Plain and simple, it can’t be easy playing basketball for a team with a 2-15 record. The losses continue to build. The setback total continues to rise, higher and higher, like a one of the skyscrapers popping up all over Jersey City. Yet, as a player, you have to go out there, playing for pride, playing for some sense of respect and dignity.
Malia Robinson knows that feeling all too well, being a member of the Snyder High School girls’ basketball team that lost the first 13 games of the current season.
“It’s very frustrating, not being able to get a win,” said Robinson, a senior and four-year veteran of the Tiger girls’ program. “We had new coaches this season. We knew it was going to be hard. Everyone was going to have to take on new roles.”
When veteran coach Tom Ferriero, formerly the head girls’ basketball coach at places like McNair Academic and Queen of Peace in North Arlington, was selected to take over the Snyder girls’ program last summer, he decided to make over the struggling situation.
One of the first moves Ferriero made was to take Robinson, a guard for her first three years of high school, and turn her into a power forward.
“I was just another player on the court,” Robinson said. “I averaged about 4 to 6 points a game. But this year, Coach Ferriero gave me a larger role on the team. I was a little nervous, because I didn’t know if I would be able to do it. Coach Ferriero gave me the confidence to do it.”
Ferriero knew that Robinson would be able to become a more integral part of the process.
“She’s an unbelievable kid,” Ferriero said. “The first day, we had a meeting and she walked into the room with a bright, wide smile. She’s the kind of kid who takes a bus to P.S. 27 in the [Jersey City] Heights for volleyball and come back to play basketball later that day. She has outstanding character and I saw that right away. She’s a good athlete and can play every sport. I knew she wasn’t going to shirk any responsibility.”
So Robinson was now a power forward and it was time to get to work. Ferriero had a plan.
“Coach Ferriero has such an unorthodox coaching style,” Robinson said. “He has different drills that are designed to make me become a better player.”
Like shooting 500 shots a day. That’s correct – 500, as in one more than 499.
“I would be at the free throw line for hours,” Robinson said. “I worked on post moves over and over. I have always been a committed person. When I put my mind to something, I’m going to do it. It wasn’t like I had to stay there. I just did it. Dribbling? Oh, that’s so tedious. I don’t like the dribbling. I never want to disappoint anyone. I never want to make anyone mad. I always wanted to be an outside player, a shooter, but Coach Ferriero saw something else. I then realized I had to be a post player and I had to be a rebounder.”
And to be a successful player close to the basket, one had to take 500 shots a day. Now, asking a player to have such a commitment on a team that doesn’t win at all is asking a lot.
But Ferriero knew right away that he had a player he could count on, especially with Robinson’s commitment to all three sports (volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter and softball in the spring).
“She’s the first one to arrive and the last one to leave,” Ferriero said of Robinson. “I know that sounds like such a cliché, but it’s so true about her. I just watch the kid work so hard from the minute I met her. I just wish I had her from Day One.”
So with all the losing, one might figure the dedication and devotion to dip a little. Apathy does tend to set in a bit with losing teams.
But that’s not the case with Robinson. She was not going to give into the depths of despair. She was set to rise above it – and she did.
Robinson played like a true power forward over the last week or so, collecting 34 points and 22 rebounds in a win over St. Anthony and tallying 31 points and hauling down 18 rebounds in a win over University Charter. Yes, the Tigers got two wins.
“It’s fun to see the entire team get excited and happy,” Robinson said. “In the locker room, on the bus going home, it’s been a lot of fun. We wanted to win for a very long time, so those games made us very excited.”
Robinson also had 18 points and 13 rebounds in a loss to Marist.
For her efforts, Robinson has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
It marks the second straight week that an athlete from Snyder was selected as the Athlete of the Week, a complete rarity, joining last week’s honoree Ronald Washington.
Ironically, Washington and Robinson are very close friends who spend a lot of their free time together, playing basketball.
“He would teach me good form to use when I’m shooting free throws,” Robinson said. “I met him last year and we’re close. It’s good to have someone that I can relate to, someone I can turn to who can help me with my game.”
“Ronald is a tremendous kid who works out with Malia,” Ferriero said. “He’s trying to help her. He’s been a huge help to her.”
Like Washington, Robinson is an excellent student, maintaining a 3.5 grade point average and achieving a score of 1420 on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. She is looking at schools such as Dominican College (which, by the way, is also recruiting Washington) as well as Montclair State, Seton Hall and Kean University.
Robinson would like to eventually become an athletic trainer.
“Since I know I won’t be playing college sports, I wanted to remain involved in sports,” Robinson said. “I figured that’s the best way to stay involved.”
And the best way to show off that incredible determination that made her a successful power forward.
“She’s a great team leader,” Ferriero said. “She encourages the younger kids. You can’t put a price tag on her dedication to sports, not just basketball. She’s always running out to a volleyball practice as well. She’s just as dedicated in the other sports as well.”
But Robinson made her mark as a power forward on a team that didn’t own a single win before she took over last week. That alone says it all. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.