"An analyzation of this," Robinson begins, smiling, walking near Halsey Gym and its spectacular view of the pleasure craft floating at the confluence of the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay, "would prove I'm hardly gungy anymore." Robinson actually uses words like analyzation. "Actually, I never liked the competitiveness. I'm pretty laid back, and this whole place is based on competition in...every...little...thing. What kind of dorm room you get depends on competing in the order of merit. I got sick of all the macho competitive stuff." Boxing? "Boxing was fun," says Robinson. "Running around calling everybody sir...that wasn't fun. That bugged me. So did upper-class officers on power trips. I'd get harassed and think, 'I just want to get that little so-and-so and slap him around.' You start feeling bombarded by the routine. I've really had senioritis for four years."
Ultimately, Robinson was to explode on the basketball scene in December 1984 in what may go down in Naval history as The Battles of the Saluki Shootout. (Doesn't quite sing like "Remember the Maine!" does it?) When the sophomore Robinson was challenged by a couple of athletic front lines from Southern Illinois and Western Illinois, he came away from Carbondale with 68 points, 31 rebounds and a national reputation. "It was pretty incredible," Robinson says. "It was the first time I got an idea of what I could do."
By then Robinson's other pursuits, curricular and extra-, had become the stuff of minilegend, and his teammates had had their fill—his music, his electronics acumen. "We nailed him on everything," says Wojcik. " 'How's your French horn coming, Dave?' Or 'Why don't you go fix a computer?' If we heard another story about that TV-screen monstrosity he put together.... That thing got larger every month. What is it now, 50 feet? 'Oh yes, and just the other day Dave made his own rocket launcher... right, and next week he's blasting himself off in it.' "
Then, during tryouts for a national squad that would play in the summer of '85 for the Jones Cup in Spain, Robinson matched up with players like Chuck Person of Auburn, Dell Curry of Virginia Tech, Larry Krystkowiak of Montana and Doug Altenberger of Illinois. "It was 105 degrees and these guys were busting it every day," Robinson says. "They never wanted to stop playing. It was kind of inspiring. I had to keep my mind in the games and play hard myself or I'd get absolutely killed. Even though we didn't win anything that summer I really gained a lot of confidence."
Sheer, unfettered confidence is a new scientific experiment to Robinson's inquiring mind, something to be studied, tested, maybe even taken apart piece by piece. " Pervis Ellison [ Louisville's sophomore center]," he says. "Now there's confidence. At the trials for the worlds team last summer he just turned and shot right in my face. He didn't respect me at all. I mean the guy is only 6'9" and he had to know I would block his shot. I threw that thing away. But he just came back for more. What confidence!"
Confidence begat intensity begat Robinson's wondrous junior year, his turn-the-corner year, his year of living glamorously. During the NCAA tournament, in which he created a wave of devastation worthy of a whole chapter in Jane's Fighting Ships, Pearl Washington of Syracuse called him "the best...more dangerous than Ewing because he's better on offense." And Cleveland State coach Kevin Mackey said, "We played our game, we mugged him, and Robinson responded [9 blocks, 12 of Navy's final 16 points, the game-winning basket at :06]. He just got better right before our eyes. There's no question he's the best player in the country." Even Johnny Dawkins of Duke was impressed: "I know David altered my shots, one of which I think I threw over the backboard." Alas, Robinson got little help against the Blue Devils, who pounded Navy on the boards and stopped the storybook season one game short of the Final Four so that the infamous Duke student section could hold up the obligatory banner reading OUR SENIORS DON'T HAVE TO SERVE AFTER DALLAS.
Furious with the Middies' performance, Robinson said the team played "like girls," and Liebert says his tall roomie was uncharacteristically incommunicado for weeks afterward. Rookie coach Herrmann sees this as a good sign. "David has been able to coast, but if he realizes he can be the best for 40 minutes, he will be. I think he's ready. I think he really wants it now."
The coach and player also are in agreement that Robinson must work on stronger inside post-up moves in his final season, on dipping, ducking under, using his right hand, and on defensive ball denial—more the way he played Sabonis than the way he has played in the Navy zone.
In the meantime Robinson is intent on lifting his grade point average in his math major back above the 3.0 level from which it had fallen last year. However, courses such as Data Structures, Weapons and Systems Engineering, Economic Geography and Math Modeling will have to contend with daily phone calls and letters to Stephannie, a junior a George Mason.
As for his plans after graduation, Robinson says he isn't asking for favoritism from the Navy, only fairness. "It's easy for outsiders to think a guy like this is treated special," says Konetzni. "But David has had to give up a lot, too. He cuts no slack around here. I chewed him out just the other day for the way his shoes looked [polish dull, laces untied]. We work the kid hard. He's got basketball. And his computers. There's just no time. On top of it all he's in love. I saw them the other day. Stephannie has braces, too. I asked him: 'This is the main squeeze, right? You guys ever get 'em caught?' "