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Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Swish Family Robinson

By David Auguste
ESPNHS

Leslie Robinson
President Barack Obama called his niece, Leslie Robinson -- a three-sport star at Corvallis (Ore.) -- the "best athlete in our family."

Leslie Robinson can finally exhale.

Over the past 12 months, the Corvallis (Ore.) sophomore has undertaken a rigorous athletic schedule that consisted of basketball during the winter, softball in the spring, travel hoops and softball throughout the summer, volleyball in the fall -- followed up by another run on the hardwood this past season.

All the while, she found time to maintain a 4.0 GPA, take up digital photography and spit Nicki Minaj raps for her friends and teammates.

"I thought I'd give myself a break after we lost," laughed Robinson, who scored a game-high 11 points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter of her team's Class 5A playoff loss to Bend (Ore.) on March 2. "It's going to be really nice to get to see my family a little more."

Taking a break might be easier said than done, considering her family includes the most powerful man in the world, who also happens to be her biggest fan.

Robinson's uncle, President Barack Obama, gave her a shout-out last week during a podcast with ESPN's Bill Simmons.

"The best athlete in our family is actually my niece, my brother-in-law's daughter, who lives out in Oregon, out in Corvallis, and she'll be D-1," Obama said of Robinson. "This is one of these things where she has to decide does she want to play softball, volleyball, or basketball? But she's just -- she's good at everything. Unbelievable."

According to Robinson's father, Craig, who is first lady Michelle Obama's older brother, the president had previously lauded Leslie for her athletic prowess but never to an audience of this magnitude. And definitely not 48 hours before she was scheduled to take the court in the first round of postseason play.

"I was pretty surprised because he's never said it to me," Robinson said. "My friends thought it was cool, but they know my uncle doesn't define who I am."

The presidential props weren't the only hype Robinson has had to live up to.

Robinson family
Robinson (left) accompanied her aunt, First Lady Michelle Obama, and cousins Malia and Sasha when they met with Archbishop Desmond Tutu at an HIV awareness event in South Africa last summer.
"Her parents, aunts and uncles are all Ivy League-educated, and she's got a brother playing basketball at Wesleyan," said Craig, a former basketball standout at Princeton who is in his fourth year as head coach at Oregon State. "The pressure is already there, but I don't think it's going to affect her."

Robinson was certainly unflappable during her second season at Corvallis, during which she averaged 15.3 points and 12.5 rebounds a game and was named to the All-Mid Willamette Conference first team -- the lone underclassman so honored.

As the season progressed, she expanded her role on offense, often bringing the ball upcourt and using her precise passing and court vision to initiate the offense in addition to her solid production in the low post. First-year coach Jamie Medley had no reservations about giving her sophomore wing more responsibilities after a preseason film session put Robinson's immense abilities on full display.

"We thought, 'Gosh, who is this kid?'" Medley said. "She was raw and extremely athletic. We just needed to fine-tune her game."

The 6-foot-1 Robinson's size, leaping ability and basketball IQ helped propel the Spartans (14-10) to a third-place finish in their league. Now when people talk about her, it's more often about her basketball prospects than about her prominent relatives.

"Once she develops her outside game, she will be able to do anything she wants on the court," Medley said. "She has the fight to win. It's innate in her."

But as is often the case when an athlete steps into the spotlight (especially when accompanied by a cosign from the White House), naysayers follow. Robinson has already heard plenty from opposing fans in the stands, who have taken shots at her father's coaching at OSU and poked fun at her relationship to the president.

"It happens every once in a while," Robinson said. "It could happen more, I just don't always hear it. I just tell myself, 'I'm not [my uncle or father]. I can't run the country and I can't coach my dad's team. There's nothing I can do about what they're saying to me.'"

What Robinson will do is continue to hone her skills on the AAU circuit and work with Craig on her 3-point shooting, tabling softball for the time being. She also claims to be inches away from dunking and has already compiled a list of people she would like to posterize.

"I really just want to dunk," she said. "But if I could dunk on my dad, that would be awesome. To dunk on my uncle, that would be pretty nice too."

David Auguste covers high school sports for ESPNHS. Follow him on Twitter or e-mail him at David.Auguste@espn.com.