Effort, hope move from campaign trail to basketball court for OSU’s Craig Robinson

Presidential politics came home to OSU

Presidential politics came home to OSU last week when men's basketball coach Craig Robinson became "brother-in-law-elect" to Barack Obama. Robinson is seen here addressing the Democratic National Convention in August. (photo: Associated Press)


NOTE: Listen to Craig Robinson on Thursday’s “All Things Considered” from National Public Radio by clicking here. — Editor

Just like a new coach might hope at the beginning of a new season, Craig Robinson knew his brother-in-law’s Presidential campaign had a “real possibility” of succeeding.

“What we had to do was keep our eye on the prize, our nose to the grindstone,” said Robinson, Oregon State’s men’s basketball coach and brother of Michelle Obama, wife of President-elect Barack Obama.

Nine days ago, the hope became a reality as U.S. voters gave the Illinois Democrat 52 percent of the popular vote and a two-to-one margin in the Electoral College. His election as not only the 44th U.S. president but the first African-American president in the nation’s 232-year history dominated international news coverage.

Friday afternoon, Robinson was looking forward to a quiet weekend with his wife and children to let the reality of it all sink in. “These people I’ve known all my life are now the president and first lady,” he exclaimed.

Standing on stage at almost midnight on Nov. 4 and towering over his brother-in-law, Robinson felt “a powerful rush” as 120,000 people in Chicago’s Grant Park cheered, screamed, and cried after Obama’s acceptance speech. The coach had been an important part of the campaign, representing Obama at more than 50 events over the past year.

“Yet it was very humbling, too, quite an honor to be standing there with Barack and representing America,” said Robinson.

He was in the room when his brother-in-law took phone calls from President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee. He took the stage with the rest of the family after Obama’s victory speech, and was awed by both the crowd’s energy and the moment.

“It’s so powerful, so emotional to realize all that has transpired to get us to this point today,” Robinson said, not only for the Obama campaign, not only for African Americans, but for all America.

For all the historic precedent of the past week, however, Robinson is now in “business as usual mode. My focus is to try to turn a basketball program around.”

Robinson in April inherited an OSU program that is coming off an 0-18 season in the Pac 10, carrying a 21-game losing streak and looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1990.

A few hours after Chicago, he was back on the job, watching film, running a practice and looking for ways to make OSU better.

It would be naïve to say that the notoriety of being the coach whose brother-in-law is president of the most powerful government on Earth won’t affect the OSU program, Robinson said. “If we get invited into some (recruits’) homes because of it, that would be fine.”

He doesn’t feel apprehensive, he said. “It just that more people will be watching to see what we do.”

Spoken just like a new coach hoping for a “real possibility” of success at the beginning of a new season.

~ by Ed Curtin

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