When Shemar Robinson was still a pre-schooler, his father, Shaun, put a miniature-sized basketball in his hand and sent him on his way.
Turns out it was a pretty good plan.
Now a high school junior, Robinson has been part of a solid one-two scoring punch for Lawrence, averaging 18.1 points through the Cardinals’ 16-5 start. He has become the complement to Myles Mitchell-White that coach Jeff Molinelli was looking for entering the season.
“Myles has been doing his thing for a long time for us,” Molinelli said. “I told Shemar, ‘If we’re going to be the team we want to be, now’s the time. You’ve got to score, we’re going to rely on you to score.’”
Which is exactly what Robinson has done this year. He opened the season with 26 points in a victory over West Windsor-Plainsboro North and tallied a career-high 30 in a holiday tournament semifinal victory over Voorhees. Five-foot-11, Robinson cracked the 20-point barrier nine times and had 19 in two other games.
His efforts come from what seems like a lifetime of experience.
“Basketball is my life,” Robinson said. “When I was 3, my dad put the ball in my hands and told me I could go far with this. There was a little league out in Trenton at the YMCA. The ball was real little and it was a little court, and we went from there.”
Shaun knew a little about basketball, having played the sport, along with baseball, at Trenton High.
“He’s a very big influence,” Robinson said. “He talks to me all the time, keeps me in the gym. Keeps me focused.”
Once Robinson started playing, he never wanted to stop. He played in rec leagues and for AAU (currently on the NJ Cyclones). The summer before his freshman year, Robinson caught Molinelli’s eye at that year’s Nike Camp. The coach watched and admired before getting some good news.
“The kids told me he was moving to Lawrence,” the veteran coach said. “I was like, ‘All right.’ I was excited because he did really well at the camp. I saw the special talent he had while working at that camp.”
It can sometimes be tough for a player to enter a new school and try to make friends in ninth grade, but the basketball courts helped take care of that for Robinson.
“I already knew people here,” he said. “I was with them all summer in the summer league, played with them in all the games. That helped me get to know everybody.”
Robinson went straight to the Cardinals’ JV team as a freshman, and he also saw some varsity action.
“Getting that little bit of time on varsity helped,” he said. “It helped prepare me for my sophomore year.”
Last season, he became a full-time varsity player and averaged 10.8 points and 2.1 assists.
“As a sophomore, he was just getting used to varsity, and now he’s turned himself into one of the better players in the league,” Molinelli said. “I’m real proud of him.”
Entering this year, the coach chatted with his guard about helping Mitchell-White with the scoring load, and he responded.
“I didn’t feel any pressure at all,” Robinson said. “I worked all summer for this and I was ready. I played AAU, played in the Moody Park League. I was in the gym all summer with the high school team.”
And while scoring was a big issue, Robinson said, “I worked on everything. Ball handling, rebounding, passing. Everything.”
His improvement was not lost on his coach.
“He had a great summer,” Molinelli said. “To see the improvement he had from last season through the summer, I knew he was going to come in and have a great year. He’s worked really hard and we need him to score to be successful.”
Molinelli knows he’s using a cliché when he says Robinson is “just the kind of kid you want on your team,” but the coach does not know any other way to describe him.
“He’s a great kid,” Molinelli said. “Just to see the improvement every year is cool, and that’s a credit to him and the kid he is. He works hard every day, he practices hard, he works hard in the off-season. He helps us click. He makes us go. He’s a special kid.”
One of Robinson’s biggest improvements this year has come from behind the arc. After collecting 27 three-pointers as a sophomore, he had 55 through the season’s first 21 games.
“He’s a knockdown shooter,” Molinelli said. “He always could shoot, but not like he is now. He’s really knocking down shots. And just his overall knowledge and feel for the game. When he has the ball in his hands, usually something good happens. Just to see his mind process of the game, it’s really improved upon.”
Robinson considers himself more of a consistent shooter than a streak shooter. Even the best miss a few, however, but Robinson doesn’t let it get him down. In a win over Robbinsville this year, he entered the fourth quarter with just two points. He proceeded to score eight—hitting two three-pointers—to help Lawrence break open a close game.
“Coach told me I had to pick it up so we could get on a run,” Robinson said. “I had to do what I had to do.”
When it comes to Mitchell-White, who was scoring 18.5 per game as of mid-February, Robinson’s presence helps immensely. Defenders have to respect his outside shot, which can make it easier for Mitchell-White to penetrate to the basket.
“That makes for a special one-two combination to watch,” Molinelli said.
Robinson is eyeing a basketball career in college, saying “I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing, go to school, keep my grades up and stay focused.”
Molinelli feels Robinson’s future is bright, and is glad that it includes one more season at Lawrence.
“I’m really excited to have him back his senior year,” the coach said. “We’re definitely looking at colleges. I think the sky’s the limit for him. If he keeps improving like he is, if we get him in the weight room like he’s been doing and he keeps improving like he’s improving, I think he can be a successful college player.”