‘Our time will come’: Coach Topex Robinson on unlocking the LPU Pirates’ potential

Ceej Tantengco on Sep 12, 2016 08:02 PM
Our time will come: Robinson on unlocking Pirates’ potential
The second round of NCAA Season 92 has been great for underdogs.

The second round of NCAA Season 92 has been great for underdogs.

The low-ranked San Sebastian Stags, a team with more rookies than veterans, beat the San Beda Red Lions, Perpetual Altas and Mapua Cardinals. The EAC Generals, just by winning two games, have already done better than their Season 91 showing. And while the LPU Pirates are out of contention for the Final Four, they’re playing much better than last season, thanks to solid performances by rookie big man Mike Harry Nzeusseu and clutch maneuvers from improved players like Peepoy Marata.

Second-year head coach Topex Robinson sees this as a sign of better times ahead. “We’re not looking at the standings anymore,” Robinson says. “But I’m telling them the same thing I’ve always said: honor the game and give your best.”

A player’s perspective

Since Robinson took over the LPU Pirates in NCAA Season 91, the former San Sebastian Golden Stag and PBA player has drawn heavily on his own experiences as a player to help him relate to and guide his team.

Most notable is his level-headed demeanor on and off the court. Even when their team is down—and there were many games like that last season—Robinson makes it a point to control his emotions.

“Syempre tao rin naman ako, nagagalit, pero I try to police myself,” he says. “The first thing I ask myself is, did I put them in a position for failure? Did I teach them how to deal with that situation? Baka it’s on me.”

Coaching a team on its way up is a different challenge from coaching a dominant team—say, San Beda. Expectations must be managed, systems must be built, and success is not guaranteed. Last year, Robinson often talked about “allowing the team to make their mistakes, because that’s the only way they’ll mature.”

Even when his team fell short, Robinson emphasized “tamang pag-uusap,” and would still rather walk it off and come back than unleash an angry tirade upon his team. 

“Most of us on the coaching staff are former players, so we know what it’s like,” he says. “Ayaw namin noon ‘yung minumura o pinapahiya sa harap ng team. Kaya bakit namin gagawin ‘yun ngayong kami naman ang coach?”

“I’m not saying this is how all coaches should do it. Syempre kanya-kanya kaming mga style,” he adds. “But this is what works for us and this is what I want to do.”

Dousing the star mentality
Robinson’s approach to coaching mirrors his expectations from his players: Humility and hard work.

In fact, Robinson is the first to admit that he wasn’t the most talented player. “Hindi nga ako matino mag-free throw noon eh,” he jokes. “So why was I blessed with nine years in the PBA?”

Longevity, he tells his players, comes to players who love the grind more than the feeling of being a star. “In college basketball, you fall in love with being the star, the best scorer, the go-to guy. But in the pros, they look for someone who will value the opportunity given to them,” explains Robinson, who has been an assistant coach with the Alaska Aces since 2012. “Someone who works hard, whether or not they’re the main guy. Talent isn’t everything.”

Instead of stroking their own ego, Robinson asks his players to look to others for motivation. “You’re not here for yourselves. You’re here to inspire others, whether it’s your family, your schoolmates, your community,” says the 36-year-old coach.

“Especially for players like Wilson [Baltazar], whose dad watches all the way from Kuwait,” adds Robinson, himself a father of three. “Think of who you play for, then play in a way that would make them proud.”

‘We’re keeping a growth mindset’

The LPU Pirates may be out of the running for the Final Four, but Robinson is careful to neither guilt them for this nor pin the value of the season on whether they can win their remaining games.

“We’re keeping a growth mindset,” he says. Next year, the LPU Pirates’ roster will remain largely intact. With more experience under the belt of rookies Nzeusseu and Ian Alban, and the team vets, they could very well be a Final Four contender next season.

It’s important to not mistake Robinson’s forgiving nature for a lack of ambition. In 2011, he steered the Golden Stags to the NCAA finals. In the same year, they won the Philippine Collegiate Championship League crown over the back-to-back victors and four-time UAAP champions Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles.

And with any luck, he hopes to take the Pirates to the same heights.

“I’m here to win a championship. We’re here to win a championship,” Robinson says. “It may not be this year, but every game until then is an investment and our time will come.”

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