ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida’s Devin Robinson has undeniable talents on the basketball court. High-end talents spread across a versatile arsenal of skills.
Watch the 6-foot-8 junior forward get his smooth stroke going from beyond the arc and one can’t help but wonder why he doesn’t shoot even more 3-pointers. Watch him sky to the rim for a dunk and it’s no surprise when he takes over for stretches. Watch his length on defense cause issues for opponents and it’s easy to see his potential for a nice professional career.
Robinson hasn’t always shown that complete package, though. There are times when he seems far too quiet on the offensive end for his abilities.
But not Thursday. No, Robinson was at his absolute best in the Gators’ NCAA Tournament opener.
He matched his career-high with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, threw down a handful of crowd-pleasing dunks, drained two of the biggest 3-pointers in the game and added 7 rebounds and 2 blocks in Florida’s 80-65 win against East Tennessee State.
Watch that performance and one can see that full potential at work.
“We all know any given night Devin’s capable of doing that. It’s good to see him play up to, you know, I guess, his max,” senior forward Justin Leon said. “He did a lot tonight — rebounding, defending, blocking, scoring. So, to see him have a good all-around game like we know he can is good, so hopefully that gives him more momentum, and us as well, to carry on further into the tournament.”
He scored 8 of Florida’s first 14 points Thursday, including three of those dunks as the Gators got out in transition for some easy baskets. Leon wasn’t the only teammate raving about the version of Robinson that showed up at the Amway Center in this one.
“I ain’t ever seen him dunk that much. It’s fun to watch him when he’s on like that because he can score at all three levels and he’s a great defender as well,” junior point guard Chris Chiozza said. “So, when he’s going on offense, he’s a force on both ends of the court.”
As for those fastbreak dunks, Robinson would later say that’s his strength as a player and the reason he initially came to Gainesville to play for former coach Billy Donovan. He thrives in transition, as he put it.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 16, 2017
As for the 3s — he drained 2 back-to-back early in the second half to help the Gators assert control — he says that’s the part of his game that has progressed the most.
“It actually got better this past summer when I was injured. I just focused more on my form and just put more arc on the ball and just getting more comfortable in who I am as a player and my shot,” Robinson said. “My guys out here are finding me so that just helps me. Coach is giving me confidence and my teammates are giving me confidence.”
That injury, a stress fracture in his foot, is part of the reason he’s still here.
Robinson was thinking about the potential to leave early after last season with visions of the NBA.
Instead, he came back to school for his junior campaign and has averaged 11.3 points and 6.2 rebounds while hitting 39 percent of his 3s (39 of 100).
He looks back on that decision, however much it was influenced by the injury, as a positive now.
“I think it was a good decision for me overall, my game and just being with the guys. I like being with my teammates. We’ve got closer over the years, and me coming back, I’m happy,” he said.
He insists he hasn’t thought at all about his plans after this season.
“No, not at all. Just worrying about this season and worrying about winning games with my team,” he said.
And thanks in part to his contributions Thursday, there are still more games to play.
The challenge gets tougher as the No. 4-seeded Gators meet No. 5 Virginia on Saturday in the Round of 32.
A repeat performance from Robinson would be a big help, of course.
Again, it’s hard to predict the junior forward. He had scored in double figures only five times in the previous 11 games, including a game at Mississippi State in which he went scoreless in 30 minutes while attempting only 6 shots.
Robinson certainly rose to the occasion in his NCAA Tournament debut, though, and it was highly encouraging.
“We’ve challenged him all year and he’s challenged himself to get out in transition, to really run,” coach Mike White said. “When he wants to, he runs like a deer. When he’s in space, he’s got the ability to get his feet set and make jumpers and he can really straight-line drive it, of course. He can take off … and explode to the rim. He usually finishes or draws fouls. He’s a really talented guy.”
There’s no question about that.
As the Gators move on to play Virginia now, Robinson will try to show the Cavaliers what they’re missing. He’s from Chesterfield, Va., and his mom attended Virginia, but Robinson says the program never offered him a scholarship.
He didn’t indicate whether he derives any extra motivation from that, but then again, he doesn’t need any at this point.
It’s his first NCAA Tournament and it could be his last if he opts to leave school early, as he considered last year.
Watch Robinson dominate on the biggest stage of his career and it’s clear the motivation and drive he’s playing with right now.
“My first couple years here I didn’t get the job done coming in here. The first year we didn’t even make any tournament, second year NIT,” he said. “It just feels good to be back in the NCAA Tournament as a Gator and try to make my legacy with my teammates.”