One of the indelible images from the first weekend of the 2011 NCAA tournament came after Butler's did-that-really-just-happen second-round win over the top-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers Saturday. The came courtesy of Pitt forward Nasir Robinson, and man, was it hard to watch.
Robinson, as you no doubt know, committed the inexplicable last-second loose-ball foul on Butler's Matt Howard. In a weekend full of the tournament's parallel joys and disappointments, the forward's postgame reaction -- slumped at his locker, towel over his head, weeping openly as he explained to reporters that he had "blamed himself" because he had played "this game too long to make a dumb mistake like that" -- was the most affecting reaction of them all.
Which is why, less than a week later, it's borderline profund to see Robinson handling the postgame furor so well. The forward took questions on Tuesday. He didn't make excuses for himself. He didn't question the referee's call. (I did, and would.) He didn't avoid the media altogether. Instead, Robinson agreed to a live radio interview Tuesday, followed by questions from ESPN columnist Tim Keown, among others:
On Tuesday he told me, "I can't blame the refs. They have a job to do. I put myself in that situation, and I knew the outcome of that." And while the rest of us were watching the scramble for Gilbert Brown's missed free throw with momentary confusion -- wait, was there a foul? -- Robinson wasn't confused at all. "I knew once I heard the ref blow his whistle what the call was going to be," he said. "I didn't have to look. I was just trying to make a play, and I knew as soon as the whistle blew what I had done."
Robinson also discussed the play with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Ron Cook. The content of Robinson's responses didn't change: He took responsibility for the play ("I don't blame my teammates or the refs, I blame myself") and said he would use it as "motivation" for improvement in the offseason. He also told Cook that while some of the responses on his Facebook page were negative -- of course they were -- many were supportive, and a few even pointed out that Robinson's overall game (16 points, 7-of-9 from the field) was one of the best of his season. (Hooray for nice people on the Internet.)
More than anything, though, Robinson got to hear a rather important message from Cook himself, a message that someone like Cook -- who has written his Post-Gazette column since 1990 -- is perfectly qualified to deliver:
I asked Robinson what sort of reception he expects to get from the home crowd when he's introduced as a starter before the first game.
"I would think the same ovation we always get," he said.
I told him he was wrong.
Robinson looked at me with a horrified look.
I told him he would get a standing ovation. I told him Pittsburgh people appreciate athletes who don't make excuses or look to pass blame. I told him they know character in a kid when they see it.
I'm thinking it was the first time he smiled in a few days.
Good for Cook, and good for Nasir Robinson. Yes, people will be talking about his mistake for years. Yes, he will always be the guy who fouled Matt Howard 85 feet from the rim with less than a second remaining. But Robinson -- who will be a senior next year -- still has time to add to his Panther legacy. In many ways, he already has.