Jun 29 2011 10:19AM

WNBA 15 for 15: Crystal Robinson, Transitioning from Player to Coach

As part of the WNBA’s 15th season, we’ll be posting a series of stories spotlighting the players, moments and milestones that have made up the WNBA's first decade and a half. A new one will be posted every Wednesday

Ned Dishman; Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty Images

Heading into the 2007 WNBA season Crystal Robinson was in pain. Living on a daily diet of ibuprofen and acetaminophen, her body had a frank conversation with her head.

“It’s like my body said, ‘Crystal, you’ve got to quit. Do you want to walk when you’re 50 or not?’” Robinson recalls. “I got to the point where I was in so much pain that I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. I became frustrated and decided I’m going to have to let this go.”

As the saying goes, when one door closes another opens. Robinson had always planned to go into coaching and she was excited by the prospect of being an assistant coach for Washington Mystics head coach Richie Adubato.1 Unfortunately, he resigned shortly after the beginning of the season, but Robinson remained as the Mystics assistant coach for two years.

She says the transition to coach—even with a team she’d played with up through training camp—came easily to her. Robinson, 37, attributes much of her skills to Adubato.

“I’d been in his system for a very long time,” Robinson says. “Richie always told me, ‘You ask too many questions.’ I always told him, ‘When I start coaching, I’m going to have the answers to all these questions when my players ask me.’

Bonus Points
1.Richie Adubato coached Crystal Robinson for five seasons with the New York Liberty and one season with the Washington Mystics.
2.Adubato is now the radio color analyst for the Orlando Magic.
3. Robinson and Adubato joined the New York Liberty the same year, 1999. That year she led the league in 3-pointers made. Before the 2011 WNBA season Robinson was eighth on the list of all-time 3-pointers made.
4.While virtually all WNBA players played Division I college basketball (except for those coming from overseas), Robinson actually graduated from Southeastern Oklahoma State University, an NAIA school, where she holds numerous school records.
5. Last summer she was a TV color analyst for the Tulsa Shock’s inaugural season.
6. Robinson’s goal is to coach at a four-year Division I or II school.
“I loved the fact that I probably learned more in my career from Richie than I did anyone. He was such a teacher.2 It was hard to make mistakes as a player playing for him because you knew exactly what he wanted from you. To me, he simplified the game and made everything easy.”3

In Robinson’s opinion, Adubato was a players’ coach and she saw herself the same way. She had no trouble changing her role from player to coach, but she remained very aware what players needed to bring out the best in them— knowing when someone needed to go easy in practice or even sit for a minute during a game despite having a hot shooting night.

“I think the first part about making a transition for me was the fact that I was a teacher on the court first,” Robinson says.4 “I was one of those pros that understood and knew my time was coming. I tried to usher in and help the younger players.

“I didn’t still have the same mentality of ‘I’m the best player on this team.’ I knew I was one of the most experienced players on my team and that the younger talent was getting better and it was my time to help guide them and I was stepping aside.”

After two years with the Washington Mystics, Robinson took a job coaching girls’ high school basketball. Today, she is the head coach women’s basketball coach at Murray State, a two-year college in Tishomingo, Oklahoma.5 She says being a coach makes her appreciate the coaching she received all the more—especially detailed scouting reports.

“I have much respect for all the coaches and assistant coaches in the WNBA,” Robinson says. “During basketball season, I’m in the office from 7 in the morning until late hours of the night, to make sure I have the scouting reports ready. It’s just as hard as what the players do on the floor.”

Except for the occasional shooting contests, she rarely plays basketball these days. The action on the sidelines is more than enough.6

“When I retired, I really completely didn’t have that player’s go get ’em mentality,” Robinson says. “I played at the highest level for so long, I was kind of ready not to have to be that competitive player.

“The teaching of the game never really stops.”

She’s also fueled by the memories of her early days in the WNBA. From Adubato’s wisdom to her Liberty teammates, she learned lessons that infuse her coaching.

“That was one of the most special teams that I’ve ever been a part of,” says Robinson. “I never played with more selfless people. Winning was everything.”