Duncan Robinson has taken unlikely path to NBA Finals

“It really wasn’t on my radar,” said Robinson. “During my high school career, I didn’t work or go to the gym because I wanted to play in the NBA. It was, I wanted to get off the floor at the high school level and I wanted to play in college. The goal posts when playing in the NBA were obviously far away, but they were so far away that they really weren’t even in sight. “

Jay Tilton, who coached this graduate degree at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, added, “Most kids who go to X talk more about their MBA than about the NBA.”

But here’s Robinson, burning three points for the Eastern Conference champions after his 44.6 three-point percentage ranks second in the league of 48 players who tried at least six per game during the regular season. One of his pairs of three in the last five minutes after beating the Celtics on Sunday was the dagger, who was 15 points ahead after two minutes. Robinson turned to jog in the square with his right wrist. His left palm rose to the sky as if to say “Hallelujah”.

Aside from the textbook jump, winning is the other element of Robinson’s game that cannot be questioned. Phillips Exeter Academy won the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council’s Class A championship in 2013 when he was named the tournament’s MVP. Robinson was named Division III Rookie of the Year and All-American when he led Williams College to the 2014 NCAA tournament championship game. He turned that into a scholarship in Michigan, where he took part in two Big Ten tournament championships, two Sweet 16 appearances, and a trip to the 2018 NCAA tournament championship game as a senior. Robinson was named the Big Ten’s sixth Man of the Year that season.

That’s a lot of wins, but the NBA aspirations have been subdued at best, and those thoughts were confirmed when it wasn’t drafted in 2018.

“Even during my Michigan career, I was far from a surefire NBA player,” said Robinson. “And I knew that. I knew it would take some breaks, some luck, a lot of work, and just the right time and place. “

Robinson made his career by being in the right place at the right time. The opportunity for Michigan came after Williams coach Mike Maker took a job at Marist, which helped Robinson look elsewhere as well. Maker had been in West Virginia with John Beilein’s then Michigan coach and had given Robinson a good word.

After not being drafted, Robinson turned a strong performance with the Heat Summer League team into a two-way contract in 2019. Miami is known for having one of the best cultures in the league for a player to develop in and hard work to be rewarded. And that’s Robinson’s calling card – hard work.

“There are only 450 people that make up this league,” said heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “I think a great separator, probably one of the largest separators, is your level of endurance and grittiness. And Duncan has proven that his strength is unusual because there would be a lot of things that would prevent him from becoming one of the 450 in this league. You never know, until you have someone in your building, then they have to work through some things and face some adversity and so on. “

Previous coaches take up this similar theme when the subject turns to Robinson. During that senior year of high school, he became a marksman as basketball was life to Robinson and his friends. Tilton called them “basketball nerds”.

Even so, many teenagers can shoot and do not have the physical attributes to play at the next level. Robinson was so thin that Division I coaches stayed away and Williams became the way to keep playing. As a high school graduate, he weighed only 170 to 175 pounds before working in the Williams weight room. He made progress, but Robinson still arrived in Michigan weighing only 191 pounds and barely squatting his own body weight. Michigan strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson said an entire body makeover was needed.

“It’s one of our great stories of progress and development. … He’s the guy who was hungry from the start and wanted to prove himself, ”said Sanderson. “I think what everyone sees [now] is a look at how motivated he is, how determined he is, and how he won’t fit in a box: “You can’t play at this level because you’re Division III.” ”

Robinson had to sit out a year because of the transfer rules and used this time to transform. He gained 20 pounds, increased his bench press by more than 50 pounds, and increased his vertical jump by 4½ inches. By the time Robinson left Michigan, his weight had dropped 215 pounds and his vertical jump had increased seven inches. That’s the kind of work ethic that turns a lanky boarding school kid with no real NBA hopes into a starter on a team that takes four wins from a championship ring.

People look back and wonder how the entire league missed him, but doubts remained after Michigan. Beilein credits former Wolverine Glen Rice, who works in the Miami front office, for constantly calling to inquire about Robinson.

Beilein had to ask Robinson to look for gunfire, and Spoelstra asked for it.

“We have a saying that volume creates trust,” said Beilein. “And his shot volume gave him great confidence to shoot. But his volume of work is incredibly good [has also]. He is hungry. He has a chip on his shoulder. He tries to prove himself to everyone every day. … That’s what he feeds on. So this is his attitude. “

It wasn’t an attitude Robinson was born with. He regards it as a skill that can be developed, no other than dribbling or shooting. This is what Robinson can rely on when times are challenging or his confidence is weakening. It’s the only thing – aside from this beautiful stroke – that has taken him this far and that he will not forget.

“He keeps coming back to work, whether he has an off-game, a really great game, a mediocre one,” said star striker Jimmy Butler. “He’s always here to get better, to learn, and to make sure we can win the next. I think you respect that about him. Thirst for knowledge. And he just wants to help us win a championship. With a guy like that in your corner, all you can do is keep praising him, keep loving him, and keep being grateful that he’s on your team. “