Opportunity finally knocks for Storm's Robinson
The play of the veteran center helped the Storm offset the loss of last year's MVP
Luckily for the Storm, that query will go unanswered. The reserve center has played a crucial role in the Storm's success this season. When Jackson went down, it was Robinson who started the majority of the games in Jackson's place,
Of course, Jackson is back and the Storm opened the playoffs with an 80-61 victory over the Phoenix Mercury on Thursday. But that doesn't mean Robinson's impact won't be felt if the Storm pull off a long playoff run.
In Game 1 of the best-of-three Western Conference semifinal, Robinson scored four points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots in 19 minutes. Game 2 is tonight in Phoenix.
"I have to have a good attitude," Robinson said. "I have to be ready when I get my opportunities. It's just going to be which team has the best players on the floor and jells together, plays the best and I want to be a part of that for us."
Robinson averaged 3.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and one blocked shot per game in the regular season. At first glance, the numbers aren't that impressive, but they're career highs in all categories.
But it was what Robinson did while Jackson was hurt that made the difference.
The Most Improved Player of the Year candidate started 13 games and played a pivotal role in all 21 games Jackson missed. The 6-foot-4 center provided height and a defensive presence inside. With Jackson sidelined, Robinson averaged 4.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game and shot 49.5 percent from the field. She had her best game on the road against Chicago on July 19, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. It was her first career double-double.
Robinson's performance earned accolades from Jackson.
"We see Ashley train every single day," Jackson said. "And I think for the fans and everyone to see how athletic she is and how talented she really is, it's a huge boost for us and it's a huge boost for Seattle having that confidence in her."
Robinson wasn't trying to replace Jackson's numbers. She was just trying to contribute any way she could.
"First of all -- and I don't think a lot of people do this -- but I think trying to compare her with Lauren is not fair to her," Storm coach Brian Agler said. "That being said, I think she has come in and done a really good job for us. She's helped us defensively. She runs our offense. She has had good scoring games. She has had good rebounding games, many good defensive games."
Point guard Sue Bird talked about the importance of Robinson this season.
"A-Rob did a great job this year," Bird said. "She came into training camp with just a different vibe about her. You never want players to get hurt, of course. You never want to have to deal with injuries. But sometimes you have to look to the bright side and I think Lauren's injury gave A-Rob an opportunity to get a lot more minutes, to be a focal point at times of what we were doing both offensively and defensively. It allowed her to get comfortable. And with that comfort you saw some great games out of her."
In her ninth season, Robinson said she finally is contributing the way she always hoped.
"After eight seasons of being in this league, it was good to finally be able to play minutes and important minutes and contribute," Robinson said. "It's a year that I will always remember."
It was Agler who predicted on opening night of the Storm's season that Robinson would win this year's Most Improved Player award. It remains to be seen if Agler was right, but he is sticking with his forecast.
"I think she should be strongly considered," Agler said. "I don't know if she is going to get it or not because some other people have had pretty good years. ... If I had a vote, I would vote for her."
A humble Robinson said there are several players worthy of the award.
"I think I have done well with the opportunities that I have gotten," Robinson said. "But everybody else that is in the running for it, from the names that I have heard, have done really, really well this season. So if that happens, it happens, that'd be great. (Agler) would be a psychic if that happens because nobody would have thunk that."
Robinson said her success this season wasn't about proving anything, but just making the best of an opportunity.
"Not really anything for me to prove, I just think it was my opportunity," Robinson said. "So whatever I proved during that time, I proved, but it was just an opportunity that I had to play."
The Storm are very familiar with their first-round playoff opponent, having played the Mercury 12 times the past two seasons, including Game 1 on Thursday. Robinson may be even more familiar with the Mercury than most of her teammates. After her collegiate career at the University of Tennessee, she was drafted by Phoenix, where she spent two seasons.
"I always want to beat Phoenix. (Mercury star) Diana (Taurasi) is one of my best friends since we were like 13," Robinson said. "So you always want those bragging rights. I always want to beat Phoenix. I always want to beat her, so I'm excited about that."
With all the opportunities Robinson has gotten this season, she says the journey has been fun.
"It's always fun to get to play," she said. "People would be lying if they told you they didn't want to play at this level and actually contribute on the court. So this season has been fun and I'm really excited about the playoffs."
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Read his blog at www.heraldnet.com/storm and follow him on twitter @aaronlommers.
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