There are a handful of mortal locks in the group of new inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to be announced Monday morning at the men's Final Four in Detroit. Michael Jordan is a no-brainer, as is John Stockton.
But only one from the 2009 class elevated a service academy into the national conversation about college basketball. Only one's list of accomplishments was enhanced as much by where he did it as by what he did.
There never has been before, and almost certainly never will be again, a Navy basketball player like David Robinson, who will reportedly get in Monday in his first year of eligibility. If he had never played again after his graduation in 1987, he might have had a strong case for Hall membership strictly based on his college career.
"He's just a wonderful athlete and role model. That's the great thing about him," said Paul Evans, who coached Robinson during that unmatched era in Annapolis more than two decades ago. "He's incredible through and through. He's a wonderful human being." Evans paused, chuckled, then added, "He's probably more excited about the school he started down [in San Antonio] than about the Hall of Fame."
Robinson's track record as a pro with the San Antonio Spurs, and his life off the court there and in retirement - which, yes, includes the Carver Academy, an elementary school he created in 2001 - is exemplary. But the roots of it were planted in Annapolis, under Evans, who, when Robinson arrived in 1983, thought he had just a wiry 6-foot-7 freshman who could really run the floor.
Robinson grew to 7-1, became the most dominant player in the game, was consensus National Player of the Year, and carried Navy to three straight NCAA tournaments - including the final eight in his junior year and the second round as a senior in 1987, when he bowed out with 50 points against defending champion Michigan.
The idea of a player like that at Navy surely seems inconceivable to anyone too young to remember those days. Even less conceivable: Robinson had the opportunity to transfer from Navy and play at a conventional four-year school after two years, trading his postgraduate service commitment for a shot at a national championship and a lucrative pro career.
He chose to stay, and he ended up having it all anyway, while becoming the example for every service-academy athlete with pro prospects from then on.
While Navy basketball didn't disappear when he left, making three NCAA tournaments since, it has never been the talk of the nation the way it was when "The Admiral" was becoming basketball's answer to Roger Staubach.
Thus Evans, who has lived and worked in Annapolis since his college coaching career ended in 1996, expects he and his former players will be on hand for Robinson's induction in Springfield, Mass., in September.
"He's the finest, most intelligent athlete I've ever known," Evans said. Which says a lot, considering he spent six years at Navy and knew quite a few good men, so to speak.
"Yeah, that's true," he said, laughing. "But none of them were like David."
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