Can You Hear Me Now?
This article appears in the March 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
If it wasn't for a hearing disability that forced her to wear hearing aids as a child, Marietta senior center Angel Robinson might never have properly recovered from tears in two ligaments of her right knee suffered during the summer of 2003.
Let's be clear: She would have been fine physically. Surgery and rehab have a way of doing that. But she might never again have been right in the head.
For more than a year after her injury, the 6-foot-5 Robinson played well and produced. Well enough, in fact, to make the USA Basketball Women's Junior World Championship Qualifying Team this past summer.
But she didn't play ornery. She didn't play with the gas pedal jammed to the floor. In the end, it was the same stubborn tenacity with which she's dealt with her hearing problems that led to her court resurgence.
"When I was in first grade, I was considered hearing disabled and I wore hearing aids," says Robinson, a SchoolSports All-American who is bound for the University of Georgia next year. "I just decided I didn't want to wear them anymore. I wanted to come out of that ‘handicapped' mode. I really don't need them. I can hear; I just can't hear well. I tried to develop an ability to read lips."
Robinson is still considered hearing impaired — in fact, she's strongly thinking about getting hearing aids again for college — but it was her ability to conquer one serious physical ailment that ultimately enabled her to conquer a second. Though the knee took some time.
"I do a lot of spin moves, and I think everyone, even the crowd, was tentative when I first came back," says Robinson, who tore her right ACL and MCL at the Andy Landers Lady Bulldog Basketball Camp the summer after her sophomore year but returned in time for the Blue Devils' second game of last season. "I had to push myself, but I gave my teammates a hard time last year by holding myself back. I was tentative. I was in a brace. I wasn't myself. I learned a lot testing it over this past summer. I'm actually surprised how far I've come."
Then again, Robinson did quite a bit as a gimpy, tentative junior, averaging 21.7 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks per game a year ago.
But since then, she's taken it to another level. At last summer's FIBA Americas Women's Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament, she averaged nearly a point a minute off the bench while playing alongside some of the nation's best female ballers.
A virtual lock for this year's McDonald's All-American Game and a nominee for the prestigious WBCA High School All-America Game, Robinson is rated the No. 7 girls' hoop player in the country by recruiting Web site Blue Star Basketball. The flipside is, she's traded in months of whispers about her tentative right knee for months of dizzying public expectations.
As far as Robinson is concerned, people can whisper whatever they want.
"That stuff doesn't affect me at all," says Robinson, who will turn 18 on April 20. "Good players have bad games. These days, I'm being triple-teamed. You still want me to drop 25 under those conditions or you want me to pass it to one of the two people who are wide open so they can drop the 25?"
The question is rhetorical, but the point is a savvy one.
"She's improved quite a bit this year, and a lot of that has to do with her maturity level," says Marietta ninth-year head coach Ken Sprague Jr., a former University of Oregon small forward. "She's starting to play hard all the time and understand the level of intensity she needs to be constant. She's also realizing how valuable her teammates are to her own success, and she's finally starting to believe how good she really is."
Robinson says her family — including a twin brother among her five siblings — has been vital in helping her gain and keep the proper perspective.
"My three older sisters were in their teens when I was growing up, so there was always someone around to take care of us," says Robinson. "My brothers and sisters were my best friends as a child. Of course, the hard part is, I'm the baby. My older brother (19-year-old Marietta senior small forward John) is very overprotective. He's always like, ‘Who are you going out with?' and ‘Why are you going there?' It's cute, but I think my family sees me growing up and coming out of my shell a little and they're a little nervous about that."
Robinson's family has also stepped up to support her basketball career. Her parents, in fact, handled all her recruiting calls.
"That was huge," says Robinson. "Even though I committed kind of early to Georgia, the calls were getting ridiculous. Schools were calling my AAU coach at midnight. My parents encouraged me to commit early, and that's allowed me to play this entire season working on skills that I need for college, not the skills I need to impress colleges."
Her family members are also Robinson's harshest critics.
"They come to my games and look at my weaknesses," she says. "They tell me what to work on, straight up. They expect a lot of me next year."
Be that as it may, things are already looking pretty darn solid.
"Angel doesn't bring any single skill to the floor — it's about her whole game," says Sprague, 40. "She's athletic and very quick for her size. She has an understanding of the game. She can score inside or outside. She doesn't just dominate in the post, she can step out and hit jumpers. She's a very good passer and a very good ball-handler. And she's excellent defensively.
"To be frank, I expect her to go to Georgia and start right away," he adds. "With that size and that many abilities, well, she's going to be tough to guard."
And if opposing coaches in the SEC haven't heard that by the time Robinson steps on campus next year, someone better teach them to read lips.