Robinson Confident After Star Turn Overseas
During her offseason, Seattle Storm center Ashley Robinson had a unique experience: She got to shoot the ball. A lot. Known for her defense and rebounding at Tennessee and throughout her WNBA career, Robinson played a very different role when she joined Turkish club TED Kayseri Koleji for the final month of the season, that of go-to player. Robinson averaged 13.5 points in six games in Turkey, including outings of 22 and 19 points.
"I hadn't done that in ... I don't know ... years," said Robinson at media day. "I can't even remember the last time I scored 20 points. It was exciting just to put the ball in the hole."
"It definitely helped with confidence," she said. "Getting to shoot the ball wherever you want and get confidence in taking those shots, it was great."
As Robinson has returned to her more familiar role with the Storm, she has carried that renewed belief in her ability to score with her, leading to more decisive play. "There has been a carryover there, and a positive carryover," said Head Coach Brian Agler. That has showed up in practice as well as the Storm's preseason opener against Sacramento, when Robinson scored six points on as many shot attempts, better than her best scoring output in 2008 (five points).
In one third-quarter stretch, Robinson got the KeyArena crowd into the game with her play at both ends of the floor. She started by hitting a turnaround jumper, then scored again on the next possession by grabbing an offensive rebound and making the putback while off balance. Robinson capped off the dominant period by blocking a Monarchs shot at the other end of the floor, drawing an ovation from Storm fans.
"Ashley looks a lot better than she did when I was here the last season I played with her," said Storm center Janell Burse, Robinson's teammate in 2006 and 2007 who sat out last season, after the game. "She took big steps."
"Whenever you have confidence to play basketball, it's automatic again," explained Robinson. "That's how it is for me right now - less thinking and more having fun.
"I think it's going to translate into stats - free throws, the shots I will take, I think they'll be good shots. I think I'll probably shoot a high percentage because of the shots I'll get with this team, everybody being so good. I have the confidence to shoot those open shots. So where I think it will really show up is me being productive when I'm out there."
At the same time, Robinson knows that the reason she is in the league is not her scoring but her ability at the end of the floor. Last season, Robinson became the 47th player in WNBA history to reach 100 blocks for her career. She ranked sixth in the league in blocks per 40 minutes (2.4).
Agler's familiar refrain to Robinson is to play to her strengths - defense and rebounding foremost amongst them.
"I know I need to make the easy shots inside, rebound the basketball, play big in the paint, make the court small, be a good help-side defender, be a good one-on-one post defender," she said. "Those have been my strengths my whole life."
Robinson seemed most comfortable in Agler's system late in the season, when she came into her own. Enjoying increased playing time, Robinson blocked at least one shot in each of the Storm's six September games and averaged 1.5 blocks in the month. She also picked up her scoring and rebounding. She played a key role for the Storm in the playoffs, even starting Game 1 against Los Angeles.
These tests are important ones for Robinson because the Storm's frontcourt has such depth this season. Already bringing back Robinson, Lauren Jackson and Camille Little from last year's roster, the Storm added veterans Burse and Suzy Batkovic back to the mix and also drafted Ashley Walker in the first round. It may be tough to keep all six posts with the WNBA's move to 11-player rosters, and even training-camp invitee Kasha Terry is a three-year WNBA vet.
"We all can play in the WNBA, probably for any team, but this is one of the years where there's going to be good WNBA players out of the league," said Robinson. "I just want to be on the Storm. I hope I'm proving that."
Throughout the league, Robinson is hearing from friends without guaranteed contracts who are battling for spots. The competition remains in the back of her head, but she focuses on the things she can control - being positive in practice and continuing to work hard to develop their game.
"People that I talk to, they're working hard, they're like, 'Iím still hanging in there,' but a lot of people are nervous," she explained. "Everybody is good, so you can't blame a coach if he doesn't pick you. You just want to be that person they pick. I'm sure it's getting close to those decisions being made. All you can do is just go out there and play basketball every day. You can't worry about it."