Obamas rooting for Knicks, thanks to player development chief Craig Robinson

From ESPN - March 14, 2018

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- It's hard to overstate how important player development is to the New York Knicks right now.

The club is in the early stages of a rebuild, looking for talented players to fit around Kristaps Porzingis while the star forward works his way back from a torn ACL.

In the best-case scenario, the Knicks build a young core around Porzingis that's strong enough to attract free agents in the summer of 2019 or 2020, when they should have significant cap space.

New York has the wherewithal to add this young talent: The Knicks own all of their first-round picks going forward and likely will have top-10 picks in the next two drafts.

The trick, of course, is adding the right players and then developing them once you have them on the roster.

That's where Craig Robinson comes in. Over the summer, Knicks president Steve Mills called Robinson, his old teammate at Princeton and, at that point, a Milwaukee Bucks executive, with a job offer.

"I think I have the perfect job for you" was Mills' pitch. The timing was not great for Robinson because he was close to finalizing a home purchase in Milwaukee.

"Then he explains the job and I am like, 'Oh, that is the perfect job for me,'" Robinson, the brother of former first lady Michelle Obama and brother-in-law of President Barack Obama, recalled on Wednesday.

After speaking with his family, Robinson accepted a position as vice president of player development and G League operations for the Knicks.

In a half-hour chat with a group of reporters Wednesday, Robinson, a former head coach at Oregon State and Brown University, discussed his vision for the Knicks' player development program and revealed that he has converted the former president and first lady to Knicks fans.

Below are excerpts of the interview with observations mixed in.

Q: What's the organization's vision for player development?

Craig Robinson: "What I love about both Steve [Mills] and [Knicks general manager] Scott [Perry] is that they understand how important player development is philosophically. It really is -- I like to call it -- it's vertically integrating. We look at the New York Knicks' player development, the Westchester Knicks' player development, as if it's 25 players trying to develop. Not like it's some guys on the Knicks and some guys on the Westchester Knicks. I also like how they understand that to develop players on and off the court you need to be able to [help] them on and off the court. One ca not be done without the other. And that's really important to me. The way I was raised, the experiences I have had -- I think basketball helps you off the court and I think your off-the-court relationship helps you with your development. I think those two things were really attractive. I think if you see what we are doing with the Westchester Knicks, you are starting to see a little bit about how that's starting to play out."

The Knicks' G League team has had success this season. Entering play Wednesday, the Westchester Knicks (30-16) owned the best record in the league. They have had five players (Isaiah Hicks, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Luke Kornet, Nigel Hayes and Trey Burke) sign contracts with NBA teams. Hicks had 29 points for Westchester in a win Saturday that allowed the team to clinch a playoff spot. Both Hicks and Rathan-Mayes were in an environment in Westchester where they were allowed to play through their mistakes, which helped foster their development, said Marlon Harrison, the agent for both players. Success in the G League is nice, but the jury is still out on how the younger players on the NBA roster, such as Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay and Damyean Dotson, have developed. One of the Knicks' young big men, Willy Hernangomez, requested a trade earlier this season due to a lack of playing time and developmental opportunity.


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