Featured Column, Men's Basketball, Column

Robinson’s Lottery Selection Opens Gateway to ACC Prominence

An hour and 20 minutes into Thursday’s NBA Draft, Commissioner Adam Silver walked to the podium and mouthed the word “Boston”—no, not the Boston Celtics, their selection would come 14 picks later. Silver was putting the finishing touches on his 13th announcement of the night, revealing the Los Angeles Clippers’ decision to take Boston College men’s basketball combo guard Jerome Robinson in the middle of the first round, making the Raleigh, N.C. native BC’s first top-15 pick in 36 years and first-ever lottery selection.

Robinson, who never received an ESPN scout grade, let alone a positional, state, or regional ranking as a high schooler, now found himself on one of the biggest stages in all of sports.

For about five minutes, all of the attention was on the 6-foot-6 playmaker. After all, we’re entering the dog days of summer. Last week, both the Golden State Warriors and Washington Capitals celebrated their respective championships, marking the unofficial end of the NBA and NHL seasons. Besides following the World Cup—which is significantly less popular than usual, in large part due to the fact that the United States is missing out on the tournament for the first time in 32 years—all that’s left for sports fans to do is to watch baseball or obsess over potentially meaningless offseason storylines.

It’s during this time that the NBA leapfrogs the NFL as the primary attraction. The end of NFL mini-camp signifies the beginning of NBA Draft talk and, even better, NBA free agency—a multi-week period that has taken the form of glorified television drama over the course of the past decade. So as Robinson—donning a new Clippers hat and matching nautical suit—conducted his post-pick interview, he was not just speaking to ESPN reporter Maria Taylor, but he was really addressing the entire world.

It was at this moment that everyone—excluding the religious mock drafters, beat reporters, and Superfans—learned his story. It was at this moment that BC, a program that three years ago had people questioning if the school should have ever moved to the ACC, took another step in the right direction. ­­­­

BC is coming off its first winning season and postseason appearance in seven years. But Robinson’s selection was more meaningful than any one of the Eagles’ seven conference victories, even their upset over Duke in this season’s league opener and their back-to-back ACC Tournament wins. Unlike a record or captivating statistic, it’s an event that can single-handedly change the perception of the program.

In this day and age, basketball is dominated by superstar culture. Aspiring athletes, particularly recruits, have their eyes on the NBA as soon as they step foot on the court in elementary school. While that dream is often far-fetched, the NBA Draft restores confidence in the up-and-coming generations to continue working on their craft. They watch the draft, just like everyone else, keeping tabs on the schools that the draftees attended. BC was one of 21 colleges to send a first-round draft pick to New York this year. Even more impressive, it was one of just 10 that boasted a lottery pick.

The NBA lottery was first instituted in 1985. It’s a controversial system that’s designed to reward the worst teams in the Association—more specifically, the 14 that missed out on the past year’s playoffs—with the highest selections in the draft, in attempt to create league parity. In recent years, there’s been a great deal of criticism concerning the lottery process and the incentive that comes with tanking. Regardless, it makes for great television, and, consequently, those athletes that crack the top-14—otherwise known as lottery picks—are idolized.

While 20 prospects receive Green Room invitations on a year-to-year basis, it appears as if there is a divide of sorts between the lottery and the rest of the first round. It’s understandable too—of this season’s 28 NBA All Stars, 23 were top-14 selections in their respective drafts. There’s a certain expectation of stardom that’s often tied to the lottery. Luckily for BC, Robinson snuck his way into that esteemed category of players on draft day.

It’s worth noting that, back in 1982, John Bagley—the Eagles’ first-ever Big East Player of the Year and 14th all-time leading scorer—was selected 12th overall in the NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The draft wasn’t nearly what it is today, though. And as mentioned before, the lottery didn’t even exist. Robinson’s unprecedented ascent will be more than enough to sway recruits. His path to the NBA is as raw and inspirational as it gets—a journey that’s sure to persuade high school prospects to endure the winters of Chestnut Hill and play at BC.

With the exception of Luka Dončić, a Slovenia native who has played for Real Madrid in the Liga ACB since he was 16 years old, Robinson is the only lottery pick who wasn’t an ESPN 100 recruit. In fact, the guard only received offers from four colleges: Florida International, Youngstown State, Old Dominion, and BC. Despite growing up on Tobacco Road, Robinson was overlooked by every Power Five school in North Carolina.

His freshman year on the Heights was one was to forget. Although Robinson averaged double figures and had his fair share of highlight-reel plays, he missed half of the ACC slate after suffering a wrist injury and contracting norovirus along with a handful of his teammates. To make matters worse, BC finished the 2015-16 campaign with an 0-18 ACC record, becoming the first team in the league to go winless in conference play since Maryland in 1987. Then, in a matter of months, four players—Sammy Barnes-Thompkins, Matt Milon, Idy Diallo, and Darryl Hicks—three of whom were in Robinson’s own class, transferred away from the program. Factor in graduation, and the Eagles were missing about half of their team.

Thanks to the graduate transfer market and a bevy of recruits, BC entered the 2016-17 season with a complete roster. Robinson broke out, eclipsing the 20-point mark with ease against non-conference opponents, one-upping his career totals, night after night. That said, he wasn’t nearly as consistent in league play and, at times, disappeared in games. Even though Robinson teamed up with North Carolina native Ky Bowman to establish one of the best backcourts in the conference and snap the team’s 666-day ACC losing streak, the season ended on another 16-plus game skid.

That summer, Robinson flew out to Santa Monica, Calif. and spent seven weeks at Integrity Hoops—an offseason personal development program for college and pro players. He trained alongside guys like Emmanuel Mudiay and Bismack Biyombo and even received advice from reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook. In spite of a slow start to the 2017-18 season, the extra hours in the gym eventually paid off, big-time. Robinson logged 20 or more points in 14 ACC games and finished the year averaging 24.3 per game against league opponents, the most of any player in the conference.

It took time, but soon enough, the guard started to turn heads, all while revitalizing the student section in Conte Forum and leading the Eagles to an NIT berth. When March rolled around, it seemed like Robinson had done just enough to play his way into the first round of the NBA Draft. The AP All-American declared in April, only to watch his stock soar in the coming months.

Forgoing the Combine’s five-on-five scrimmage never came back to haunt him—instead, Robinson jumped other prospects by impressing NBA personnel during his pro day, team workouts, and interviews. Four days before the draft, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe reported that organizations were particularly intrigued by the guard’s character and demeanor. He didn’t stop rising in mock drafts till he landed with the Clippers at 13th overall, at which point he was overwhelmed with emotion.

lottery selection

“It’s unbelievable,” Robinson told BC Athletics. “To come from that school—I feel like I put them back on the map and [brought] that basketball program back to where it was in the past.”

BC will enter next season with a postseason appearance under its belt, four returning starters, an ESPN 100 recruit, and, most importantly, a 2018 lottery pick. Yes, you read that correctly. Robinson will be off in L.A., learning the ways of the NBA, but his story lies in Conte—not just in 2018-19, but really for years to come. Now a household name, he immediately transforms head coach Jim Christian’s recruiting pitch.

Sure, seven conference wins, a victory over the No. 1 team in the nation, and an ACC Tournament Quarterfinals appearance are all reputable assets, but having a lottery pick speaks volumes about Christian, Scott Spinelli, and the rest of the coaching staff, at least in terms of player development. The fact of the matter is, Robinson was selected before Michael Porter Jr.—a prospect that was once compared to LeBron James—and was one of just two ACC players to go in the top 15. Those are the kinds of things that will get recruits to look past BC’s facilities that, by the way, still lag behind the rest of the conference.

When Robinson hired an agent on April 28, many students and fans were frustrated that the team’s leading scorer wasn’t returning for his senior season. Many theorized that, without the guard, the Eagles’ NCAA Tournament hopes were all but gone. At the end of the day, though, Robinson’s decision was neither selfish nor ill-advised. It might not seem like it right now, but BC is in a better position than it would be if the All-ACC First Teamer withdrew his name from the draft—in the long run, that is.

Not a single 22-year-old was picked in this year’s lottery. In order for Robinson to move up the board as a senior or even match his 2018 draft stock, he’d have to put up monster numbers for a second-consecutive year, drastically improve on the defensive end of the floor, and lead BC to The Dance. Even that might not have been enough.

While the Eagles will be losing 27.1 percent of their scoring production, the gap in the backcourt will force Bowman to take matters into his own hands. The sophomore, who has the makings of a triple-double machine and averaged 17.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.7 assists this past season, is now the face of the program. Robinson’s lottery selection essentially rolls out the red carpet for Bowman—who originally declared for this year’s draft—to make his own run at the NBA lottery.

You have to wonder what NBA scouts and executives were thinking when they were watching Robinson’s game tape. There’s no way they didn’t take note of Bowman’s playmaking ability. By no means is Bowman perfect, but Robinson’s good fortune sets the 6-foot-1 point guard up for a career year—one that could throw BC’s name back in the draft discussion next spring.

One lottery pick, and potentially two, could very well slingshot the Eagles up the recruiting ranks. So if Bowman and Co. fall short of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, there’s a good chance BC’s next star will carry the torch into March Madness shortly after. Of course, this is all speculative. Part of it will require Robinson to prove his worth at the next level.

Underperforming in year one could damage Bowman’s stock and hamper Christian and Spinelli in the recruiting game. And even if he plays well as a rookie, it’ll be up to BC to cash in on the opportunity. After Jared Dudley went 22nd overall to the Charlotte Hornets in the 2007 NBA Draft, the Eagles reverted back to mediocrity, clinching just one NCAA Tournament berth in the next three years. And let’s not forget that the Oklahoma City Thunder’s selection of Reggie Jackson in 2011 marked the beginning of horrid six-year stretch—one in which BC posted a combined 62-130 record.

But there’s a difference between having a couple of late first-round picks in your back pocket seven some years ago and being able to flaunt a lottery pick in today’s world of college basketball. Robinson’s selection is the gateway to ACC prominence.

lottery selection

Throughout the past few years, I’ve made a habit of referencing BC stats on ESPN’s website. Naturally, I tried to do the same when writing this column, but was redirected to Robinson’s newly created NBA profile. Moments later, I read his Players’ Tribune-esque article that was published by BC Athletics on Friday afternoon. The Clippers draftee describes his time in Chestnut Hill, love for BC, and transition to the pros—the short, but sweet piece resembles a goodbye of sorts.  

“My three years at Boston College were unforgettable,” Robinson writes. “As I look to build more and more memories in this next chapter of my basketball life, BC will be with me every step of the way.”

It definitely will be. Robinson may be a lottery pick, but there’s no saying he won’t carry on the program’s underdog mentality. Aside from teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Robinson’s the only top-14 pick in this year’s class without a Wikipedia profile picture. On a more serious note, analysts like CBS Sports’ Reid Forgrave believe that the guard’s age and potential, or lack thereof, are cause for immediate concern.

When grading the Clippers’ 13th overall selection, Forgrave writes, “This might be the first true surprise pick. Robinson has talent and could be a good scorer to pair with Gilgeous-Alexander. But he’s definitely lower upside than multiple players still available, and his less-than-elite athleticism brings up a defensive question mark.”

In a matter of weeks, Robinson will sign his first NBA contract—yet he’s still tasked with proving the doubters wrong. And for the time being, every BC prospect will find themselves in the same position. Fortunately for the school, Robinson’s selection is the next step in rewriting the program’s reputation.

Featured Image by Kevin Hagen / AP Photo 

Photo by Keith Carroll / Heights Editor

Graphics by Andy Backstrom / Heights Editor

June 23, 2018

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