Robinson reaches for lessons beyond court

April, 29, 2010
4/29/10
3:03
PM ET
LOS ANGELES -- Lounging at the hotel’s poolside restaurant in between taping shows with Jimmy Kimmel and Jim Rome, Oregon State Beavers coach Craig Robinson understands how this all looks.

President Barack Obama’s brother-in-law hasn’t been home in almost two weeks while busy promoting his memoir on a four-city tour that has seen him comfortably rub shoulders on camera with Larry King, Matt Lauer, Stephen Colbert and the women of “The View.”

[+] EnlargeCraig Robinson and Barack Obama
Harry Hamburg/Pool/Getty ImagesRobinson said he is trying to use his fame to draw attention to Oregon State basketball.
It’s unusual territory for a coach fresh off a 14-18 season that ended with a first-round loss in the College Basketball Invitational -- hardly a flourish.

His sister, Michelle Obama, kids with him that he’s famous, and if you think she’s completely joking, ask yourself when was the last time a sitting president could have an honest discussion about Beavers basketball.

Robinson’s late recruiting signing period has meant big-city book signings, and on this junket, Oregon State has gone along for the ride.

“The publicity we’re getting from this is better than me sitting in any gym,” Robinson said. “Kids across the country are really getting to understand what Oregon State is all about, let alone what Craig Robinson is all about.

“There is more to life than just your job, but this is part of my job. The same lessons I talk about in the book are the lessons the kids I’m recruiting are going to learn, the lessons that my players are going to learn. I’m sure there’s got to be somebody who will say something, but it doesn’t matter.”

“A Game of Character” is Robinson’s letter to his mother and late father, a celebration of the people who influenced his rise from the southside of Chicago to a Princeton-educated basketball player, who could make it in the business world (he was once a Wall Street investment banker) and in the coaching fraternity.

Robinson, 48, did the bulk of the writing last offseason. He spent late nights watching film and recording and jotting notes about the lessons he learned from Marian and Fraser Robinson.

Robinson continues to rebuild a program he took over two years ago after Oregon State finished winless in the Pac-10 during the 2007-2008 season. The school awarded him a contract extension last month -- keeping him at the helm until 2016. He jokes that he’s “the dictator” and uses 5:30 a.m. practices to try to whip the Beavers into a championship contender.

While there were setbacks -- an embarrassing 51-point loss to the Seattle Redhawks certainly comes to mind -- Robinson said he was not disappointed by a team that tied for fifth in the Pac-10 and is still learning how to win. Reasons for hope include a 16-point win against eventual conference regular season champion Cal and sweeps of rival Oregon, Arizona and USC that had the president giving him the occasional congratulatory call.

The future appears bright, with freshmen Jared Cunningham and Joe Burton debuting with impressive seasons. Guard Roberto Nelson was at times the best player on the practice floor while redshirting during freshman season because of academics. He’s expected to be eligible in the fall. In recruiting, OSU added guard Ahmad Starks from Chicago and forward Devon Collier from the Bronx.

All the talk in Corvallis about him eventually leaving for a better job, while flattering, has to do with the insecurity of a community that hasn't had a winning basketball team for years. Robinson said no schools have reached out to him regarding open head coaching positions.

“People are starting to understand that I’m motivated a little bit differently than other people because if I was really just completely mercenary about this whole thing, I’d still be working on Wall Street,” Robinson said. “I’d be stacking bigger chips or a lot more chips.

“What I would like to see if I can accomplish is have a chance to play in the national championship coaching the way I coach. And that means on-the-court coaching, and the emphasis on academics off the court. Do I have to change the way that I have to be to get to the Final Four? If I can do that at Oregon State, then Oregon becomes the dream job.

“I want to see if my philosophy works.”

The whirlwind book tour has reinforced to Robinson at least tales of his life experiences can be transcendent. While in New York before a taping for “The View,” Donald Trump told Robinson he saw him on with Larry King and loves his story. Childhood hero Ernie Banks recognized him at a Chicago hotel and said he was looking forward to reading the book.

The best moment for Robinson might have come during a commercial break in a radio interview with ESPN 1000 in Chicago when a former player he coached at the Illinois Institute of Technology called into the station.

“He wanted to thank me for everything I had done and that he‘s into coaching now,” Robinson said proudly.

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