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July 16, 2013It's not every day that an athlete gets to be the best in the world.
Pitt sophomore James Robinson has been make that claim.
Robinson and Team USA captured the gold medal in the FIBA U19 World Championship in Prague, Czech Republic from June 27 to July 7. It was Robinson's second gold medal after playing with America's U18 gold medal team last summer.
"It was a great experience for me, a great learning experience," the Pitt sophomore said. "With the coaching staff of Billy Donovan, Shaka Smart and Tony Bennett, a lot of learning's going to happen. Combine that with some of the best players of 19 years or younger, it was very competitive. We competed a lot, learned a lot and it was a great experience."
Team USA grabbed the gold with an 82-68 win over Serbia in the championship game. It was the second championship since 2009 when Jamie Dixon and Ashton Gibbs led the Americans to a title in New Zealand.
With the gold medal, Team USA earned its fifth overall U19 World Championship, and it was the fourth time the Americans posted a 9-0 record in the competition, matching the efforts of 1979, 1991 and 2009. This year's team won by an average of 39.6 points per game and outrebounded its opponents by 19.6 boards per contest.
Over nine games, Robinson averaged 2.1 points, 2.1 assists and 1.7 rebounds per game while playing 14.1 minutes per contest. His 2.71 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked second on the team.
Robinson's first medal came in June 2012 when the U18 National team went 5-0 in the FIBA U18 Championship in Sao Sebastiao dos Paraiso, Brazil. However, he's grateful to have won both honors.
"Both medals weren't promised to us," Robinson said. "To go in there, compete and play to our highest potential, that was the one thing Coach Donovan really wanted us to do. There were some games where we didn't play our best, but we were still fortunate enough to win. It's just a tremendous feeling for us to go in and accomplish our goal.
"I knew personally going in the competition was going to be harder this year in the Czech Republic, which it was much harder. We had to come out and compete every night, and the coaches did a great job of getting us ready to win."
Robinson wasn't originally selected to the 12-man roster. The illness of his former high school teammate and current Syracuse forward Jerami Grant - who also played with Robinson on the U18 team - opened up a spot for the Pitt sophomore.
"It was a real honor," he said. "Originally, I wasn't one of the 12 selected for this year. Unfortunately, Jerami Grant got sick, and I was his replacement. It's ironic because Jeremy's one of my best friends. To replace him, it felt good to step in and still be able to win even though he didn't play."
Robinson wants to use his experience from the international competition this season. Obviously, competing with the world's best players is important, but his team's approach is what the Pitt guard will remember.
"I think the mentality over there was us against the world," he said. "Right now, a lot of people are counting Pitt out. We lost a lot of talented players for various reasons last year, but we have a lot of guys stepping in and are really going to contribute this year."
Robinson started 32 of Pitt's 33 games last season. He averaged 6.1 points per game, ranked second on the team in total assists (116) and led the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.83).
Though just a sophomore, Robinson can be considered an elder statesman on a Pitt team that has experienced considerable personnel turnover since last season's end. However, the Panthers still have talent coming back, and Robinson is ready to take full command of the offense.
"I think we have a lot of guys coming back," he said. "We return three starters. That's something a lot of teams can't really say. We have a great coaching staff that's guiding us in the right direction. It's definitely on the players to hold one another accountable...
"It's definitely going to be a lot of challenges. Every night will be a new challenge, but that's going to start in practice. We have Josh Newkirk coming in and other very skilled players coming in. Practice is going to continue to be very competitive, and our coaching staff's going to do a great job getting us ready to compete every night."