Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, March 24, 2014

NCAAW: Saint Joseph's Ashley Robinson is a Tower of Inspiration on Hawk Hill

By Rob Knox

STORRS, Conn. – Natasha Cloud may be the emotional leader for the Saint Joseph’s women’s basketball team, but redshirt junior Ashley Robinson is definitely the most inspirational.

Robinson’s perseverance, patience and resilience has been tested during her time at Saint Joseph’s because of a pair of injuries in each leg that robbed the affable 6 foot, 2 inch forward from Warminster of two entire seasons of competing in the sport she’s played since fifth grade.

After averaging 5.2 points in each of the last two seasons, Robinson was prepared to play a major role this season when she suffered an arm injury that sidelined her for the first eight games.

Those setbacks were enough to sink the strongest-willed person, but Robinson is cut from from a different cloth.

She developed a steely resolve, which made her tougher and determined to make an impact. Despite all the trials, tribulations, pain and rehab appointments, Robinson never lost faith that she would be a major contributor to the Hawks’ success.

“The injuries I had were tough to come back from,” Robinson said. “I mean you have to learn how to walk and jump again. The pain was very uncomfortable and not being able to walk on your own was hard.

" I just had a mindset to keep going and not give up. The first injury was pretty hard and the road back was tough. When the second injury occurred to the other leg, it was been there done that. I just worked hard during the summer to stay in shape and stay strong.”

Robinson’s gritty and passionate performance in Saint Joseph’s 67-57 victory over Georgia is one reason why the ninth-seeded Hawks (23-9 overall) are preparing for the ultimate challenge of facing top-ranked and undefeated Connecticut (35-0), winners of 41 straight, in a second round game of the Lincoln Regional Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion on ESPN2.

Robinson recorded her third double-double of the season by finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds against the Lady Bulldogs Sunday night.

“She’s relentless and a fighter,” Cloud said. “Going through two injuries early in her career, she’s just continued to battle and not let that stop her. She got up and grabbed a lot of key rebounds for us when we needed them and she never stopped working.

"She impacts the game greatly on both ends of the floor especially on defense because she’s a presence out there. She did exactly what her role entailed for (against Georgia) and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

Robinson’s fighting spirit will be needed as she will be banging against the Huskies towering frontline of Breanna Stewart, Stefanie Dolson, and Kiah Stokes throughout the night for rebounds, low-post position and loose balls.

The Archbishop Wood graduate has also emerged as a go-to scoring threat late in the season for the Hawks as she has scored in double figures in six of Saint Joseph’s last nine games. Her contributions for Saint Joseph’s extend beyond the stat sheet.

Affectionately called “Grandma A-Rob” by her younger teammates and being a member of the SJU Athletic Director’s Honor Roll, Robinson has provided leadership in the form of overcoming and conquering hurdles.

She’s always had the physical gifts, but the injuries made her a more complete and cerebral player. She now thinks about the game like a commentator dissecting a play on a telestrator. It helps that Robinson is the oldest member of the team and she also dispenses plenty of wisdom to her teammates.

While Robinson missed the first two seasons of her collegiate career she had plenty of support as her parents helped lift her spirits and her teammates kept her encouraged.

During her first two years, Robinson’s daily outfit included a pair of stylish crutches and a cool walking boot to help her hop around on Hawk Hill. She would spend close to three hours a day walking backwards on a treadmill to get her leg strong and it took her 8-10 months to resume normal basketball activities.

“This kid is so resilient,” Saint Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin said. “She has fought major injuries and to the point where like you really want come back and do this.

"She has such an inner drive to play this game, be successful and be a part of a winning program. She’s a leader in all aspects. She was a top 100 kid out of high school and she was recruited like the kids from Georgia and some of the UConn kids.

"Then she comes to SJU and has all these injuries and she hasn’t had a chance to get back to where she could be. She’s played big in all these games for us.”

Her endless effort rubs off on her teammates during games and in practice. Robinson's impact was so significant that during the postgame press conference against Georgia when a question was asked about Robinson’s effort during the game, sophomore Sarah Fairbanks, point blank said, “she should be here (on the dias) in place of me.” That comment made the entire room laugh.

Against Georgia, it seemed as if Robinson got one of her fingers that had florescent-colored nail polish on them on several loose balls. Playing against the bigger and stronger Georgia players, Robinson supplied all of the little things that teams need to succeed this deep into the season like playing tough defense, boxing out and capitalizing on scoring opportunities.

She missed a few layups in the first half, but made those same shots after intermission.

The biggest play of the game occurred just as Saint Joseph’s was getting started on what eventually turned out to be its decisive 17-5 second half run.

With the Hawks clinging to a 50-49 edge, Robinson rebounded a missed Cloud 3-pointer and was fouled. She hit both foul shots to extend the Hawks’ advantage. Cloud rained in a deep 3-pointer on Saint Joseph’s next possession and Saint Joseph’s was on its way to victory.

“She was awesome and she made all of us want to be better,” Saint Joseph’s senior Erin Shields said of Robinson’s performance. “She made us want to go after the offensive boards. When she’s the only one crashing the offensive glass, you feel bad because she works so hard. She had so many tipped balls and deflections for us tonight. She was the key for us when we went down by one point.”

While the win meant a lot to everybody in the Saint Joseph’s program, it held special meaning for Robinson, a graduate student majoring in managing human capital.

Faced with the prospect of not being able to play again, Robinson kept working, battling, hustling and believing. Now, the game she loves has rewarded her with an opportunity that many would have thought wasn’t possible after her second leg injury.

“It’s a statement of never giving up and a achieving something that you really want,” said Robinson after being asked about the personal significance of the win.

“As a team, we’re determined that we’re not going home. We’re playing every minute hard and like there’s no tomorrow. An NCAA win is awesome period," Rbinson said.

"Now, we have a chance to play the No.1 team in the country. We don’t get a chance to see that type of athlete in our conference and we’re all looking forward to the challenge. It’s a test to see what you can do.”

No matter what happens against UConn, Robinson has already aced her biggest test.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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