Williams College — a traditional Division III powerhouse in college basketball — plays essentially in what is a high school gym, with a team that not many people outside of their fans know about.
Nearly four years ago, John Beilein linked up with an old assistant coach from his West Virginia days named Mike Maker, but the call didn't come from Beilein himself. It came from Maker.
The call was about a 6-foot-8 guard that could shoot the lights out at the Division III level, and played well in a system that John Beilein himself invented and taught to Maker.
This call of course, came after Beilein watched the D. III semifinal between Williams and Amherst, when that same guard started as a freshman trying to play for his team to make the title game.
That guard was Duncan Robinson, and he did more than just shoot the lights out.
He made the only thing being focused on under those lights himself.
Robinson put up a career-high 30-point performance, shooting 72.2 percent from the field (13-for-18) and 66.7 percent (4-of-6) from beyond the arc. It opened John Beilein’s eyes.
“Once I saw the video I said, ‘this guy isn't a walk on’,” Beilein said on an episode of the Big Ten Network’s television show “The Journey”. “He has to sit out a year, I saw that as a thing, if he was senior in high school right now with a redshirt would I take him? A 6-foot-8 kid with this shooting ability?
“I said ‘yes’.”
Currently, Michigan (26-12 overall, 10-8 conf.) is preparing for the start of their 2017-18 season after making a run with a Big Ten Tournament title win and sweet 16 appearance.
Only this time, during the tournament, Robinson wasn't the star on the court. He was the player that came off the bench looking to shift momentum with what Beilein got him for: shooting the 3-ball.
Now, the native of New Castle, New Hampshire that is an island with it’s last population taken in 2010 of 968 people, is preparing to play his senior season at Michigan following up an underwhelming 2016-17 campaign.
Robinson averaged just over 20 minutes per game a season ago, 7.7 points per contest. In the 2015-16 season, the guard played just under 29 minutes per game and averaged over 11 points an outing. For the first time in his college basketball career, he watched his playing time and points per game dwindle down to lower amounts.
Just a few days ago, John Beilein was on a radio broadcast called “Drive with Jack” that is hosted by Jack Ebling on 92.1 FM in Lansing. On the show he was asked about what is going on with Robinson.
“When he got off to a bad start last year we thought he had put on too much weight. We scaled it back,” Beilein said on "Drive with Jack". “Now we are just trying to get him stronger without putting on more weight. He’s had a great summer.”
When Robinson first arrived at Michigan, he had to sit out the 2014-15 season due to the NCAA transfer rules. He was allowed to run practices with the team but couldn't get any official game action.
Back then, all anyone knew was that it was D. III transfer that was supposedly a “sharp shooter” that could hit from most places on the floor with consistency. In his lone season at Williams, he shot 45.3 percent from 3-point distance. He averaged 17.1 points per game.
Then on Nov. 30, 2016, Robinson and Michigan were in a game at the Crisler Center against Virginia Tech. He got the chance to play 30 minutes that day.
He scored 15 points, nine of them coming from 3-point land. Even though Michigan lost the game 73-70, the crowd had a reason to get to their feet and wonder who this player was hitting a string of triples to keep his team in the game.
It didn't take long for everyone to realize that he has mastered the art of the 3-point shot. He shot 45 percent from deep, hitting 95 of the 211 triples he attempted in 2015. The question was, could he ever learn to put the ball on the deck and drive to the basket?
The answer would be, somewhat yes. While he isn't a consistent slasher by any means, Robinson has found a comfort zone in the back-door cut to the hoop, making himself invisible in the corner and slicing towards the rim to receive a pass and hit the open layup.
Last season, Robinson shot a lower triples percentage at just over 42 percent and really struggled to find any consistency in his game on the offensive and defensive end.
With a combination of his own miscues and the play of D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner ramping up at a fast pace, Robinson found himself as player to come off the bench and give other teammates a blow when needed.
Now, Wilson is gone along with fellow Michigan graduates Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin also departing the school. Those three players where a major asset to the sweet 16 trip Michigan unexpectedly made last March. Between the three ex-Wolverines, they scored a total of 1,503 points, good for over 52 percent of Michigan's offense last season.
Having said that, and outside of the Wagner return being a major key to how the Wolverines roster looks for this upcoming season, Michigan will look to two seniors that have been with their program for over a couple seasons to play major roles on this team: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and you guessed it, Robinson himself.
More than likely, Robinson will now slide back into the starting lineup for this year, joining the other anticipated starters: Rahkman, Wagner, Jaaron Simmons (grad-transfer from Ohio) and Charles Matthews (transfer from Kentucky). This team needs more than just a role player out of him now, and Beilein talked about what he has done this summer to get there.
“(Robinson) does more than just go out and make a couple hundred threes each day. He’s doing defensive slides, working on his agility, running the court harder,” Beilein said. “You can’t get open if you are just relying on help defense; they don’t leave him. We’ve got to go get him open and he’s got to get himself open. He’s been working on both his quickness and versatility as both an offensive and defensive player.”
Regardless if what he has done this summer translates onto the court in a major way, causing him to have a explosive year, or its more unnoticeable and he just fades into the player he was last year will have to be determined in November.
What can be kept in mind is as a freshman at Williams College, against their rival school Amherst, in a game to play for the championship, he showed up and played big. Then against Indiana in the 2015-16 Big Ten Tournament, he hit a crucial 3-pointer to tie the game late and helped Michigan stun the Hoosiers with a victory, stapling their trip to the Big Dance.
Robinson has had his moments, on the smaller stage and the bigger one. Now it’s time for the final stage of his career, how he will be remembered as a Wolverine. One last chance to show he can be the Division I basketball player that nobody but Beilein saw in him.
The sharp shooter who lived on an island about a mile long with barely any people on it has made it this far, and now, he approaches his final chance at leaving a season that everyone will remember in Ann Arbor.
He did it as freshman on a smaller stage with Williams. Now, he will try to do it as a senior for Michigan.