Craig Robinson ’83 is the head coach of Oregon State’s men’s basketball team. As a forward for Princeton, he scored 1,441 points, good for sixth all-time in program history. Robinson, who is the brother of Michelle Obama ’85, returned to campus for his 30th reunion and spoke at the alumni-faculty forum “Sports: The Inside Story” on Friday. He spoke to The Daily Princetonian about his time playing for the Black and Orange and coaching the Beavers.
The Daily Princetonian: How would you describe your experience at Princeton?
Craig Robinson '83:People have always said that when you pick the university you go to that it is a life-changing experience, and that is exactly how I would explain my experience at Princeton. It literally changed my life and it allowed me to meet some wonderful people, get a great education, and it opened doors for me from a career opportunity standpoint that I probably wouldn’t have had if I went anywhere else.
DP: Were there any advantages to being on the basketball team here? Was there anything you didn’t like?
CR: There was very little to not like. One of the biggest things that I found being on the basketball team is that I had a built-in support group from the day I walked in because I had met a lot of those guys on my recruiting visit. So I felt like I belonged, at least on the standpoint of being on a team, as opposed to coming to campus brand-new and not knowing anybody and having to make friends, so that was really important.
Secondly, the team was extremely successful before I got there, and they continued to be when I was there. That was really nice. People take participating in intercollegiate athletics for granted because most people don’t win. Everybody’s struggling to be good, and we were always pretty good, and that really built my self-esteem for things going forward.
I think I learned how to work hard from Coach [Pete] Carril. Like most high school guys, I thought I was a hard worker until I got to Princeton and got to college and was playing against college guys, and that bled over into my academic work too.
I think those three things were the biggest things that I liked. There was very little I didn’t like. Sometimes we’d have practice 4:30 to 7:30 at night — I didn’t like that. That was a long day.
DP: You’re coming back to Reunions and speaking on the alumni-faculty forum “Sports: The Inside Story” on Friday. Why did you decide to take part in that?
CR:First and foremost, they asked me to, so that was really nice of them. I think I bring a nice perspective having worked in corporate America for about 13 or 14 years and now I’ve been in coaching for about 13 years, so I think it gives a nice perspective of sports and society.
DP:There was a lot of buzz on campus when you wore your black and orange scarf to the inauguration this year. A lot of people thought you were representing Princeton, but it turned out to be for Oregon State. Did any teammates or classmates give you a hard time for that?
CR:No, not at all. I think they all could understand that my feelings run deep for Princeton. Just because I work at Oregon State doesn’t mean I’m going to change my affiliation, but having said that, Oregon State is who pays me, so …
DP: Are there are any obstacles or advantages that a Princeton degree gives you in the serious Division I coaching world?
CR: That’s a very good question. I think there’s a little bit of both. The advantages are that generally we coach a different way and people either like or they don’t like it, so I think that helps when you’re going for the right job. It also helps having played for or coached with coaches who coached at Princeton. It’s held in very high esteem, so that’s a positive.
It’s interesting, it’s also viewed as a negative because it is strongly associated with playing slow and methodical and not being much fun, but I think you can overcome the little obstacles when you see how [Oregon State] play[s]. We’ve been in the top two or three the last two or three years in scoring offense, and that helps with that obstacle.
DP: Speaking of Coach Carril, he holds the best record of any coach in Ivy League basketball history. Does his coaching style influence yours at all?
CR: Oh yeah. I tell people all that time that Coach Carril really showed me how to play the way I like to play. I didn’t have any real strategy before I met Coach Carril, and I was just trying to score baskets. I think a lot of people view basketball that way, but after having played for Coach Carril, he gave me a new way to look at the game which made me be a relatively successful coach — nowhere near as successful as he’s been, but it’s allowed me to be good in a profession where it’s hard to be good.
DP: Do you ever give tips to the President on his basketball game? Have you ever played hoops together?
CR: No, I keep my advice to the kids that I’m coaching and my own children.
DP: I guess that’s a good strategy.
CR: Yeah — he’s got enough on his mind. He doesn’t need to be worrying about me telling him about his game.