By NATE BARNES
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon says he’s ready for sophomore point guard James Robinson to take the next step.
Robinson started 32 of 33 games last season, a rarity for a freshman with the Panthers. While Robinson did an excellent job running the offense, Dixon says he would like to see Robinson look to score more this winter.
Robinson averaged 6.1 points a year ago and shot just 38 percent from the field. He spent most of the offseason working on his jumper in hopes of becoming a bigger threat offensively.
Robinson and the Panthers open the season tonight against Savannah State.
Robinson spent most of his freshman season playing in the considerable shadow of 7-foot-1 classmate Steven Adams.
Adams was the rock star of the recruiting class, a “one and done” phenom already cashing checks in the NBA.
Meanwhile, Robinson has turned into the bedrock of a team Dixon believes can compete with the elite in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Robinson calmly and quietly guided the Panthers to a 24-9 mark and another NCAA tournament bid. Heading into his sophomore year, Robinson already has his coach drawing comparisons to former playmakers Brandin Knight, Carl Krauser and Levance Fields.
“He brings confidence to the other guys,” Dixon said. “His unselfishness, those are all traits you have to have as a good leader and he has those.”
Oh, and did Dixon mention Robinson’s defense? Robinson’s tenaciousness on the perimeter is one of the main reasons why Dixon thrust Robinson into the starting lineup immediately last fall. Even as his status rose from newcomer to pivotal piece, his discipline never wavered.
“I think we have a good-sized point guard with good athleticism and good know-how,” Dixon said. “He takes great pride in his defense. To me, though he’s only a sophomore, it’s something that we can really build our defense around.”
Still, Dixon is asking for more out of Robinson this season, particularly on offense as Pitt looks to replace nearly half of its scoring output from last year.
Guard Tray Woodall graduated and took with him his team-high 11.5 points and 5.1 assists per game. He left behind, however, more than a dash of knowledge.
“I got lucky last year having Tray in the backcourt with me, and he taught me just everything,” Robinson said. “All the nuances of the college game.”
Now it’s Robinson’s time to start commanding more attention from defenses, which often left him when he didn’t have the ball because he didn’t exactly pose much of a threat.
Robinson averaged 6.1 points per game on 36.8 percent shooting last year, including just 31.3 percent from 3-point range. His highest scoring games were 14-point efforts against Oakland and Villanova.
Though the number isn’t exactly eye-popping, Robinson is quick to point out the Panthers won both games, the only real statistic that matters.
Still, for Pitt to be competitive, Robinson needs to become more than a ballhandler. He spent much of the offseason — which included helping Team USA win gold in the FIBA Under-19 tournament over the summer – working to smooth out a jump shot that abandoned him at times.
He believes he’s a better shooter now, even if there’s no magic elixir.
“Just work on it,” Robinson said. “Getting more consistent with my form, being able to shoot later in games, and having a more aggressive mentality.”
One of the keys for Robinson will be finding a way to balance that newfound aggressiveness with his responsibilities running the offense. Dixon doesn’t see why Woodall can’t do both well. Neither does his point guard.