Cal’s logjam at point guard next season has squeezed walk-on Nican Robinson from the roster.
But the 21-year-old senior-to-be from Oakland Tech High leaves the program with no hard feelings after being offered an undergraduate assistant coaching position.
“I was flattered they offered that to me. I greatly appreciate that,” said Robinson, who turned down the opportunity. “What it comes down to is playing . . . that was something that was not going to be readily available.”
Cal would have had five point guards on its roster next season — starter Jerome Randle, reserves Jorge Gutierrez and Nikola Knezevic, incoming freshman Brandon Smith and Robinson. Coach Mike Montgomery informed Robinson after the season that he was no longer in the program’s plans as a player.
“I competely understand all this stuff,” Robinson said. “When things are done, it’s not necessarily that people don’t like you. It’s just in the interest of continuing to build a program.”
Randle, of course, is going to gobble up the lion’s share of minutes at point guard. He is an all-Pac-10 player, the club’s top scorer and will be a senior. Gutierrez recently was voted the team’s top defensive player and he will play a huge role, at one guard spot or the other. Exactly where he plays will be determined to some degree by how much Knezevic and/or Smith is able to provide help backing up Randle.
That left no room for Robinson, who played little this season but was valuable as a great teammate and leader. He’s especially close to Randle, and helps keep the Bears’ volatile floor general grounded. Those qualities are what led Montgomery to offer him the undergrad assistant’s role.
“I have the utmost respect for the coaching staff and the program,” Robinson said. “They saw the kind of connections I had with the guys, and they had a lot of respect for that and for me.”
Robinson said he can envision himself coaching someday, but said it’s not what he wants right now. He plans to complete his thesis this summer for his American Studies major and hopes to study aboard — likely in Japan — in the spring of 2010.
“That’s something nobody gets to do when they play sports,” said Robinson, who wants to go into international business. He has taken Japanese language classes and said he’s always wanted to visit Japan.
In the meantime, he will continue to share an apartment with Cal players Patrick Christopher and Jamal Boykin. Theo Robertson and Harper Kamp live upstairs. “I can’t get away from them,” he said. “On the court, that relationship is over with. Off the court, I’ll still be with those guys and they’ll be with me.”
And Randle? “I will definitely talk to him,” Robinson said. “He’s like my cousin.”
The Bears won’t miss Nican Robinson the player, but replacing the mature young man, the teammate, the role model and sounding board won’t be as easy. No wonder Monty wanted to find a place for him on the coaching staff.
“My whole thing is you should never regret any decision you make,” Robinson said. “Eventually, in the end, you’re going to be OK. Things change in life and you have to expect those changes.”