GREAT BASKETBALL PIONEER DIES

Will Robinson may have been the greatest basketball mind you never heard of.

He was one of those rare people whose life transcended the game. Robinson was a true American pioneer in race and civil rights.

Robinson died this week. He was 96. Robinson was the first African American Division 1 college basketball coach in history. He is most famous for coaching Doug Collins at Illinois State. He had a 78-51 record there without ever having a losing season. He also developed Collins, who starred on the US Olympic team and was drafted by Philadelphia with the No. 1 overall pick in 1973.

Collins was still close to Robinson and was deeply saddened by his passing,

“I’m incredibly sad that I lost a guy that I loved as much as anybody in the world,” Collins said. “He taught me the essence of life that has served me well from the age of 18 to 56 because he was more of a life coach than a basketball coach.”

Following his college coaching career, Robinson was one of the greatest scouts and talent evaluators in NBA history. He worked as a Detroit Pistons scout starting in 1976 and continued with them for 28 years through the 2000’s.

Robinson was BRILLIANT as a talent evaluator. He single-handedly discovered superstars Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman while they were playing for tiny, obscure colleges.

Robinson also turned down the opportunity to be an NBA Championship coach. Chuck Daley was named Pistons coach only after Robinson turned the job down. Robinson said of his decision to turn down the Pistons,

“I know I could have won championships with those teams. But after coaching for as long as I had, I found it a relief to not be coaching.”

As a youngster, Robinson quarterbacked the Steubenville (Ohio) High football team and finished second in the state high school golf tournament despite not being allowed to play the course at the same time as whites. He won 15 letters in four sports at West Virginia State College before graduating in 1937.

Unfortunately, Robinson’s last major decision for the Pistons was one of the worst in sports history. It was on his advice that the Pistons selected European bust Darko Milicic over superstars like Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

Inexplicably, Robinson actually compared Darko favorably to WILT CHAMBERLAIN before the 2003 NBA draft. Robinson famously said there were things Milicic could do on a court that Chamberlain couldn’t and actually predicted he would be a better player than Wilt. He also said,

“Darko reminds me of a young Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt used to do a little of everything, and I haven’t seen a big man with so much skill since Wilt.”

He also made this quote about Milicic:

“He’s going to own the game. Own the game. We’re going to have to build a new arena. The only thing that could destroy a kid like that is a woman.”
Will Robinson talking about Darko Milicic after seeing him work-out in Detroit, May 30, 2003, ESPN.com

 

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