At first, Rick Robison was upset and somewhat depressed that he didn’t get a scholarship offer to play college basketball. After all, he led the South Bay in scoring as a senior at Torrance High and he was twice named to The Times’ South Bay All-Star team. The prolific three-point shooter also led Torrance to the playoffs two consecutive seasons.
“No one recruited me,” Robison said. “No one offered me anything.”
As a junior in the 1988-89 season, Robison (28.6 points a game) was second in South Bay scoring to former Inglewood standout Harold Miner, now at USC. That year he led the Tartars to a third-place finish in the Bay League and the CIF Southern Section 4-AA Division quarterfinals.
As a senior, Robison averaged 34.5 points a game, the state’s third best high school average. He ended his two-year varsity career with 180 three-point baskets, believed to be the third highest mark in the Southern Section behind Rolling Hills’ Steve Clover (Pepperdine) and former Glendora High standout Tracy Murray, now at UCLA.
Impressive shooting however, wasn’t enough. Robison, who graduated with a 3.0 grade-point average and scored 850 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, was bypassed by everyone, even the smaller NCAA schools.
“I really don’t know what happened,” Robison said shaking his head. “I just don’t know.”
Cal State Fullerton basketball Coach John Sneed, who followed Robison’s prep career, offered an explanation.
“He has very good knowledge of the game and he thinks right,” Sneed said. “What he needs is experience. He needs physical maturity. A year or two at a (community college) and you’ll see a lot of improvement.”
As it turned out, community college basketball was Robison’s only choice. He considered walking on at Arizona State, but realized it would be too expensive.
So the lanky 18-year-old chose El Camino, much to the satisfaction of Warrior Coach Ron McClurkin.
“Nothing against El Camino, but I was hoping I would go somewhere else,” Robison said. “I guess in a way it’s good because at least I’ll get to play. If I would have gone to a Division I school I wouldn’t get playing time.”
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound guard will add strength to the Warriors’ solid back court, which includes sophomores Mike Houck, an all-star from Redondo High, and Darius Dubose, a fierce defensive player.
“I was very surprised no one recruited him,” said McClurkin, who led the Warriors to the semifinals of the state tournament last season. “After his junior year I wouldn’t have thought we ever had a chance to get him. He’s an awfully smart ballplayer and he’s great at decision making and a great passer and ballhandler.
“I always thought he was just a shooter, but he can do it all. He’s an all-around ballplayer and a real fine athlete. He can just flat out play. He’ll be a big part of this team.”
Robison said the initial disappointment of not getting a scholarship is gone. A brief conversation with an assistant coach from UC Irvine and another from Fullerton was the closest he came to playing at a big school.
He said that he was discouraged, but never bitter. Now most of his energy is spent working 52 hours a week at a Torrance warehouse and playing in a summer league with El Camino’s team. He has virtually no time to dwell on the past.
“I don’t think about it anymore,” Robison said. “Well, maybe I do sometimes but I really don’t worry about it like I used to. I can’t worry about what could have been. It’s behind me now.
“I’m not going to say ‘forget basketball, I’m not going to play anymore.’ I love it and I want to play.”
The next step for the baby-faced teen-ager with a Ricky Nelson crew cut is proving himself in the community college ranks and possibly earning a spot on a Division I team.
“Whatever they ask me to do I can do,” Robison said. “If they want me to score I can score. If they want me to play defense I can do that. If they want me to set a pick I can. But I get the feeling they want me to score.”
Sneed believes Robison made a wise choice. “He’s definitely doing the right thing,” he said. “At El Camino he’s going to get the experience he needs.”
Carl Strong, who coached Robison as a junior at Torrance, said he is ecstatic over Robison’s choice of schools.
Strong was a long-time assistant basketball coach at Torrance prior to a four-year stint as the boys’ head coach. He left to become an assistant at El Camino last season.
“Rick is a gamer,” Strong said. “He’s a very competitive young man. The one thing that stands out for me was during his junior year when he was in an auto accident. He was in a truck that rolled over and his knee was still very sore, but he still played. He hobbled around out there and had 21 points, the lowest he scored during his junior year. That’s an indication of the kind of player he is.”
Strong said Robison, who lives in Harbor City with his mother and sister, can do a lot more than score from the perimeter.
“He can improve on his lateral quickness, but he has the ability to hit lots of different shots,” Strong said. “He can hit the medium-range jumper and he can pump fake.”
McClurkin believes Robison’s only drawback will be defense, but he said all freshmen have a difficult time adjusting to El Camino’s tough man-to-man defense.
“That will be the question with Ricky, but no one plays defense the way we do,” McClurkin said. “Every freshman I got, that’s their biggest problem. In high school those guys play zone and we play a straight man 90% of the time.”
The soft-spoken and shy Robison isn’t worried. He said he will have no problem defending even the toughest players in the South Coast Conference.
“It sounds cocky, but I’m not cocky I’m just confident of what I can do,” he said. “I think I’m misunderstood by a lot of people. They think I’m a mean, arrogant guy.
“It hurts me that people think that. It’s just that I’ll do anything to win. I put a lot of pressure on myself so I act a certain way when I play. If you know me you know I’m a nice guy. I’m really laid-back off the court.”
But he’ll remain fierce and intense on the court, especially since he’s trying to earn the scholarship offer he never got out of Torrance High.