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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tigers Want Speedier Jeff Robinson

Tigers want speedier Robinson
Swingman could earn bigger role
By Dan Wolken
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

For six weeks, John Calipari has seen the brute strength, the leaping ability and the elite speed of Jeff Robinson and tried to convince himself why the freshman deserves to play more minutes for the University of Memphis.

The first few times Calipari put Robinson on the floor, however, he almost had to watch with one eye closed. Not only was Robinson failing to use his natural attributes, he was, as Calipari quipped, "leading the country in banked missed threes."

But in the wake of a weeklong conversation at Memphis about defining roles, Robinson has put together a series of breakout practices. Now, Calipari hopes Robinson can take the next step: A breakout game, preferably tonight, when the No. 3-ranked Tigers host Austin Peay.

"I just have to come in with the same mindset I came in for practice the last couple practices," Robinson said. "Just come in and try to play hard, get loose balls, rebounds and do what coach asks me to do."

Though Memphis (5-0) hasn't necessarily needed Robinson to make a big contribution yet, that's probably about to change. Junior forward Robert Dozier hasn't been able to practice for more than a week due to a left foot problem, and he'll probably miss his second straight game tonight at FedExForum.

Without Dozier, last year's edition of the Tigers would have been thin in the post and vulnerable to teams that rebound aggressively. But by adding Robinson, a chiseled 6-5 swingman, the Memphis coaching staff believed it finally had a player to plug in for Dozier without losing anything defensively at the power forward position or on the glass.

Things didn't work out that way early, however. After playing 10 ineffective minutes in a blowout win over Tennessee-Martin to open the season, Robinson never got off the bench the next night in a closer game against Richmond.

Then, when the Tigers went to New York for the 2k Sports College Hoops Classic, Robinson registered another DNP against Oklahoma. That was perhaps the most difficult one to swallow because it was supposed to be a homecoming for Robinson, a top-50 recruit coming out of Trenton, N.J.

"It's very frustrating when you come from a good high school and you're the star and you've got to make the transition to being a role player when you come to college," Robinson said. "You have guys that are already the stars that have been here, so you've got to sit back and wait your turn."

Robinson's turn finally came against Connecticut for the 2k Sports championship, as Memphis ran into foul trouble early. Though his statistics weren't noteworthy -- he finished with one point and three rebounds in five minutes -- Calipari noticed his hustle. That effort spilled over into last Tuesday's victory over Arkansas State, in which Robinson played 13 minutes and scored five points.

Now, coming off his two best practices of the season, Robinson might finally be ready to assume the role Calipari envisioned for him all along.

"Just run so hard, people can't believe it," Calipari said. "Dive for balls, go come up with rebounds. Do all of that stuff, and you're going to get minutes. Then he'll have a role: 'Uh oh, here comes Robinson. Watch this kid run. Did you see him dive? Look at him go get that ball.'

"He could be just like he was against Connecticut. He came in and was able to do it, but he wasn't in this frame of mind. He just played OK. But in this frame of mind, sheesh."

Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365

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