LITTLE BIG DAWG.
Nate Robinson has gone national.
The explosive guard from Washington, known in the Northwest for his short stature and major hops, is no longer a regional phenomenon. Having led the Huskies to a 13-2 record to start this season, Robinson has been profiled by publications such as Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine, and it's clear he's not just a local commodity anymore.
In December, SI noted that Robinson was making a case to be considered the best player in college basketball. A writer from ESPN The Magazine credits Robinson with having resurrected the moribund UW basketball program.
Not bad for a hometown kid from Seattle who originally signed a football scholarship with Washington, spent a year on the gridiron and then walked on to the basketball team. Having earned a scholarship, Robinson has since quit the football team, and he is averaging a team-high 17.3 points per game for the Huskies, entering a visit from Oregon to Edmundson Pavilion on Thursday.
With his megawatt smile and unabashed exuberance, Robinson is a natural for the role of superstar. Now that the spotlight is shining brightly on the 5-foot-9, 180-pound junior, the trick is to maintain the level of play that earned him all that attention.
"I just have to make sure and stay humble, no matter what I do," Robinson said. "If I'm getting the spotlight, that means my whole team is. I just try not to think about it.
"I just try and play basketball. I don't worry about the hype. I want to focus on the team and block it out, and I'll be all right."
As Oregon fans recall all too well, Robinson had no qualms with elevating himself above his team last season - literally. In Washington's come-from-behind 83-74 victory in Seattle, during which the pint-sized dynamo dunked over Jordan Kent in the first half, Robinson capped off UW's comeback with a dunk in the final seconds of the game, leading to some post-game pushing and shoving.
Robinson said he was answering taunts from Oregon students, who chant the name of vertically challenged actor Gary Coleman whenever Robinson plays at McArthur Court. Sportsmanlike or not, the dunk illustrated Robinson's fearless attitude - he doesn't mind launching his tiny body four feet off the ground, and he's not afraid to raise the ire of his opponents while doing it.
"He's a tough matchup, because he's a strong, smart, tough kid, and he keeps coming at you," Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. "He can shoot a three or dunk on you, and he has an amazing ability to take over the game."
Robinson began this season by scoring at least 16 points in Washington's first eight games, the lone loss coming in a visit to Gonzaga. But while the Huskies continued winning, Robinson's production dropped off - he scored no more than 13 points in his next five games.
This past weekend, Robinson scored just eight points in a win at Southern California, then woke up with 21 points Saturday at UCLA, albeit in UW's second loss of the season.
"He is definitely not shooting the ball like he was earlier in the year," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. "He went through a similar stretch last year, where the ball didn't drop for him for a few games. But if he snaps out of it like he did last year, we'll be in good shape."
Last season, his first full-time with the basketball team, Robinson made the transition from gifted athlete to skilled basketball player. Born with natural athleticism that allowed him to start six games at cornerback for the UW football team in 2002, Robinson has honed his hardwood game over the past three years.
His three-point shooting percentage has skyrocketed over the past three seasons, from 25.7 to 35.4 to 44.1 this season. His assist-to-turnover ratio has also improved from each season to the next; Robinson had 1.29 assists for every turnover as a freshman, then 1.38 as a sophomore and 2.63 this season.
With his aggressive personality, Robinson's talents might have been stifled somewhat while playing defense for the football team.
As a basketball player, he has the ball in his hands on nearly every possession, and opponents are the ones on the defensive.
"He's a really explosive athlete, a great player and outstanding competitor," UCLA coach Ben Howland said, noting that Robinson is talented enough to have considered leaving Seattle for the NBA after last season. "He would have been drafted in the second round last year. It's obvious he's going to be drafted in the NBA at some point.
"This kid has a lot of talent, and he's really a kid who can get it going. ... When he gets it going, he's as tough as anyone there is to guard in college basketball."
Having run through the nonconference schedule with one loss, Robinson and the Huskies are now 3-1 in conference play.
They have upset two Top 25 teams - No. 19 Alabama on Nov. 27 and No. 12 North Carolina State on Dec. 19 - and are ranked No. 14 entering Thursday's meeting with the Ducks.
"We're having a lot of fun," Robinson said. "Every guy's playing so much harder in practice and pushing each other. We're just enjoying each other's company so much and having so much fun."
None more than the effervescent Robinson, as the rest of the nation now knows.
"There are a lot of people across the country who are now familiar with Nate," Romar said. "Many are familiar because there's a small guy out there doing athletic things you don't see very often. But people who follow our program a little closer are more familiar with a guy that is just a highly, highly competitive basketball player that has willed us to a lot of victories."
Washington junior guard Nate Robinson has improved his three-point shooting percentage from 25.7 his freshman season, when he also played cornerback on the football team, to 44.1 this year. Mark Terrill / The Associated Press Nate Robinson dives past Lodrick Stewart for a loose ball in Washington's win over USC on Thursday.
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|Title Annotation:||Sports; The athletic guard has captured attention with the way he leads UW to wins|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Jan 11, 2005|
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