearing, his interpersonal skill, they lure you in. Maybe his brother-in-law, Barack Obama, isn't the only one in the family suited for office.
On this occasion, "so-and-so" was me. I met Robinson at the Beaver golf tournament at Rogue Valley Country Club on Monday. I was among those who hadn't given him a fair shake after he was hired at the Final Four by OSU Athletic Director Bob DeCarolis.
From what I understood, the Beavers signed the first coach who met minimum job requirements and was willing to take over the only team ever to go winless in the Pac-10 Conference. Others had turned their backs on the opening, and OSU seemed desperate. Bad News Bears desperate. There seemed to be one prerequisite: You had to have a pulse; the rest was negotiable.
And along came Robinson. He was coach Buttermaker for the Bad News Beavers.
That's how it seemed.
"You know, Tim, if I spent my whole life worrying about the skeptics, I wouldn't even be here today," he said.
There, right there, again with the name thing.
What's any this have to do with being a good basketball coach? If you believe good teams need good players, and good players come from face-to-face visits with the coach, then plenty.
Robinson makes a very strong first impression, and that sheds light on a comment by DeCarolis, who said if the coach could get in the door, the odds are he'd win over recruits and their families.
That now seems clear.
As for coaching experience, Xs and Os, that sort of thing, Robinson played for Pete Carrill at Princeton, coached under Bill Carmody at Northwestern and, in two years as the head man at Brown, had more success than any other Bears coach.
His teams run a motion offense, and this past season Brown set a school record for 3-pointers with 227.
Further, his defenses don't wilt. To that end, he said those of us who grew up on Ralph Miller basketball will see a resemblance to the pressing, chest-to-chest, ball-hawking teams that made the Beavers among the best in the nation a quarter-century ago.
That will require good players. That will require Robinson getting in that door.
"As the Beaver coach," Robinson said, "everybody has been returning my calls — which is different than when you're in the Ivy League, certainly. And what we're trying to do is get all the Oregon kids to return our calls."
That's been a tougher sell. Kids here know too well of the Beavers' struggles. In 18 seasons, there's been one winning campaign. Translated, that's one in the time these players have been alive. Ouch.
Getting the Kyle Singlers and Kevin Loves might never be easy. But there are plenty of other Division I players in the state to help the Beavers rebuild, said Robinson. He just has to change their perception.
"They're thinking about the program as it was, and they don't know how it could be," he said. "I understand that and that's fine. We'll try to recruit Oregon kids the best we can, and to the extent we can't, we'll get the best kids we can get."
His current wish list includes a couple of transfers "who we expect we'll have a good shot at," he said, "and we're going after just about every top recruit in the country. Hopefully, we'll have success with that ."
Players aren't the only people he'd like to bring into the fold. He'd also like to bring back former players.
The likes of Steve Johnson and Charlie Sitton have expressed dismay over the program's status to DeCarolis.
"Right now," Robinson said, "they're a little sour and their body language isn't positive, but once we get those guys back in a positive mode, they're gonna realize that's gonna help us."
They can be fickle, said Robinson. He's a former player at a storied program. He knows. They'll come back when they feel comfortable, when they like the direction things are going.
He doesn't doubt it will happen.
"We have to win those guys over just like we have to win fans over and win players over," said Robinson. "They'll come along in time. It's important that those guys know they are part of making this program better. It's always the alums who are the biggest promoters of the program."
He's talked to a fair share of them. I'm sure he looked them in the eyes, used their name over and over again.
I'm guessing they're ready to give Robinson a fair shake.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org