It’s 6:35 p.m., and Michigan doesn’t tip off against Maryland for another two and a half hours. Crisler Center is quiet, but Duncan Robinson just swaggered out from Michigan’s tunnel, sporting a gray long-sleeve Michigan shirt and headphones. The arena is practically empty, save for a few of Robinson’s teammates shooting on the court and a handful of ushers and stadium staff shuffling around the concourse.
The redshirt sophomore guard heads for the stands and makes himself comfortable in an aisle seat 14 rows up, across from the bench Michigan will use in a few hours when it hosts the third-ranked Terrapins. For nearly 20 minutes he just sits there, legs sprawled out comfortably resting on the chair in front of him. He occasionally sips from his water bottle or scrolls for a new song on his phone — he’s a big G-Eazy fan — but for the most part, he does nothing. He just sits there and gazes around an empty stadium, thinking.
“I try to do that, just kind of, I guess see myself out there. Not meditation — but just kind of envisioning,” Robinson said.
So for 20 minutes he sits, envisions and thinks.
About what? Maybe the Wolverines’ game five nights prior at Purdue, when tight Boilermaker defense limited Robinson to just two makes on five attempts from 3-point range.
That type of performance doesn’t bode well for Michigan — a team that’s been reliant on strong shooting to make up for its often-undersized big men down low. Robinson has shot 57 percent from behind the arc in Michigan’s wins this season, but just 38 percent from deep in its five losses.
Robinson eventually leaves his seat and heads toward the court. He exchanges a handshake with an usher and grabs a ball — the first time he’s touched one all day. He doesn’t like to touch a ball on game day more than about two hours before tipoff. He read that Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry does that, tried it himself once and the habit stuck.
Tipoff is still two hours away, but Robinson’s pregame routine is well underway. He shoots six-footers from straightaway and slowly inches his way back toward the free throw line, and eventually, the 3-point line. He takes his first several 3s flat-footed, without jumping — a warmup technique he learned from a trainer a while back. He begins moving around the arc, starting to find a rhythm. He lets off quick attempts, mixing it up a little each time. He takes a dribble and fires, makes a move and aims, pump fakes, elevates and releases with a hand in his face.
After 10 minutes of knocking down shots, he heads for the locker room. He gets taped up, changes into a blue Michigan T-shirt and is back out 30 minutes later. Tipoff is just an hour and a half away, and now Robinson’s routine gets more intense. He works his way around the arc, firing from every spot. A team manager grabs his rebounds and feeds the ball back to him.
Shot. Swish. Repeat.
He goes until he gets 100 makes. It doesn’t take him many more attempts to do that.
“It kind of depends on the day — I try to keep it under like 120 (attempts),” Robinson said. “Usually 20 misses, something like that. Depends how it’s feeling.”
He makes his 100th 3-pointer, ends with a handful of free throws and heads back to the tunnel. He comes back out later for team warm ups, but his own personal routine is complete, and he has to wait until game time to see if it pays off.
It 9:00 p.m. now and Crisler Center isn’t so quiet anymore. Robinson is done envisioning himself on the court — he is on the court. Five minutes into the game, Robinson catches a pass from sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman on the left side of the arc. He pump fakes — exactly like he practiced two hours prior — and Maryland forward Jake Layman bites hard. Robinson dribbles once to his right, fires and hits, putting Michigan up 11-6 early.
Ten minutes later, junior guard Zak Irvin finds Robinson in the corner. Maryland guard Melo Trimble tries to throw a hand in Robinson’s face, but Robinson ignores it just like he did the ones managers threw up at him earlier. The Williams College (Mass.) transfer hits again. Two possessions later, Abdur-Rahkman feeds Robinson, this time on the right shoulder of the arc. Robinson disregards Layman’s defense and nails a trey — erasing Maryland’s brief 25-24 lead — one the Terrapins wouldn’t get back.
With less than three minutes in the half, Abdur-Rahkman finds Robinson again, this time in transition. Robinson catches and fires. On his way down, he gets taken out by Trimble, who tried his best to make sure Robinson didn’t have a clean look. As Robinson falls , so does his shot.
In the second half, the first time he has a look from deep he nails it. With Maryland making a comeback attempt late in the frame, Robinson has a chance to swing the momentum. Sophomore guard Aubrey Dawkins finds him all alone in the corner and, as Robinson aims, Dawkins and an entire student section lift their arms to preemptively celebrate a made 3. The ball rattles off the near rim and goes out of bounds. Robinson can’t believe it.
“I aimed it, I didn’t shoot it,” Robinson said. “I found myself so open that I just didn’t really know what to do with it, so it didn’t really come off right. I knew as soon as I shot it wasn’t good, so it was frustrating.”
What wasn’t frustrating, though, was his overall performance that night. He finished 5-of-9 from deep and tallied 17 points to help Michigan take its first home win over a top-three team since 1997.
After Maryland missed a 3 at the end of the game that would have tied it, Robinson grabbed the rebound as time expired. He was the first Wolverine back in the tunnel and greeted his teammates with high fives and shouts as they came in.
Wednesday, when Michigan hosted Minnesota, he was one of the first out of the tunnel and it was the same pregame routine. Two hours before tip, Robinson sat and envisioned himself on the court, made his 100 3s, then headed back to the tunnel. This night, though, the preparation didn’t show like it did against Maryland. In a game in which Michigan as a whole struggled to find its shooting rhythm, Robinson wasn’t immune, going 3-for-10 from deep as the Wolverines edged the Gophers, 74-69.
But for Robinson, routine leads to rhythm. So when Rutgers comes to town next Wednesday, don’t expect the sharpshooter to change his pregame activities. He’ll come out of Michigan’s tunnel, envision himself playing from the stands, make his shots and then hope for a performance more like the one against Maryland than the one against Minnesota.
Then he’ll head back into the tunnel and wait to do it for real.