Where Hype Meets Reality

Where Hype Meets Reality

ATHENS - Gerald Robinson Jr. entered the Stegeman Coliseum media room in early October with headphones on, calmly rocking, wearing a simple white t-shirt and red baggy shorts.

A few reporters wandered back and forth as he was made available for an entire media contingent for the first time since enrolling at Georgia over 18 months ago.

After about 10 minutes the headphones went back in.

Quite an auspicious start for a player with such immense hype already generated.

Robinson, who has two years of eligibility remaining, had to sit out last season after transferring from Tennessee State.

And while the Bulldogs enjoyed successes and progressively improved during their first year under Mark Fox, Robinson became some sort of cult phenomenon behind the scenes.

Although he was not allowed to play in games, he could practice. And the word seeping out from those sessions, put simply, was that the dude was good. Real good. Actually, those in the know said he was the best guard on the team.

The buzz started getting louder as fans began chiming in on blogs and message boards. The overall message was: Yeah, Georgia is already playing better under Fox, but wait until he can plug this new kid in there next season.

"I don't really pay too much attention to the message boards and stuff like that," Robinson said a few days before his official media debut. Sitting slightly slouched in a foldout chair on the court at Stegeman, Robinson says, "People come up and tell me how excited they are to see me play. Little do they know, I'm excited, too. I haven't gotten to see myself play in an actual game situation. It's been a year. It's been a long-time coming."

In what can only be described as moderate to extreme torture, Robinson was forced to watch from afar on game nights last season. He couldn't travel with the team on road trips as his teammates struggled away from home. All the while, he was envisioning himself out there playing. He recited what he would do in each and every imaginable situation. He thought and debated and battled and contemplated.

Robinson is expected to start on Thursday

"There were definitely some tough moments," he says, adjusting his slouch. "Just sitting out, especially when I'm not injured or couldn't physically play, it made for a lot of tough moments. Road trips, with me being here by myself watching, were tough. Basically going through that time, I tried to take advantage as best as possible, working on my game and things like that and try to help them through tough times last year."

And while his status as a future playmaker grew online and within season ticketholders casual conversations, Robinson pretty much enjoyed free reign as an anonymous student on campus.

"A couple of times people were probably looking at me crazy in the dining hall," he said. "I would go watch road games there, and I would call out plays and say, ‘No, not that way, swing it the other way.'"

There will be no more torment over game decisions after trips to a buffet line any longer. Now Robinson, who is just over six feet tall and might be 175 pounds, is poised to hear his name called out in the starting lineup. Now fans will finally get the chance to see if the rumors and hype translate to actual buckets and dimes.

With an already established one-two punch of juniors Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, Robinson is supposed to enter in as the third wheel. He's supposed to be the combo guard who can play the point or off the wing that can knock down the three or make an extra pass. Remember, he did score over 1,000 points in two seasons at Tennessee State, averaging almost 18 a night his last year there.

Still these are lofty expectations, but the speed and the scoring and the ability to create with a fury are all aspects everybody keeps applying to him despite his not yet playing a minute or even dressing out for a game.

"Gerald is one of the fastest people I've ever played with," Thompkins said, sitting a few feet from Robinson at that early October media meet-and-greet. "It's becoming a problem, because now he's starting to make me run. I'm definitely trying to keep up with him. But nah, he's a facilitator and we need that. He's a guy who's not afraid to be vocal with us. He's a guy who is not afraid to step up and take charge of our team. As a point guard, that's important. Gerald understands the game. He has a high basketball IQ, and he knows how to make plays. He'll definitely make some plays for us."

Robinson wasn't the only person bothered by his absence during games last season. Although he won't admit it, Fox probably looked down his bench hoping to find Robinson a couple of times last season. Guards Dustin Ware and Ricky McPhee were forced to play over 35-plus minutes a game in the conference last year. There was no depth on the perimeter, as the two starters wore down toward the end of February.

A coveted key in Robinson's grand entrance: his versatility to play both guard positions.

Robinson transferred from Tennessee State

"I'll tell you what it gives us this year is some depth," Fox said. "When you have depth you can demand the guys play a little better because you can sit them down. We didn't have that luxury last year, but this year we do. Hopefully that will allow us to be a little better defensively. The depth alone is going to allow us to play more like we want to."

So Robinson entered school. Set his mind. Created a buzz. Did what was necessary to get ready. And now hopes to fulfill what others project him to do, he says. But expectations, especially those 12 months or more in the making, can be hard to live up to at times.

That's OK, he says. What is going on in the basketball realm around Athens is bigger than just him, Robinson says in a dead serious manner. Where this program could ascend is where his mind is.

"It kind of just goes back to the tradition in the past," Robinson said. "I'm not from Georgia, originally. So coming to Georgia, the most I knew about its basketball was Dominique Wilkins and the Final Four team in the early 80s."

Since the successful Jim Harrick years of almost a decade ago technically didn't happen thanks to multiple NCAA violations, outside of a few tournament appearances under Tubby Smith Robinson points to the only significant basketball times Georgia has seen.

This line of talk gives Robinson the platform to unleash.

"We're basically trying to bring that tradition," he said. "I know our football team has a lot of great tradition. I feel like this could be a basketball and football school. Usually it's one or the other, but I feel like we could be both just like Texas or Kansas.

"It's special to be a part of that. Even the people from last year, because they're the ones who really got this started. We didn't just start this year. We got going last year with a lot of games we won when people didn't expect us to win. We could have won a lot more than that. Games came down to one or two points, one or two possessions at the end.

"Being a part of that feels very special, like being a part of that foundation and as a building block makes me proud of what everyone else is going to earn in the future. They're going to reap the benefits of what we put in."

A quick pause and step down from the soapbox. Like previously stated, Robinson hasn't been quoted for over a year. He's got a lot to say, and a lot of say in how things go from here.

"He's a young guy who has continued to make the transition to this program and this league," Fox said. "He had a year to do it in kind of seclusion as a redshirt. He's excited to play. He may have a little rust when things start, but he's a talented guy who gives us speed and quickness in the backcourt that we didn't have last year."

Now Georgia is on the cusp of entering the national discussion. A select few publications already have the Bulldogs ranked in the Top 25. Others have them lurking just outside, but the overall belief by most is this is a team trending up.

And while most athletes take the "one game at a time" approach and say rankings mean nothing, Robinson doesn't play that coaches speak talk. Not after a year of silence. This season is pivotal, and he's not afraid to admit it.

"I'm excited. I'm one of those type of people who likes stuff like that," he said. "I can't even imagine when we're playing a team next year and we have a little 25 next to our name or whatever it may be. I feel like that's going to be a different feeling. You should want to be able to play with something to defend. You definitely don't want to lose that."

So the interview concluded. The headphones went back on. Robinson says Lil Wayne is the best rapper out there today. He says the New Orleans lyricist's metaphors speak to him as being real, not "bubble gum." And he says another rapper mentioned is, "one dimensional," a term Robinson will probably never have associated with his own name.

"He talked to me about this every day," Thompkins said. "At the same time he knew what he was doing, and we looked forward to having him. He took the time out to watch our games on tape just to see what plays that he could make and where he could impact the game. Gerald is definitely a great addition to our team. The world will see."

The headphones are on. The music starts soon.

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