A Love Affair
That lanky body, the high-waisted cotton shorts, the dusty brown hair that took the form of a mushroom cloud dodged here and there on the concrete pavement.
He dribbles down the court, sees the defense crowding in, fakes a player out, pulls up for a shot and Swish! Owww~ Robinson for THREEeeee~ As a young boy at the age of eight, Dan Robinson kept a notebook in which he played out his very own NCAA tournament. After arriving at Morrison his third grade year and watching the older kids play ball, “sports became a love affair,” said Robinson, “I got into it and a lot of it was just watching the older kids.” His 1822 points and 92-6 game record in high school remains part of Morrison sports legend. “I used to dream about it.” said Robinson, “And it was even better than the dreams.”
After his great high school experience, Robinson played ball with the big boys at Westmont College. The college experience granted him early training with high quality coaching as both his college coaches later picked up the Lakers’ whistle. Upon graduating college, Robinson took on coaching Freshmen and JV for two separate years at a public high school in the States. “[When] I first started coaching, I had no idea what the [high school] level was like because I had been playing at college. I had a freshmen team and we were losing by 50 points at the beginning; I realized these guys are terrible! I didn’t know that till we started playing other teams, but at the end of the year we were cutting that margin down and we won our last two games. The next year I moved up to JV with many of the same guys… and we went undefeated.”
At the superintendent’s request, Robinson came back to Morrison where he coached JV guys for one year before filling in as varsity coach for Coach Bill Sergeant, who went on furlough. “I took the Varsity boys that year and had an incredible team. We cleaned up in Hong Kong and had only one competitive game against a team that was beating everybody by 40 plus points. We met them in the finals and beat them. That was my first year of varsity coaching and it was Mark Hefner’s team. It was that year (‘83-’84) that I really got into coaching.” Coach Sergeant came back the next year and Robinson stepped aside, and coached the girls’ varsity team. It was a great experience as he got the opportunity to coach both his sister and Beth Turner.
After coaching his sister, Robinson went back to California and met the woman of his dreams, Doni, whom we now know as Mrs. Robinson. His plans to come back to Morrison were delayed for that very reason. When he did get back to Morrison, Robinson picked up where he left off: coaching the girls. The following year, Sergeant went on furlough again and it was good timing because that ‘95 team had a lot of talent. It was that year, that a Stars and Stripes reporter discovered Morrison and pushed for our teams to be a part of Far East. “This team got me turned back to [coaching] again.” said Robinson. When Sergeant came back from furlough, he was ready to step down from his position as head coach, but the Robinsons were expecting Grant, so Robinson did what he needed to do and stayed at home. While thinking of putting his whistle in a box for a while, the chaplain at that time, Dave Kriehn, worked hard at getting Robinson to coach again. “I will do whatever you need,” Kriehn said. From that point on, Robinson stayed in the game. His nineteen years of coaching Morrison varsity men’s basketball, two years of varsity girls basketball, one year of junior varsity and three years coaching in public schools add up to a very impressive record of twenty-five years. A man who lost his mustache and his hair to this game must have acquired many insights from his experiences. Mr. Robinson agreed to share some thoughts with me during an interview.
What’s the most rewarding thing in coaching?
The most rewarding thing … is when [I hear of] those guys [who] catch the life lessons and to hear them reflect on it: [how] they took it and transferred it into their own life. So, basically, just to see guys become men… better men.
What is the biggest challenge of being a Christian coach?
Overall: The biggest challenge is to keep your focus of why you’re doing it. The main purpose of sports, especially in team sports, is getting life lessons, because you have every possible emotion there and you have to do it together as a group. Myself: For me personally, [the biggest challenge is to] not let the competitive drive overtake it. I have to keep reminding myself what is really important.
If there’s maybe one moment that is your favorite which one would it be?
1) One of it was our fi rst Far East championship. That ‘99 team was one of the weakest teams I’ve ever had and it was our first year there. Now, this team improved a lot. They could never score but their defense just got stronger and stronger; then we hit that tournament. We still weren’t scoring but we’re beating teams in the 40s and as the tournament went on you could just see the guys buy in more and more. By the end, every possession was tough for the other teams to score and we would just squeak out the win. We squeaked it all the way up to the championship game! That was a highlight because I remember being so happy for those guys. They were such a surprise because it was a mediocre season and there they were [with the championship].
2) Here’s an opposite one: Two years ago the team with a 35-0 record were operating at the highest level basketball sensewise. They weren’t the most athletic or talented group but it was just pure beauty of basketball operating at the highest level I’ve ever seen in my career. We took on two really big challenges because every game was a big blowout so they weren’t being tested. Therefore we took on Ching Nian, one of the top teams on the Island. We especially made it a challenge by going over to their place. We go down 11-0 in the beginning, but the guys didn’t panic. They cut back gradually and we won by eight. That was a great game. They did it by just playing their system. I haven’t seen any high school team play at that level so that’s a highlight. It was good because there were a few on the team that were really strong-willed that I could’ve clashed with and that I have clashed with and I was worried going into that season. But they humbled themselves and sometimes they sacrificed their stats, which is really big for these players. That was a highlight for me… that they would sacrifice themselves for the better of the team.
What do you think makes a player or team good?
Well, I’m huge on this. This is what gets me angry in a game. You have to be all in. You have to give it 100% and if you’re not especially [focused] it shows on defense and you’re hurting us all… You get a huge advantage over other teams if you decide every possession is a game. Once you reach that level [of thinking]…you have a huge advantage over the average person who doesn’t think that way and you run off a string of easy buckets. That’s the difference of the game even if they are better than you; you can beat them just because of that. For some guys [this way of thinking is] so much not in their personalities that they can’t even see it and this really shows on defense. Part of the system, part of the philosophy is that the average person cannot keep that kind of focus for the entire game. If you can, if you’re able, this is going to be the difference of the game when the teams are even.
What are some of the life lessons you mentioned learning from basketball?
1) No matter what happens, you’ve got to stay with your system; trust your system and trust your team. Even if you go down 20-0, you have to take it for something good and stay together with your thing. Don’t panic [and don’t] try to do it on [your] own…[because then] you’re doomed. In Hong Kong the ‘95 team got down to 18-0 in the semi final so I told them “We will get this back. we’re going to get this back. do you believe this? It will be gradual. Just stay with it.” That’s exactly what they did. They just fought back. That’s a terrific life lesson. You can not just explain it to someone. If they experience it in something like sports they’ll know it’s true.
2) You gotta ask yourself “Why are you doing this?” and most of the things in life are going to get down to one of two things:
a. I’ll do it for myself b. I’ll do it for a bigger cause. [If you choose a, it] basically gets down to [pursuing] self glorification You have got to ask yourself [whether] I’ll do it for others [or] I’m gonna do this for God. The [latter has a] whole other level of joy that is not easy to come by for most, so that’s a huge lesson.
As Ecclesiastes chapter three mentions, “There is a time for everything… a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” Two years ago, legendary Coach Robinson made a decision to step down from his position as varsity men’s head coach after twenty-five years of coaching. The Robinson Basketball Era thus ends with the graduating class of 2013 but his wisdom, insight, and Christian example still lives on with us.