Eddie Robinson loving next basketball life as HS coach originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Let’s play name the coach.
“Our defensive intensity has to pick up.”
“We have to learn to value possessions.”
“We have to take good shots, especially if we’re trailing.”
It has to be some stickler for fundamentals, some veteran person in pursuit of elusive perfection.
Or, those words could come from the mouth of first-year, volunteer coach Eddie Robinson at Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.
You read that sentence right.
Robinson, the athletic former Bull whom the late Jerry Krause signed and who then endured a difficult, three-season stretch for the franchise from 2001-04, is working to improve a program in a hockey-crazed town across the bridge from the province’s capital city of Halifax.
And loving it.
“I love coaching, love the city, love the environment up here. It’s peaceful, no guns needed,” said Robinson, who overcame long odds to move from his native Flint, Mich. to become the only NBA player from the University of Central Oklahoma. “Everybody is friendly. It’s just a great place to live.”
Robinson fell in love with the area when he played for the Halifax Rainmen of Canada’s National Basketball league in 2012. Then he fell in love. He and his wife have a young son, and Robinson received his dual citizenship so he could put down roots.
Before Canada’s borders closed as part of the country’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, Robinson traveled frequently to Houston, where his three kids from a previous marriage and his sisters live. In both cities, Robinson began training players.
Living not far from where NHL superstar Sidney Crosby grew up and where hockey is a religion, Robinson noticed an uptick in basketball interest when the Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA championship. To support the players he trained, he’d attend their games. A mother from one his clients told him of Prince Andrew’s opening, and Robinson figured he’d just cut out the middleman.
“It just got to a point where I was like, I’m training them but somebody else is coaching them. And I want to make these kids’ futures better,” the 44-year-old Robinson said. “Now it’s about getting them to the next level, college.”
There’s plenty of work to do. Robinson said a recent loss to the defending conference champions featured his team committing 37 turnovers.
“I don’t care if you’re the Dream Team,” Robinson cracked. “If you have that many turnovers, you’re not going to win.”
That’s when Robinson launched into a long soliloquy about his basketball philosophy that sounded ripped straight out of Fundamentals 101. It’s clear that a player whose astounding athleticism sometimes raised questions about his production is engaged in his new pursuit.
“I love it, but it’s frustrating at times because I get to reflect what it was like for me on my journey and dealing with different coaches and the expectations of what they were trying to get me to understand,” Robinson said. “I get what all of my coaches were trying to do, trying to get that little extra thing out of me. I get why they were saying, ‘You’re better than that! You have potential! You should be doing this! You should be doing that!’
“Now that I have players that have similarities to when I was coming up -- potential, but you gotta learn the game and how to play hard -- it’s amazing.”
The school is ecstatic to have someone with Robinson’s credentials, based on conversations with two employees. With only 11 positives COVID-19 cases in the entire province as of this week, Robinson said they are two games into a 10-game season which then will feature playoffs.
Coaches must wear masks. Players do while they’re on the bench but not in games, similar to the NBA where Robinson once plied his trade.
“They shut the city down when COVID first hit,” Robinson said. “No school. No restaurants. Nothing. The only things that were open were the grocery store and gas stations. It worked.”
At practices, Robinson hammers home the importance of footwork. Drills to improve shooting and ballhandling are constants.
So is another important message.
“You can’t do anything without being in the classroom first. That has to be a priority,” he said. “Your grades have to be up to where you’re not being punished by basketball practice being taken away.”
In general, Robinson sounds like he has adopted a tough-love approach to coaching not unlike Paul Silas, whom he played for in Charlotte before signing with the Bulls.
“I can’t be too friendly because I’m on them,” Robinson said. “In this day and age, some kids think when you call them out, it’s personal. No, it’s not personal. ‘This is what you did.’ So, yeah, I’m going to tell you about it to make you a better player so you don’t do it again.
“That’s how Coach Silas was. He would tell you exactly why you weren’t playing. The first time we had that encounter, it was my rookie year. I think I hit five straight jumpers. And I gave up six straight jumpers. He took me out of the game and I come out, looking crazy, mugging him. He said, ‘Don’t be looking at me like that. You gave up 12 (expletive) points. Go sit your (butt) down. Play some (expletive) defense.’ It don’t get no realer than that. And then that’s what it was: ‘OK, I got to lock up.’ He didn’t sugarcoat anything.
“You have to be able to take criticism. My team has to understand that this game takes multiple efforts. We got guys reaching on defense and then they’re done. No, you’re not. If you’re standing still in a basketball game, you’re a dead man on the court. You have to be doing something -- setting a screen, rebounding, fighting through a screen. They have to understand all aspects of the game.”
If Robinson achieves what he seeks, his players will.
“It’s the little detail things we have to work on and improve in order to be better,” he said. “And we will be.”
Robinson last visited Chicago in 2017 when the Big3 visited UIC Pavilion. He still talks to Corie Blount from that era and watches the occasional NBA game. And in an emergency situation, that midrange jumper can still find bottom.
“One day, we were short a couple players in practice and I hopped on the second unit,” Robinson said, laughing. “You know I had to give it to them.”
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