For Jackie Robinson, having a famous name wasn’t the thing that led him into coaching.
And it wasn’t because of his famous father-in-law, George Karl, the former Seattle Sonics coach.
“When I was in high school, my high school coaches, my football coach, my basketball coach – they a big influence on who I am,” Robinson said. “The stuff I learned, I had to. They were the people out there that helped me and gave me guidance.”
For Robinson, coaching isn’t about living up to a famous name. He was actually named after his father, not the famous Brooklyn Dodger. Going into coaching was all about payback, about paying a debt from the coaches that helped shape his life.
“I knew when I was a sophomore in high school I wanted to be a high school coach,” said Robinson, who grew up in Grand Bay, Alabama.
Now in his third season with the Bears, Robinson is shaping lives. It’s not just about teaching jump shots and rebounding technique for him. “It’s about life building, skill building and teaching things about life,” Robinson said. “Talking to them about being great teammates, supporting each other.”
And, along with his reminders to hustle back on defense and to take the open shot, there’s a regular message he shares with his teams.
“Nothing is given to you,” Robinson said. “You’ve got to earn it.”
Robinson, a case manager in the foster care system, often shares with his players stories about job searches, about job interviews and how only one person gets hired and another person will say they should have gotten hired. That person, Robinson tells his team, should ask what they could have done and how they could build on being a better person.
“It’s the same with basketball,” Robinson said. “I can’t just give you playing time. You’ve got to earn it. If you don’t earn it, other kids should play. I’m not saying you should be happy with it, but you should be willing to work harder on X, Y and Z to be able to play. That ties into life.”
This has been a learn-and-grow season for the Bears, who got off to a 5-6 start. They return just two starters – Kailea Terry and Averie Stock.
“Kailea is a strong rebounder,” Robinson said. “She’s developed a presence inside the post.”
With her experience, Terry has developed into a coach on the floor.
“She has a knowledge of the game,” Robinson said. “She’s really stepping it up this year as far as putting the younger kids where they should be.”
At 5-foot-7, Terry isn’t the tallest player on the court. “I’m one of the shorter ones,” Terry said. “But I’m a lot stronger than a lot of girls out there. Usually, when you’re tall or bigger, you can’t hustle as much or you’re a little slower. So, it’s easier to be more quick.”
It’s difficult for Terry to go up against 6-foot centers. But facing teammate Emily Church, who is 6-1, in practice, helps.
“You’ve just to keep moving,” Terry said
Stock is double trouble for opponents. Besides being a scoring threat – she’s averaging 14 points a game – Stock hustles on defense and is a constant hand-in-the-face defender.
“She’s tenacious on defense,” Robinson said. “Scores the basketball really well, too, and a great leader.”
Unfortunately for the Bears and for Averie, she broke her foot during practice in preseason and missed the first eight games as she wore a boot cast and used crutches for a month. As she watched on the sidelines, waiting for her foot to heal, Stock got to hear Robinson’s life lessons.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of things he’s taught us on court has gone over not to my personal life but social life,” Stock said. “I know that this season has been a lot of ups and downs and we’ve lost quite a few games, but we’ve definitely pushed through and found the positive side. That helped our team a lot. I noticed that in school and social life it’s helped, too.”
Stock is happy to be back, healthy enough to play basketball again. “What I like about basketball is just being a part of a team and building the relationships through club basketball and through high school basketball,” Stock, who plays year-round, said. “And, the feeling you have on court. It’s an escape. Being a part of a team and great teammates is really a plus.”
For Robinson, his father-in-law, George Karl, has been a supportive voice, giving him inside how-to tips before and after games. A couple of times a month they talk, reviewing the good and the bad.
“He was actually brutal to me after our last home game,” Robinson said with a chuckle. “He really let me have it after we lost to Black Hills. I listen. I don’t think I know it all.”
Just as he was in high school, Robinson is still open to learning, listening to advice that helps him grow.
He’s just living his dream.