For Craig Robinson, being the older brother of First Lady Michelle Obama, can have its rewards at times, especially in the ongoing recruiting zones of college basketball. Robinson’s famous brother-in-law, President Barack Obama, is well-known for his basketball skills and affection for the sport.
Every now and then that name connection works out for the benefit of the Oregon State basketball program, says Robinson, now in his third year as the Beaver’s coach.
“You know where it helps, it helps in when I walk into somebody’s house or somebody’s gym, and they have a UCLA shirt on-that is where it helps,” Robinson told news4usonline.com recently at the Pac-10 men’s basketball media day. “If I wasn’t who I was and walked through wearing an Oregon State shirt, they’d (basketball recruits) be like, ‘Who the heck is Oregon State and who is that guy?
“Having my sister and brother-in-law be who they are… people know who they are and that awareness has opened up recruiting. People will at least give me a shot; they’ll listen to our story and that’s half the battle. Half of the battle is getting in there. If you do that with enough players you’re going to get your share. That’s how we’ve turned the program around so quickly.”
Robinson has done a lot more than turning the program around. He has his player believing they can contend for a Pac-10 title and a possible berth in the NCAA Tournament. But it takes more than having a feel good attitude and being an extension of the First Family to win ballgames.
In a conference that features perennial basketball powers UCLA and Arizona, Robinson, who was the men’s head basketball coach at Brown, has managed to build Oregon State back to respectability in his first three seasons as head coach.
A two-time Ivy League Player of the Year in basketball while attending Princeton University, Robinson, however, wants more than respect. He wants to win. After getting his team to generate 31 victories in his first two years at the helm of the Oregon State’s men’s basketball program, including securing a College Basketball Invitational title, Robinson is looking for his team to improve in order to go to the next level.
With a fairly young team under his tutelage, Robinson he can get the results he’s looking for.
“I’m hoping we can improve on everything and finish in the top half (of the Pac-10 Conference),” Robinson said. “We tied for fifth and when you look at the seedings last year that was a good jump for us. But I want to make another jump. We’ve got nine freshmen and sophomores. Our strength is that we’re going to have better players. They’re just young. People that follow Oregon State see what Craig is talking about…these guys are better. We have better talent. We have a more cohesive team and we have a more athletic team.”
The university, recognizing Robinson’s instant imprint on the program, signed him to a two-year extension earlier this year, thus keeping their head coach on the Beavers’ sidelines for a couple of more seasons.
“Craig Robinson has done an outstanding job of instilling a work ethic within the program that has allowed our student-athletes to improve on and off the court,” Oregon State’s Director of Athletics Bob De Carolis said in a statement. “He has shown a keen understanding of how to build a program the right way and has already made significant strides in restoring the proud tradition of Oregon State men’s basketball. This new agreement ensures his leadership will be felt for a long time and adds continued stability to the program.”
Robinson said the support of the university’s president and De Carolis gives him an opportunity make the basketball program grow. Still, coaching in the Pac-10 is no bed of roses. And the pressure of the job is a lot more taxing than working on Wall Street, said Robinson.
“The Ivy League is good coaches,” Robinson said. But there is nowhere near the pressure to have immediate results as it is in the Pac-10. I’m lucky at Oregon State, because I have a president and AD and they understand how far behind we were and they’ve given me the time to put it together. People don’t understand I worked on Wall Street trading bonds…I thought that was pressure. This is way more pressure. Not even close.”