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David Robinson reminded of his college playing days watching his son

10/30/2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Corey Robinson surrendered himself into his father's arms, his career night gone for naught.

His fourth-and-long catch would not go down in program lore. His fourth-and-short touchdown had been wiped away. Notre Dame had fallen at Florida State.

So the sophomore sauntered over to his dad, a guy who knows a few things about big games, and shared an embrace that served as necessary for father as it was for son.

"Don't miss the moment," David Robinson recalled telling his son. "You guys did what you were supposed to do: You took the ball, drove it right down their throats, you put it in the end zone. You can't be mad at yourself when you did what you were supposed to do.

"… I was just telling him: This is sports. In sports you win and you lose. That's the nature of sports. You can't get away from that part of it. And if you get too hung up on the losing part, then you miss the boat. The competition part, a game like that is why you play sports. That is as good as it gets."

That the Basketball Hall of Famer saw his son come so close to stealing the spotlight from the defending national champions was rewarding. That the Naval Academy graduate will follow that up by rooting against his alma mater on Saturday is somewhat surreal. But he finds himself in this position for a second straight year, this time near his old backyard, as the Midshipmen host the Fighting Irish in Landover, Maryland.

"It’s nice because all my family is going to come up -- my aunts, my uncles, my grandparents," Corey said. "For them it’s going to be really special. But for me it’s just another game we have to go and perform and win."

His father will visit the Annapolis campus for the first time since 2011, when he was back for a 25-year reunion of Navy's 1986 Elite Eight team.

Notre Dame's last outing -- and specifically his son's role in it -- reminded the San Antonio Spurs great of his own coming-of-age moment, one year before that NCAA run, also as a sophomore.

The second round of the 1985 tournament pitted 13th-seeded Navy against fifth-seeded Maryland, led by the late Len Bias. David scored 22, Bias tallied 20 and the Terrapins won by five, but David took away plenty.

"My confidence just went through the roof at that point, and I just realized, ‘You know what, there's nobody that I cannot play with,’" David said. "And I think for Corey, coming from a small school and getting on that big stage and realizing that, ‘Hey, there's nobody that you can't play with’ -- I could see that coming out of him."

It is not that the 6-foot-4.5, 215-pound Corey ever lacked for athleticism. But he never played much football until high school. And at San Antonio Christian -- with a prep enrollment under 400 -- validation was hard to find.

His coaches convinced him that the gridiron could take him places, but football was mostly foreign to the Robinsons.

Two-time NBA champion David confessed he knows little about the game other than the competitive mindset it takes to succeed at the highest level. Such potential is what drove Corey away from his old man's alma mater, as he drew heavy Division I interest.

David said Notre Dame and Corey are in some ways built for each other. Coach Brian Kelly used a signature mantra -- gentlemen off the field, tough guy on it -- in describing Corey.

"That's fun as a coach and teacher when you get somebody that is in so many ways learning every day that he steps on the practice field," Kelly said.

The tough guy in Corey was evident as he played through September with a broken right thumb. He said the pain forced him to focus on other nuances of his game. He is second on the team in catches (27), yards (359) and touchdowns receptions (four).

The gentleman in Corey comes through in mission trips, like this past summer's to Brazil. Or through jam sessions with teammates. Corey plays the piano, bass and guitar, among other instruments. His father takes credit for his son's love of music, but he cannot pinpoint the source of talent.

The Admiral can, however, trace his son's eccentricity to his forebears, including his own father, Ambrose, also a Navy man.

"My grandfather grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and there was all the racism at that time, and Central High there had the segregation issues," David said. "I grew up around the tail end of a lot of that stuff, where my parents and my grandparents had to deal with that. So I always admired how they stood strong and how my father overcame a lot of that stuff and joined the Navy and gave me opportunities that he didn't have, and I wanted to do that for my next generation and the generations after that."

Such opportunities have meant spending Veterans Day with President Obama and visiting troops in Afghanistan. David won the 2013 Heisman Humanitarian Award for charitable endeavors. Corey sees this, David said, and he knows how to handle success.

"All this stuff doesn't happen to you for your own sake," David said. "It doesn't happen to you so you can fill your shelves with trophies or line your pockets with cash; it happens so you can have a positive influence and encourage other people. It's what you leave behind that's far more important, because everything else is just going to be snatched up by somebody else. Your bank account's going to somebody else. All your records are going to go to somebody else.

"But what you really leave behind is that love that you put into other people's lives, and I think that's what he sees in my life over the years."