He was a 6-foot-7 high school senior, playing his first year of organized basketball at Osbourn Park High in Manassas, and recruiting David Robinson was an afterthought for most major college coaches. But after growing four inches in the last two years, Robinson has gone from a good athlete to 6-11 and a potential all-America.
For scoring 37 points and grabbing 18 rebounds Saturday against Western Illinois, and getting 31 points and 13 rebounds in the previous game against Southern Illinois, Robinson was named the most valuable player of the Saluki II Shootout, even though Navy finished in third place.
The weekend performance also enabled Robinson to become the first basketball player in the school's history to be named Sports Illustrated player of the week.
Robinson, only a sophomore, is one of the up-and-coming big men in the nation. In six games this season, he is averaging 26.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, and is shooting 69 percent from the field.
And now, many people are wondering aloud whether Robinson will stay at Navy, whether he would rather transfer someplace where a five-year military commitment after college wouldn't interfere with the possibility of him pursuing a pro basketball career (if a student leaves the Naval Academy before his junior year, he has no military service obligations).
Robinson, also a talented gymnast, finds such talk amusing. He is a systems engineering student with as high as a 3.7 (out of 4.0) grade point average who doesn't think basketball is the living end. He loves the academy, and he doesn't think he is as good as people are saying he is. "I feel right now that I'm so far away from pro basketball," he said today. "I've got so many things to work on, it's not even a serious thought right now. If I was to transfer, I'd be giving up my Naval Academy degree, which means a lot to me. I'm pretty happy here."
When Robinson was asked if he expected other schools to begin approaching him about transferring, he said, "I guess everybody else expects it more than I do. My dad told me I should be expecting it. Everybody asks me if I'm transferring. My answer has been, 'Well, I haven't really thought about it,' because if nobody had asked me, I never would have thought about it."
Robinson, while enjoying his first brush with fame, finds it difficult to accept. "This is all pretty neat, but everything's going so fast," he said. "I don't understand why everybody's making this big deal about my playing. I watch television and the games are so exciting, but when I watch myself on film, it just isn't that thrilling."
Those who have seen him play may disagree. Against Gettysburg, Robinson made eight of nine shots, against Drexel he hit 10 of 12, against Southern Illinois he made 13 of 19 and against Western 14 of 22. The tournament performance marked the first time in 18 years that a Midshipman had scored 30 points in consecutive games.
Tim Floyd, a Texas-El Paso assistant coach who saw the tournament, said today, "We think David Robinson is the best-kept secret in the country. He's a hell of a player. He's got unlimited potential. He's nearly 7 feet, but he runs the floor like a forward, and he's got that touch and soft hands to catch the ball, and . . . well, the guy's potential is incredible. The word is getting out."
Robinson hears the word and goes about his business, much of which has nothing at all to do with basketball. In the basement of his family house, Robinson once built his own computer in two weeks. It has a six-foot screen and functions that include video games. So it's not surprising when Navy Coach Paul Evans says his biggest concern is keeping Robinson interested in basketball.
"He's into so many things," Evans said. "The kid is so broad. There's nobody on the team that can beat him in a computer game in the airport. The biggest thing I'm worried about is him getting bored with it. And he does get bored with certain things. Last year he had an A going in one class for eight weeks. The next thing you know I'm getting a deficiency report that he's sleeping."
Robinson didn't even play basketball his first three years years of high school. But as a senior (after his family had moved from the Virginia Beach area), Osbourn High basketball Coach Art Payne saw a 6-7 youngster walking around and said, "Son, can you step in here for a second?" When the starter playing ahead of Robinson was injured before the first game, Robinson scored 14 points and had 14 rebounds. He started the rest of the season, but the schools that recruited him were George Mason, Harvard, Holy Cross and Virginia Military.
Robinson, in his junior year, already had written Navy, but not about basketball. "I was looking for a military school because I thought I had a lot of potential academically, and I figured at a military school they'd get more out of me by making me study and teaching me to be more disciplined.
" . . . now that I think I have the potential to be good, I really work on my game . . . But it's not gonna be any great disappointment to me if I don't average 25 points per game. I'd like to be good, but if it doesn't come, I won't be that disappointed."