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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Last year was Robinson's time to watch, learn from Tiger bench


Last year was Robinson's time to watch, learn from Tiger bench
By Dan Wolken, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Monday, October 27, 2008

Jeff Robinson finally has his opportunity.

Lost in the shuffle during the University of Memphis' run to the national championship game last April, and beginning this season without a defined role or position, the door is now wide open for Robinson to grab a spot in the regular rotation over the next three weeks.

With freshman Angel Garcia nursing a knee ligament sprain, freshman Wesley Witherspoon more likely to play guard than forward and freshman Matt Simpkins still unsure if he'll be academically eligible this season, the Tigers could enter the Nov. 15 opener against Fairfield without a second option at the power forward position.

It's a role coach John Calipari hopes Robinson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, steps up to claim.

"That's why he's getting the opportunity," Calipari said. "He doesn't need to be (starter) Robert Dozier. He needs to be Jeff Robinson. What can Jeff Robinson do well? Rebound, defend, go block a shot, be athletic and be physical. Make really easy plays and don't try to go crazy because if you're out there turning it over, you can't be out there. Do the things you do well. But the greatest news for Jeff is he's got an opportunity right now."

Last season, Tiger fans didn't get to see much of Robinson, a top-50 national recruit coming out of St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J. He played in just 28 of the Tigers' 40 games, averaging 9.1 minutes and 3.0 points.

For many players as highly-recruited as Robinson, the lack of consistent court time might have been problematic. But Robinson, to his credit, accepted it as part of playing on a veteran team that went 38-2.

"We had a lot of people that moved on to the next level, and I was just sitting behind a lot of guys at the time," Robinson said. "But I played when I needed to and when Coach thought it was right to put me in the game, so I was happy with that.

"I think I got a lot of experience. Normally, it would help a lot of freshmen that are here now if they were in my position (last year) because of the type of season we had, and I already know how hard we've got to play, the type of defense we've got to play, the rebounding and everything. It was a good learning experience for me."

When Robinson came back as a sophomore, however, the competition among the Tigers' guards hadn't thinned out much. With the starting lineup pretty much locked in at this point, there are only so many minutes to go around on the wings among senior Antonio Anderson, freshman Tyreke Evans, junior Doneal Mack, sophomore Roburt Sallie and Witherspoon.

What sets Robinson apart, however, is a physique and leaping ability that remain far ahead of his offensive skills. When the Tigers recruited Robinson, they envisioned a player in the mold of P.J. Tucker, who, even at 6-foot-5, averaged 9.5 rebounds for Texas in 2006. And in the Memphis offense, a big guard can play power forward, as Jeremy Hunt often did in 2007.

Now that some early injuries have set in and Calipari is moving pieces around, never before has Robinson had a clearer path to a prominent role.

"He's comfortable with me at the '4' because that's what I played last year," Robinson said. "I'm a sophomore now. Coach expects a little more of me, expects me to be more of a leader. Hopefully I get the chance to play a lot more, but he already knows the way I play and the style of basketball and what I can do, so I'm just going to wait my turn."

Though Robinson's jumper is still a work-in-progress (he's shooting with a higher arc after some offseason adjustments) and he still isn't as effective with his right hand as he needs to be, it's clear from the Tigers' early scrimmages that anyone who can rebound will have a chance to play this season.

Calipari said Robinson helped himself over the weekend.

"He's on the floor, which is a good thing, and he's fighting in there," Calipari said. "Be what you are, and that's easy. Trying to be something you're not is hard."

And what Robinson could be, above all else, is a candidate to absorb some of the 9.5 rebounds the Tigers lost when Joey Dorsey went to the NBA.

"We need to get a lot of rebounds because we lost Joey, and he got the majority of our rebounds, so I pretty much need to work on just playing defense and rebounding," Robinson said. "Everything else is going to come to you, so you don't need to rush shots or worry about scoring."

Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on the Tigers at thememphisedge.com.

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