The theme to this year's men's basketball season thus far has been injuries. The almost plague-like spread through the team has gutted the starting lineup, and head coach Bill Carmody has been forced to look for help from an unfamiliar place: the bench.
And maybe somewhat surprisingly, the reserves have demonstrated that they can not only contribute minutes on the court, but points on the scoreboard as well.
"Everyone is working hard, and we're trying to just forget about the injuries because, like I told my players, 'I recruited you because I thought you could play, and now you're playing,' " Carmody said last week.
Sophomore forward Ray Robins is one of the players making those injuries a little easier for the Tigers to deal with.
Robins, a six-foot, seven inch forward from Paso Robles, California, literally erupted on the Princeton basketball scene Jan. 24 against Catholic University. Pushed into the starting lineup because of injuries to senior forward Mason Rocca and junior forward Nate Walton, Robins responded in his first collegiate start by tallying 27 points and leading the Tigers to a dominating 90-49 victory.
"I was just waiting for my opportunity," Robins said. "I knew it would come sometime, and I just focused on preparing for when it would come."
That preparation paid off. Robins went 10-of-12 from the field, including a five-for-seven effort from beyond the arc despite playing only 20 minutes.
"I told a couple other teammates to watch out for Ray that game [against Catholic]," sophomore center Chris Young said. "He was due for a big game."
Before the Catholic game, Robins was pretty much an unknown figure to Princeton fans. Last season saw Robins make it to the floor in only ten games, scoring career highs of three points in home contests against Yale and Dartmouth. This season's high previous to the Catholic contest came against the College of Charleston, when he managed a lone three-pointer.
But a year can make a big difference. After his breakout performance against Catholic, Robins cooled off offensively against Cornell and Columbia, but showcased another facet of his game that weekend. The sophomore collected five boards and five assists in 38 minutes against Cornell and helped the Tigers survive a late rally by Columbia the following night.
While Robins continues to improve his game skills in practice, there is one element of his game that most of his teammates will tell you makes him stand out a little from the stereotypical mold of a Tiger cager — his amazing athleticism.
"He's just a tremendous athlete, easily the most athletic member of our team," Young said. "He does things on the court you just can't teach."
Now, Robins is looking into the postseason, hoping the Tigers can overcome last weekend's loss to the Elis and contend with Penn for the league championship. Robins' offensive scoring and rebounding efforts — combined with the emerging talents of the other reserves now seeing significant playing time — will hopefully keep the Tigers in the thick of the league title hunt.
The uncertain future of the injured Tigers has placed an even greater responsibility on the shoulders of Robins and others. But Robins maintains that when they return, he'll fill any role that he is asked to assume.
"I know it's going to limit my minutes and I accept that," Robins said. "[The injured players] make us a better team, and I am looking forward to their return. If I give a couple minutes here and there to help the team win ball games, that's all that matters."