Following our countdown of the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s men’s basketball history this summer, Ivy Hoops Online is delighted to continue celebrating the 60th anniversary of modern Ivy League basketball by honoring the top 60 players in Ivy hoops history (in no particular order). For the next entry in our Ivy 60 for 60 series, three IHO writers give their individual perspectives of Craig Robinson, one of the greatest players in Princeton basketball history…
Currently sixth on the all-time Tiger scoring list with 1,441 points, Craig Robinson has enjoyed an intriguing career in and out of basketball.
Over his four seasons spanning 1979 to 1983, the Tigers won three Ivy titles (splitting playoffs with Penn in 1980 and 1981) and defeated Oklahoma State in the 1983 NCAA Tournament. A rangy 6’6” power forward, Robinson was twice Ivy Player of the Year.
Robinson was drafted by the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers but did not play for them. His two-year professional career was spent in England. In 1992, he earned an MBA at the University of Chicago, his hometown, and set out to make his fortune in the world of high finance.
His sister Michelle urged him to play pickup basketball with her very intense suitor and law firm colleague, Barack Obama. Though not all that polished on the court, the enthusiastic Obama impressed Robinson enough to warrant a favorable scouting report to his sister. The wheels greased, Obama hit the open three, becoming Craig’s brother-in-law soon after.
Robinson enjoyed tremendous financial success professionally but missed the game of his youth. By the late 1990s, his fortune secure, he joined Bill Carmody’s staff at Northwestern. He spent several years in Evanston helping recruit Big Ten-caliber players. In 2006 he returned to the Ivy League as the skipper of the perennial second-division Brown Bears. In two turnaround seasons in Providence he earned Coach of the Year plaudits and led Brown to a team-record 19 wins in his second year. The lure of big time basketball proved irresistible in 2008 when Robinson accepted the head coaching position at Oregon State in the Pac 12. After a promising start, the Beavers fell back in the later years of Robinson’s tenure in Corvallis. He was released in 2014 as the fourth-winningest coach in Oregon State history. Since then he has held a broadcasting position as an analyst on ESPN college basketball telecasts.
His daughter Leslie is currently a member of the highly regarded and defending Ivy League champion Princeton women’s team.
Craig Robinson was a multi-dimensional leader of one of the best teams in Ivy history. His brother-in law, President Barack Obama, is an avid basketball fan (see Alexander Wolff’s excellent book The Audacity of Hoop).
In basketball terms, Craig was the embodiment of the Princeton/Pete Carril tradition of all-around individual play combined with unselfish team concept – the famed Princeton offense along with a commitment to hard-nosed man-to-man defense. A high-character leader and NBA draftee, his 1983 team was one of the top 20 in league history. With fellow teammates Rich Simkus, Bill Ryan and Kevin Mullin, also NBA draftees – the Tigers defeated No. 14 Oklahoma State in the NCAA Tournament before succumbing to Boston College and missing out on a Sweet 16 appearance. Post-Princeton, Craig carried his leadership skills forward becoming the coach of Oregon State and imparting the Princeton concept as a mentor. He has also been an incisive ESPN analyst while concomitantly cheering on his daughter (joined by his brother-in-law) who is a key member of the Princeton women’s championship team.
THE ANCIENT QUAKER:
It is ironic that I, a Quaker, have chosen to write about the greatness of a Princeton player. However long before he became better known as the first brother-in-law from 1979-83, Craig Robinson was the most terrifying adversary I have ever seen with the basketball in his hands. He routinely tormented and broke the hearts of Quaker fans with his skill, quickness and superb shooting ability (he led the league in field-goal percentage) as he battled Penn’s Paul Little (1981-82 Ivy Player of the Year) for Ancient Eight supremacy. During these years, Penn-Princeton matchups were blood sport at its finest – sold out, taut affairs often coming down to one last crucial possession. With the added advantage of having Pete Carril patrolling the visitor’s sideline, as a Penn fan, the best you could hope for was that one last shot didn’t somehow find its way into Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood.