By Dennis J. Freeman
Oregon State men’s basketball coach Craig Robinson doesn’t lack for confidence. In his fourth season as the Beavers’ coach, Robinson, who is the brother-in-law of President Barack Obama, is expecting big things from his Oregon State team this season.
Despite the fact that Oregon State hasn’t had a winning record since the 2004-2005 season, and hasn’t cracked the 20-win mark since the 1989-1990 basketball campaign, Robinson is very upbeat about his squad this year.
Speaking to reporters at the Pacific-12 Media Day in downtown Los Angeles, Robinson is a lot more excited than he was last year at this time. In his three previous seasons, Robinson’s teams have recorded 18-18, 14-18 and 11-20 records. Coaching a very young team last year, Robinson’s team won just one of 13 games on the road, which greatly contributed to Oregon State’s not-to-shining overall record. This year is a different story.
Those young players are a year older. They’re a year wiser now. Robinson expects them to play like it, too, which is why he likes his team’s chances against the competition in the newly-aligned Pac-12 conference.
“Over the past three years, we’ve been rebuilding the place at Oregon State, and I’ve had to coach my statements with terms like, ‘Well, we’re going to try our best,’ and all that kind of stuff,” Robinson said. “For the first time I think I have a team that can compete in every single game we play in the season. I couldn’t be more excited. We have a whole team of guys who are all on the same page, and have worked hard over the offseason, the summer and now in the fall to prepare us for this terrific opportunity.”
That opportunity won’t be without its challenges. Oregon State is predicted to finish eighth in the conference, according to a preseason Pac-12 media poll. Perennial basketball power UCLA has been picked to win the conference title this year. The Bruins has won the conference championship three of the last six years. The Pac-12 media poll withstanding, Robinson has plenty of reasons for optimism that Oregon State will be in the middle of things and compete on a high level.
One reason why Robinson is so confident of his team is the fact that he has junior playmaker Jared Cunningham in his backcourt. The 6-foot-4, 194-pound Cunningham was named to the All-Pac-10 second team last season. He was also selected to the Pac-10 All-Defensive team as well, leading the conference in steals at 2.83 thefts a game. Cunningham, an Oakland, California native, figures to be an instrumental part of Oregon State’s success this season after leading the team in scoring last year.
And that’s okay with Robinson, who admits he has had to learn to go with the flow the last couple of years as he set about the tedious task of rebuilding the basketball program back into being a contender instead of a conference pretender.
“The first thing I learned is to be extremely patient,” Robinson said. “That’s kind of a hard thing to do when you are in this industry. Philosophically, we felt we couldn’t just come in and make wholesale changes. We kind of had to work the guys through the system and get them graduated and move on and develop younger guys. Patience is the number one thing.
“The second thing is the biggest thing that I found in our culture is we have to change a losing culture into a winning culture. That’s been the biggest problem, the biggest issue for us. I think with this group, recruiting guys who have won their whole lives, and then putting them into position to win games with strategies and experience-that helps.”