Robinson family has close basketball bond

SPRINGFIELD — Pickup basketball games at the Robinson household were just as intense as you'd expect from a family that is synonymous with Berkshire County hoops.

The eldest daughters, Sam and McKenzie, would face off against younger sister Riley, as their father Bill served as Riley's teammate and referee for these driveway clashes.

Bill spent 25 years as the boys basketball coach at Hoosac Valley. Sam was a solid post player for the Hurricanes, and McKenzie guided the 'Canes to three consecutive Western Massachusetts titles.

And despite coming from a storied basketball lineage, Riley did not grow up as coddled basketball royalty. In fact, she credits the healthy competition with her sisters for helping her develop into Hoosac's hard-nosed, freshman sixth man.

"Definitely the elbows were thrown," McKenzie said of the playing against her younger sister. "I never wanted her to get it easy. Me and my sister would team up on her, she would always have my dad, there would always be fouls called on me and my sister. We never eased up on her.

"Again, it all comes down to this: We have to prepare her and we know what's best for her. Honestly, as a little freshman, I was never this physical, ever."

Riley said her sisters are some of her biggest supporters. From sending helpful texts before the game, to working together in the gym. The groundwork for her growth during her freshman year was laid through the tough love and dedication of her family.

"I've always wanted to beat my sisters at being better," the youngest Robinson sister said. "We'd always just battle it out and fight until my dad was like 'OK, girls.' I've always wanted to beat them, and be better than them and make them proud."

McKenzie's experience as a point guard at Hoosac and now as a second-year member of the MCLA basketball makes her a valuable resource for Riley. Not only do the two play the same position, but McKenzie said they share similar playing styles as well, with people often calling the duo twins when they're together. They also share the same passion for winning, however, Riley's developed a different approach to basketball than her sister.

"We kid around a lot," McKenzie said. "I always tell her I'm the best, you can't beat me in this, and she turns around and she doesn't really get cocky. She says to me, 'Kenz, it's not a competition. I'm just going to go out there and play my heart out.'

"Honestly, I wish I had that. I always looked ahead. I was always like, 'I've got to get a championship. I wanna beat my dad, I wanna beat my dad.' Riley is more about her team. More about, 'how can I improve? How can I get better to help everyone else around me?' Which will help her go far in her career as a basketball player."

McKenzie added that she makes a great effort to attend as many of Riley's games. The bond is important to the family, and with Bill stepping down as the head coach of the Hurricanes boys last season, he too can now attend more of his children's games.

"You struggle with not being out there and not being part of it," he said on retiring from coaching at Hoosac. "You miss the kids, you miss practice. Definitely miss games like this, the Hoosac-Drury quarterfinal, you miss that stuff. But being a dad is more important than being a coach down on the floor. Running around watching them play more and being at their games. ... I missed Kenzie's last year a little bit, but this year I was able to see a lot of her games. [I] see all of Riley's games, basically.

"It's different. ... It's something you do. You make sacrifices in life and it's the sacrifice I chose to make right now to go watch my kids."

The man that roamed the sidelines in his trademark red sweater vest now sits high in the bleachers at basketball games. He attends as many games as he can, but now he's there strictly as a father and not a coach, even if it's hard to fight his coaching instincts at times.

"I don't really get involved too much with them during the season," he said. "They've got a great coaching staff. They tell them what they want. I may talk a little bit about different things with fundamentals: You could do this better if you did this or did that. But I let them go."

The elder Robinson now gets his coaching fix coaching Riley as the head man of the Berkshire Mountaineers AAU team. He said Riley will work on becoming a better scorer while getting stronger during the offseason.

During the Division III state championship game against Archbishop Williams, Riley was the first player off the bench. After being a go-to player during youth ball, Robinson said she adapted well to a role off the bench.

"It kind of came natural," she said. "I knew we had scorers on the team. We had Fallon [Field], and Lexi [Mercier], and Allie [Mendel] and K [Frederick], we have all of them. So I know I have to give it to them. I rebound and just try to do the little things that help them."

Even against the more experienced and stronger Bishops, Robinson continued to play with the heart of a much older player. She showed the toughness instilled in her as a child. It's toughness that she'll need as she continues to create her own page in the Hoosac history books.

"I'm so proud of her, she didn't need that starting spot," McKenzie said. "Hoosac needed the sixth man to give that spark and that's what she did. She didn't do the scoring, but she did all of the little things.

"Her whole life she had to be the girl that scored. The girl that made all the plays. When high school came I said to my dad, 'I don't know how she's going to deal with it. She's young, she's not ready for high school,' and my dad said, 'don't worry, she'll be fine.'

"She went on the court and she played her game. She played the game my dad has taught her whole life. She played the game like she's playing against her sisters. She didn't care [about the opponent], which is awesome."

Reach sports writer Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252 or @TheAkeemGlaspie.


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