BUFFALO, N.Y. — Four years ago, said Keith Robinson, he came close to quitting the sport that will provide him with the opportunity for an education at Notre Dame and the chance to become a very rich young man.
"After my freshman year, I was about to hang basketball up," said Robinson, a 6-foot-9 center-forward from Buffalo's Grover Cleveland High School. "I wasn't getting that much playing time and I thought I was playing better than a couple of the players that were starting."
Robinson recently capped an honor-filled high school career by being named New York's first Mr. Basketball as the state coaches' choice for New York state's best high school basketball player.
Art Serotte, his high school coach, acknowledges now that 17-year-old Robinson may have had a point.
"I made a mistake in his freshman year," he said. "I should have played him a ton more."
This insight has been gained through watching Robinson progress steadily as his playing time increased through high school.
The statistics for that freshman year are unavailable, but Robinson averaged 11.3 points per game as a sophomore and 27.4 points per game as a junior. This past season, the numbers were even more impressive--he averaged 30.4 points and 20 rebounds a game.
"He's a great player, and we haven't seen how good he's going to be. He won't hit his peak until the pros," said Serotte.
Agile 6-9 players who are also natural shooters attract a lot of attention, and Robinson was no exception. The phone calls from college coaches started during his sophomore year and the number and intensity of those calls increased sharply during his junior year.
"I was getting phone calls every day," he said. "I had to leave the house so I could stop answering the phone because it was interfering with my approach to life."
"It was affecting me basketball-wise and school-wise because every time I'd go to a game, I'd run into a coach and I couldn't get my homework done at home because the phone would ring," he said.
Soon, Robinson and his parents realized they were not equipped to handle the attention and designated Serotte as the point man in the college decision.
"The first thing we did was eliminate the thieves, the bandits and the jerks," said Serotte, who said the majority of college coaches fit into one of those three categories.
The second decision was to make a choice as soon as possible. One of the finalists, Villanova, took itself out of the chase after word got out that Robinson allegedly criticized the school to another recruit. He denied ever making such statements.
The choices were narrowed to Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Iowa and local Canisius College. Before his senior year, Robinson notified Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps that he was the winner.
"I liked the campus and the people that were there, and I thought Notre Dame could give me the best of both worlds, academics and basketball," he said.
Like the anxious high school freshman who wasn't content with his playing time, Robinson was swayed by the chance to play immediately for the Fighting Irish.
"They want me to fit in at the shooting forward for (graduting) Ken Barlow," he said. "I had talked to a few schools and they were saying that I'd come in off the bench for the first year and I said that would be like my first year in high school when I wasn't getting enough playing time."
Phelps has been on recruiting trips recently and was unavailable for comment.
Robinson said there are still areas in which he needs improvement.