NBA Role Model for Robinson
When NBA analysts watch New Orleans Hornets center Tyson Chandler play, they see one of the league's more underrated defenders, capable of controlling the paint for a Hornets team that is bidding to knock off the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. When Seattle Storm center Ashley Robinson watches Chandler, she sees a role model.
New Storm Head Coach Brian Agler has encouraged Robinson to play like Chandler, making the comparison between their athleticism and defensive potential.
"I sort of look at her and she's very similar," said Agler, "long and athletic, tremendous defensively when she wants to be."
Like Robinson, Chandler isn't a go-to player on offense for the Hornets. He has averaged 7.9 points per game this postseason, fifth on the team. Chandler's contributions go well beyond his scoring, however. He leads New Orleans in rebounds (11.3 per game) and blocks (1.6) and his defensive presence makes him invaluable. So far this postseason, the Hornets have outscored their opponents by 117 points with Chandler on the floor and are -36 when Chandler has been on the bench - a far bigger differential than MVP runner-up Chris Paul, albeit in a limited number of games.
"He's all over the court defensively," noted Robinson. "He definitely gets blocked shots, he rebounds and he plays good one-on-one defense. I guess it just shows that if you work hard and you play great defense, you'll get minutes and you'll get to play. He's a starter on one of the best teams in the NBA."
Robinson doesn't figure to start for the Storm, the center job held by veteran Yolanda Griffith. Still, Robinson's play will be a key for the team this season - especially with incumbent center Janell Burse opting to sit out the 2008 season. Robinson's first response to the news was to lament Burse's absence off the floor, having strengthened their friendship when Robinson spent five days with Burse in Prague over the off-season.
"It was kind of disappointing because I wanted to hang out with her this year," Robinson said. "I'm still going to talk to her all the time, call her. I consider us friends now, not just teammates. She'll be missed so, so, so, so much."
Specifically for Robinson, no Burse means additional opportunity. Griffith's arrival figured to make Robinson the Storm's fourth post, playing limited minutes. Now she will likely split minutes with Griffith in the middle, spend some time at power forward and take on a key role when Lauren Jackson misses games before the Olympic break to train with the Australian National Team.
"Her getting a break and taking care of herself opened up opportunities for a lot of us," said Robinson, "and I just want to make sure I capitalize it. If I can do half of what she can do, I know this team will be really successful."
Robinson successfully filled in for Burse at the end of 2007 season and in the playoffs after Burse underwent wrist surgery. In two games against Phoenix, Robinson averaged 8.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.5 steals, making a difference with her defense. Confidence and opportunity were key to that performance. The opportunity is there, and Agler is seeing Robinson play with the same kind of confidence during practice.
"(Assistant Coach) Nancy Darsch has done a great job with her, developing her confidence offensively," Agler said. "I've just got a feeling Ashley has the potential to come into her own a little bit this year. She's really come on here the last week in our practice. She still lacks experience a little bit, gets in a hurry once in a while, but if she plays with poise and relentless effort defensively, she can be a force on the floor."
"We play with one of the best players in the world," she said, referring to Jackson. "That takes a lot of pressure off. Then you add Yo, you add Sheryl (Swoopes), you add Swin (Cash), Sue (Bird) - it's like the freaking Olympic team. I don't really have any pressure - I've just got to make sure I play my role."
That's a role that Chandler, half a country away and in an entirely different league, has played to perfection.
"I know Tyson Chandler is playing a huge role for his team," Robinson said. "He's not the go-to player, but he anchors their defense. He gets blocks. He gets steals. He's active. He's positive. He just goes hard."
Robinson can do the same for the Storm.