DIXFIELD — Riley Robinson doesn’t merely deflect any praise for his outstanding sophomore season, he breaks its ankles with a quick crossover move.
When Dirigo coach Travis Magnusson talks about the work the 6-foot, 2-inch forward put in over the summer, Robinson turns the spotlight on the sacrifices his coach made to help him.
“I try to play basketball every day during the summer and Coach is great about that. He’s always willing to do individual workouts. You know, he has to drive down an hour, but he’s always willing. I’ve never texted him and said ‘Hey, can I get a workout’ and had him say ‘No,'” Robinson said.
The whole Magnusson family gets Valentines from Robinson. Marty, Travis’ father and an assistant coach, is singled out for emphasizing the importance of ball-faking, which gets Robinson to the free throw line. Travis’ wife, Karen, who coached Cony to a regional title in 2012 and is now raising a young family, earns kudos for spotting even the smallest flaw in his game and helping him correct it.
The holes are getting harder to find. Robinson led the MVC in scoring with 24.8 ppg. He also finished in the top 10 in the league in rebounding (6.8), assists (4.3), and steals (2.3), and led in free throw percentage (83).
This after an impressive freshman debut in which he started and averaged more than 14 ppg.
“He always wants to get better, always wants to put the time in,” Magnusson said. “He’s gotten quicker. He shoots off the dribble better. He’s gotten stronger. All of those things. He’s just more mature, and I think he can keep getting better and better.”
Robinson acknowledges the hard work he’s put in, and the love of basketball, which he inherited from his father, former Dirigo player and coach, Jamie, that drives that work ethic. But ask him about his achievements on the court and he replies that it’s all because of his fellow starters, beginning with junior point guard Tyler Frost.
“He’s an unreal passer. You play with him and you’re going to score eight points a game just from layups because he gets you the ball in such great position,” Robinson said.
“Then you’ve got kids who can stretch the floor like Kaine Hutchins,” he continued. “I bet he’s hitting four threes a game. He can really knock it down.”
“Another great player we have on the team is Dylan Kidder. I really think he’s underrated in the league. He got second team (all-MVC), but he’s definitely one of the best players in the league,” he said.
Not to be left out, fellow sophomore starter Gavin Arsenault.
“He is really athletic,” Robinson said. “He makes some moves sometimes where you’re just, like, ‘Wow.'”
Robinson’s praise for his teammates isn’t just driven by humility. He is indeed surrounded by a talented nucleus that led the Cougars to their third MVC title in a row, their third consecutive 17-1 season, and the top seed in the Western C tournament, which tips off on Monday.
“The thing is, he’s scoring a lot of points, but we’re really a very balanced team,” Magnusson said. “There’s really not a lot of pressure on him. If he scores 10 points in a tournament game, it doesn’t mean we’re done. I think we have a lot of options, and he’s just got to play his game and not feel like he has to score 25.”
Yet earlier this season, Robinson had a prolific stretch in which he scored 30 or more points in seven out of eight games. There aren’t many spots on the floor from which he can’t score, but this season he’s shown a particular affinity for the paint.
“He always attacks. Whether he’s finishing or getting fouled, he wants to attack the basket, even though he’s a really good shooter,” Magnusson said. “He uses his body well in there. He’s a much more physical player than you normally see in a sophomore.”
“AAU has really helped with that,” Robinson said. “I go to nationals every year with my team (Maine Athletic Club) and AAU is a lot more physical game. You’ve got to be ready to play a physical game or you might as well not even play.”
The Cougars are young, with just one senior, so Robinson, the quarterback on Dirigo’s Western D finalist football team, admits he’s had to come out of his shell a little this season. A thrilling win over Boothbay in the second game of the season, which Robinson provided with a buzzer-beater, was a springboard for him and the team.
“It was a great pass again by Tyler,” Robinson said. “It was an easy shot for me. It was a layup because Tyler made such a great pass. That definitely boosted our team confidence. Everyone was saying Boothbay was better than us. We wanted to go in there and make a statement and we did.”
Dirigo has been on a mission ever since they lost to Waynflete in last year’s regional semifinal. It was a stunning setback for a program that had won the past four Western C titles and hadn’t lost on the Augusta Civic Center floor in 13 games.
“I’ve thought about the Waynflete game every day since we lost,” he said. “The whole team has. We hate to lose. We’re not used to it.”
So how do they make sure they don’t get used to it?
“We’ve just got to play our game and not sweat the small stuff,” Robinson said. “We’ve just got to play hard, play with intensity, play with heart. If you don’t bring it first round and every night, you’re going to go home.”