In March, Williams College (Massachusetts) reached the Division III national championship game behind 30 points and six rebounds from first-year forward Duncan Robinson in a 98-69 national semifinal win over rival Amherst College. The next night, Robinson scored 17, but the Ephs came up short, falling to Wisconsin-Whitewater, 75-73, in the final second.
Following a freshman season where he averaged 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 55 percent from the field and 45 percent from three, Robinson, the D-III National Rookie of the Year, made the decision to explore his options after Williams head coach Mike Maker accepted the job at Marist. Robinson was immediately contacted by schools in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, Atlantic 10, Ivy League, Patriot League and American East. Some called him just to check in, others called to offer him.
While returning to Williams for a sophomore season is still very much a possibility, Robinson will take visits to Michigan and Davidson within the next week, he told NBCSports, making him the most interesting transfer in college basketball this season. Four months ago, Robinson was suiting up for a small liberal arts school tucked in the corner of northwestern Massachussetts. Now, he is being pursued by a D-I program two years removed from a national championship game appearance.
“I really made the decision that the only schools that were worth leaving Williams — because I value Williams so much — would be a school that competes at a really high level and one that is great academically,” Robinson said on Tuesday evening. “With that in mind, I weeded out a lot of those options and it came down to those two.”
Robinson will visit Davidson, the newest member of the Atlantic 10, from Aug. 1-2, followed by Michigan on Aug. 4-6. Worth noting here: from 2005-2007, Maker was an assistant to John Beilein at West Virginia.
“By no means is Williams out of the question. I loved my past year there,” Robinson added. “That’s why these visits are so important because it’s going to take a lot to pull me away from such a special place like Williams.”
Less than two years ago, Robinson had interest from multiple schools in the Ivy League and Patriot League, but none of those programs pulled the trigger and offered him. He did, however, have a scholarship waiting for him at Division II Merrimack College. In September of 2012, during the first month of his postgraduate year at Phillips Exeter Academy (New Hampshire), he pledged his commitment — upon acceptance — to Williams while on a campus visit.
“Those (Division I) teams were there all July, following us play,” said Michael Crotty Jr., coach of the Middlesex Magic, Robinson’s AAU team. Robinson spent that summer playing alongside Stony Brook’s Chris Braley and Princeton’s Pete Miller.
“He played well,” Crotty added. “He battled one injury that limited him a little bit. He played well enough, in my opinion, to be recruited more heavily by those schools. But he was 6-foot-6, 175-pounds.”
Robinson, now a 6-foot-8, 195-pound wing, was recruited by Williams the hardest, according to Crotty. By the start of January 2013, some of those schools from the summer made more of a push, but by then it was too late.
“At that point, he was very, very happy with his decision,” Crotty added. “I don’t think there was a school that came after him that would have changed his mind.”
Williams College is ranked as the top liberal arts college in the country by the U.S. News and World Report. It’s a perennial Division III powerhouse with tremendous fan support. It’s also not uncommon for players from Williams, and other standouts from around the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), to find opportunities to play overseas once their college careers are over. Crotty, a two-time All-American and a member of Williams’ national championship team in 2003, went on to play one season in Germany. He was a 6-foot point guard. Robinson is a 6-foot-8 knockdown shooter.
On July 19, Kevin App, a former assistant at Cornell and Army, who also spent one season on the Williams coaching staff under Maker, was named the Ephs next head coach. It didn’t take long for him to travel to New Castle, New Hampshire for a dinner with Robinson and his mother.
“Coach App is a very nice guy, and knows a ton about basketball,” Robinson added. “He’s been great with me. First thing I did was explain to him my situation and he’s been very accepting of that.”
A decision will come shortly after Robinson returns home from Ann Arbor. It’s a close battle between the allure of Division I basketball and the environment he’s enjoyed so much at Williams College, playing for a competitive team that was one-second shy of a national championship.
“There’s definitely a big part of me that wants to chase after that national title,” he said. “That’s another key reason why Williams is still very much in the mix. At the same time, I kind of have to weigh my options and see if a school like Michigan or Davidson brings something to the table that outweighs that unfinished business that I might be leaving behind.”