Danielle Robinson 360
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Danielle Robinson ended her first WNBA regular season on the road, in front of friends and fans who love her, with a performance that gave Tulsa a taste of its own nickname -- Shock.
To the whoops of teammates on the bench, and the astonishment of befuddled defenders, Robinson dropped 36 points on Tulsa, tied a Silver Stars’ record with 14 field goals, and set a franchise rookie scoring record.
If the Shock wondered what hit them during an overtime loss in September, it was understandable. Robinson may have been an All-American guard at Oklahoma, but she entered the game averaging 7.5 points. “I wish,” Tulsa interim coach Teresa Edwards told reporters, “I could have stopped the little rookie from scoring like that.”
It was a dream game with a dream atmosphere -- the crowd chanting, “D-Rob! D-Rob!” -- and now comes a dream follow. Robinson starts her second season on May 19 at ... Tulsa. Think she’s a tad excited?
If you only knew. Robinson returns to Tulsa with better handles, extended shooting range and the experience of a tense, drama-filled off-season in Israel. In October, she went overseas to play with Maccabi Ramat Hen. Shortly after arriving, though, Israeli players went on strike, leaving Robinson to practice with two American teammates.
The players union disagreed with the Israeli Basketball Association over the number of foreign players allowed on the court. The work stoppage ended after two weeks but not without hard feelings. “They ended up resolving it,” Robinson says, “but it was tense.”
Games resumed and Robinson went to work, averaging 16.2 points and 4.8 assists. She spent hours each week on her dribbling, and hours on her outside shot. “I think my game improved a lot over there,” Robinson says.
She says she reduced her turnovers, improved her shooting accuracy and extended her range from 15 to 18-19 feet. Robinson spins from the end of one regular season to the beginning of the next with huge expectations -- for herself and the Silver Stars.
She was in the war room on April 16 when the team drafted Shenise Johnson, a 5-foot-11 Miami All-American who can shoot like a guard, rebound like a forward and run the floor like a playmaker. “I am excited about our personnel,” Robinson says. “We struggled with rebounding last season. I think that void will be filled. Our guard play is top-of-the-line. And with the addition of Shenise, I think we’re going to be spectacular.”
Coach Dan Hughes shares Robinson’s excitement. He sees Johnson as a multi-dimensional talent who will play shooting guard and small forward. “She has a unique set of skills and great playmaking ability even though she has the size of a three,” Hughes says. “I want to create opportunities for her to play.”
When the Silver Stars selected Johnson with the fifth overall pick, Robinson felt a tinge of deja vu. One year earlier, she watched the draft as a prospect. After the first five picks, Robinson became a jumble of nerves, her heart racing, her knees bouncing.
“I started to shake and my mom said, ‘Calm down, calm down,’” Robinson says. “But my whole body was shaking.”
The morning of the draft began early. Robinson left her hotel with other top prospects at 9 a.m. to meet with an ESPN crew. There were discussions about the draft, there was a luncheon, and then there was a room of makeup artists. On the set, tension began building. “It was exciting,” she says, “but it was definitely nerve-racking.”
There were no nerves a year later. No shakes. Nothing but calm. Robinson, you could say, had grown up. Hughes certainly thinks she has, and one indication came against Tulsa.
“We were resting Sophia Young and Becky Hammon in that game,” Hughes says, “so she knew she had to score and be a playmaker and that included finishing. She gained a lot of confidence and played on her aggressive side.”
Robinson doesn’t remember doing anything different before the game. But she remembers being juiced by a sea of familiar faces and a rush of memories. In Norman, Robinson wowed Oklahoma fans with her playmaking and community service, which included more than 500 hours working with Meals on Wheels, the Special Olympics and impoverished children in Haiti.
In Tulsa, Robinson saw the pastor who took took her team on a mission trip to Haiti. She saw relatives and friends and fans from Sooner Nation. She heard the crowd chanting her name. Next thing you know, she’s penetrating and scoring at will, just like in college.
Hughes does not plan to sit Hammon and Young for the season opener. But that doesn’t lessen Robinson’s excitement. Going back to Tulsa is like going back home. Months after dropping 36 in Oklahoma, she’s going full circle, and the Sooner in her can hardly wait.