Story and photos by Paul Langfellow
The start of the high school basketball season across the state of Minnesota also means tryouts, cuts and players who have played the game they love for years, looking for a place to play. Particularly in larger Metro area schools, the cuts often leave many talented and enthusiastic high school basketball players without a team.
Enter MYAS and associations like the Robbinsdale Robins.
Back in 2009 the Robins were born with five boys basketball players from Robbinsdale Cooper and five players from Robbinsdale Armstrong who were cut from their respective high school teams, most of whom had played on their school’s freshman team the year before. The ten “original Robins” played a schedule of approximately 25 games against freshman, sophomore and JV high school teams along with several MYAS sponsored games and tournaments. The players paid a fee that covered their uniforms and tournament entry costs.
Ten years later the Robins program has grown and is going strong with four teams (46 players), three at the 11th/12th grade level and one team of freshman.
On Saturday December 7th, one of the Robins teams (Robins White) were part of the Winter Shootout at Armstrong High School, the first MYAS tournament of the season offered for high school aged basketball teams. This year’s Robins, like their 2009 predecessors, are a group of high school kids from the Robbinsdale School District who for one reason or another were not able to play for their high school basketball team.
Head coach of this years Robins White team Mike Opat says that the Robins face many challenges.
“I appreciate the organization of it. For coaches, there are not many things we have to take care of. We need to communicate practice times. But we are always struggling for equipment and uniforms. These guys (the Robins players) have to pay a fee and we have to pay for the gym time, so unlike the high school teams who might pay a fee but their coaches are paid, their transportation is paid, their gyms are free and some of their equipment they get help with. The Robins don’t get any of that.”
It’s a unique position for a high school level basketball team in that there are no regular practice facilities or transportation. Another thing that sets the Robins apart are the late night practices due to limited gym space around the district. “Practices are hard. We practice twice a week, hopefully for one hour, starting at 9pm and finishing at 10pm. So in the cold dark night of winter it’s hard to get up and to the gym at 8:30 but we do it.” said Opat.
The Robins teams this year, like in the past, are comprised of players from different schools in the Robbinsdale district. While some of the players had been cut from their high school teams, others had other various reasons for joining the Robins like 16-year-old Armstrong junior Donovan Bradley..
“It fits better for your schedule. I have work and another sport to balance on top of basketball, so it’s two nights a week and weekends which fits very well. And the tournaments are on weekends, so it’s fun and something to do on the weekend.” Bradley said.
Connor Bursey is also a junior at Armstrong who has been playing for three years with the Robins. Bursey, who plays football at Armstrong, says his experience with the Robins has been a good one.. “I got cut from the (Armstrong High School) team my freshman year and so I decided to play this, and it was probably one of the better decisions I have made so far.” Bursey also went on to mention some of the differences and difficulties with the Robins program.
“The practice times for one, that’s something… but then also I feel like this is more intense and there is a lot more physicality to it for rebounding and going for layups, so I feel like you have to work harder for it.”
Daniel Burton 17, of NEC in New Hope, is a newcomer to the Robins program and says that his first few weeks with the Robins have been good ones. “ I like the experience, the teamwork and the cooperation. I’m learning how to cooperate with new people.”
Teaching the game
Opat has been coaching in the Robins program for five years and says he enjoys teaching the game. “It’s been fun. There are a lot of kids who love basketball, but for different reasons aren’t playing on the school teams and it gives us a chance to play 18 to 24 games, stay busy in the winter and learn how to play basketball the right way.”
So what are his expectations and what did he hope to learn about his team in a tournament this early in the season “Can we take care of the ball, can we play under control and can we shoot a three? Rather can we make them? I know we can shoot them. I’m trying to figure out what do we need to practice and how do we get it done?”
In all, weekend number one was a success for Opat’s Robins. They took second place going 2-and-1 at the Armstrong Winter Shootout with wins over Minneapolis Whittier and Minnetonka and a hard-fought 40-32 loss to eventual champion St. Michael-Albertville. Opat’s Robins White team, along with the other three Robins teams, will play in five more MYAS Winter Shootout tournaments this season along with the MYAS Rec State Tournament in March.
Editor’s note: Paul Langfellow, the author of this story, was a member of the original Robins in 2009-10 and is pictured (#10) in the above photo of that team