Last season, Justin Robinson was the Hokies' offensive leader averaging 14 points per game last season, scoring a total of 17.5 percent of points on a team that made its second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance for only the third time in program history.
This year, the Hokies are looking for Robinson to step up into a larger leadership role that goes beyond his scoring abilities as VT hopes to make it past the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia Tech lost just two players from last season's tournament team - seniors Justin Bibbs and Devin Wilson, two of the better defenders on the team. Robinson wants to step in and fill that void.
"We’ve actually had a film session on Devin (Wilson) and (Justin) Bibbs and how much they helped us on that defensive aspect," Justin Robinson said. "We went over how we have to find a guy to fill the holes that they did. I’m sure someone will step up. I want to be that guy, but we have so many guys that are so competitive that will do whatever it takes to win.”
Along with points, Robinson also recorded the most minutes played on last year's squad with 1,021 total minutes. Bibbs was second with 1,017 minutes played while no one else played more than 840 total minutes.
Expect him to put up even higher numbers, both scoring and minutes, this season.
“I don’t think I give myself enough credit for some of the stuff I do," Robinson said. "I’m more of a team guy. I think whatever is needed to win is what I can do.”
Robinson scored more points in 2017-2018 than 2016-2017 while his points per game average and his shooting percentage both increased.
Tech, who compiled a 21-12 record last season, has an overall record of 63-38 over the course of Robinson's first three seasons in the Hokies' uniform with Robinson playing in every single one of those 101 games.
Robinson came to Virginia Tech in Buzz Williams' first full recruiting class as head coach of the Hokies alongside Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Ty Outlaw. Ahmed Hill, a redshirt senior on this year's team, was a freshman a year before this class arrived on campus, but a past injury has made him a part of that class of players to an extent. Now, four of the five are seniors with Blackshear being a redshirt junior, giving the Hokies their oldest team of the Buzz Williams era.
"This is the oldest we've been since we've been here and credit goes to that first recruiting class," Williams said. "To have those guys still, it's rare, anymore, at this level. To have a roster this old, having built what they have built, and you still have that high of a return, I think it's really good."
Justin Robinson agrees with the sentiment that the Hokies have their oldest team of the Buzz Williams era.
"We have a lot of experience; we might be one of the older teams in the conference and we are very talented across the board," Robinson said.
Williams and Robinson have always had a close connection, a connection Robinson says goes back to when Buzz was recruiting Justin.
"I think the relationship he built with me during the recruiting process has never changed," Robinson said. “Every time we communicate, it’s about 5 percent basketball, 95 percent about life."
Williams noted that Robinson has played in 101 games as a Hokie, the most games played by any player on the team.
"I think he [Robinson] has done an unbelievable job, near perfect, in representing our program on and off the floor," Williams said. "I think his growth as a player probably parallels the growth of our program during his time here."
Williams also mentioned that Robinson has not always been easy to coach, although Robinson has become more coachable as his understanding of what the team is trying to do has improved. Williams said Robinson's coachable status is to the point now where he is semi-coaching on his own.
Over the course of his career, Robinson has started 85 games, averaged 10.5 points per game while shooting 40 percent from behind the arc, and has averaged 28.4 minutes per game. Robinson also finished second in the ACC in assists last season with 185.
When it comes to how talented Robinson is, he does not shy away from how good he thinks he is. During ACC Media Day in Charlotte, Robinson stated, “My personal opinion: I may be the best point guard in the country, I just never say it. I don’t like to worry about myself, I’m more of a team player, I’m going to do whatever it takes to win.”
In addition, Robinson will be stepping into a leadership and tone-setting role for the younger portion of Virginia Tech's roster.
That includes fellow guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker who Robinson has built a closer relationship with this offseason. Part of that is how the two roomed together for all road games last season and both attended the Chris Paul basketball camp this summer, Robinson's third time at the camp.
"We always had late night conversations, talking about my progression, his progression and his thoughts," Justin Robinson said. "We came to the conclusion that he had a lot of voices in his head he couldn’t really get out - I think now he’s calmed down and not worried about the outside view and he’s ready to roll.”
Alexander-Walker is a key component to this year's squad in the backcourt alongside Robinson. The sophomore from Toronto started in all 33 games last season, scoring 352 points and playing 840 minutes for an average of 10.7 points per game.
Naturally, his numbers ought to rise even higher with his development from the offseason along with having a full year to build chemistry with Robinson and the other Hokie veterans. It's important that Robinson can continue to be a leader and keep Alexander-Walker on the right track as the sophomore guard seeks to continue to improve and seek to become the best player possible alongside Robinson.
"For myself, expectations I've set are to be the best I can be," Alexander-Walker said. "Every day, I try to come in here and get better, trying to make the most of the resources I have to be even better than I was last year. I try my best not to listen to expectations from others; I try to stay within the team and control what I can control."
Alexander-Walker called Justin Robinson a "big brother," adding that he was the first guy to talk to him when he committed to the program and Justin was one of his hosts when he came on his official visit.
"When I had tough games, Justin would talk to me," Alexander-Walker said. "He was always there to pick me up. Him and I talked about the season at the Chris Paul camp and we vowed to each other that we would believe in each other and do the best we could do and just go with it.”
As one of the senior leaders on this team, Robinson is going to have to continue to pick up Alexander-Walker and the freshmen on this team and be the "quarterback" for Buzz's team, while also being a leader off the court. Being a leader, though, is one of the things he does best.
"I want to be a great person on and off the basketball court, not just a great player," Robinson said.
As for the lesson learned from last year's first round exit against Alabama, Justin Robinson says the Hokies haven't forgotten that loss and are ready to battle ahead of the highest expectations for VT basketball in a long time.
"I think it still has a big wear and tear on our hearts," Robinson said. "Buzz has taught us to never take anything for granted and to leave our foot on the gas pedal. I think we’re just ready to battle and I think it showed when we found out who was who during boot camp."
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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