Stories From America, Pt. 2: Justin Robinson Thrives In A Giant’s Game

Stories From America, Pt. 2: Justin Robinson Thrives In A Giant’s Game

Match TV and Viasat Sport commentator Viktor Shestopalov continues with part two of his series on the VTB League’s most fascinating foreign players, profiling Avtodor’s 5 ft 8 in star playmaker, Justin Robinson. 


There are two official types of basketball in the modern game: classic five-on-five and three-on-three streetball. Years ago, however, there was a short-lived attempt to build a league based on height restrictions. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the World Basketball League (WBL) only allowed players under the height of 6 ft 5 in (196 cm) to compete and managed to attract high-level talent like Mario Elie, John Starks and Igors Miglinieks. 

Suppose the league was still around today and someone offered Avtodor guard Justin Robinson a spot in the competition? I’m certain he’d be offended, despite standing only 5 ft 8 in (173 cm) tall, undersized even by WBL standards! For years, Robinson has proved his height is no barrier, and made the step-up to pro basketball look easy, even though the majority of players are over 6 ft 6 in (200 cm) in the VTB United League. 

Avtodor was delighted to sign Robinson over the summer. Though the 22-year-old Monmouth grad and New York native wasn’t selected in the 2017 NBA draft, he put up big numbers in the Summer League with the Heat and made himself attractive to pro clubs around the world. 

After failing to ink an NBA deal with the Heat, Robinson moved quickly, signing with Avtodor to play in the VTB United League, one of Europe’s toughest competitions. 

Robinson has had lofty ambitions since he was young. As a high-schooler, he shot down Division III offers, certain he could play Division I basketball. His confidence paid off when Monmouth’s coach decided to trust his eyes and throw out the scouting reports and analytics. King Rice fell in love with Robinson’s fiery brand of basketball from the beginning, offering the undersized guard a Division I scholarship and the chance to compete at the highest level.

Robinson repaid King, and then some, twice winning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference player of the year and getting named to the all-conference team three times. The numbers in his senior season were spectacular: 19.7 points and nearly five assists per game, while shooting 40% from beyond the arc. He goes down as one of the best players in Monmouth history, and now he’s got a chance to build his legacy as a pro player, starting in Saratov.

Americans have a saying: “To play above your height.” It’s an ideal description of the 5 ft 8 in Robinson. When you see him for the first time, he could easily be mistaken for a high-school kid or one of the ball boys. But after he goes coast to coast a few times for easy layups, it sets in pretty quickly that Robinson belongs on the court. 

Robinson’s dribbling technique is incredible to watch. It’s almost like he’s rolling the ball along the court, instead of dribbling. Given how close he is to the floor, it’s almost impossible to pick his pocket.

Robinson’s ability to distribute, meanwhile, is on another level. He isn’t the flashiest passer; his focus is on getting the ball securely to his man. In other words, Justin Robinson is the ideal throwback point guard. 

Avtodor boss Evgeny Pashutin, a former star playmaker, can appreciate better than most what he brings to the table. The collaboration between Robinson and Pashutin could prove dynamic over the course of the United League season.

Robinson can also help Pashutin out with the scoring. When needed, he’s able to drive the ball and slip into the lane for a layup. Unlike many, Robinson doesn’t depend on the floater to score against bigger defenders. He’s more like a mini-Russell Westbrook, using his impressive vertical and ability to hang in the air and outmaneuver the defense.

Of course, there is one drawback to Robinson’s size: He’s too short to defend against bigger guards on the blocks. On the other hand, there aren’t many backcourt players in the VTB League, with the exception of a few Americans, who can play with their backs to the basket and score consistently. Meanwhile, Robinson’s size gives him an advantage in defending against the pick-and-roll. Unlike a bigger defender, Robinson has plenty of ways to slip through screens and stay glued to his man…

NBA legends like Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb were always terrific examples of someone without typical NBA genes could have an outsized impact on the game. Justin Robinson fits in the same category. His confidence and talent should be an example for young kids everywhere. Yes, height makes a difference and offers certain advantages on the court. Basketball is not the world’s most democratic sport. But look at Justin Robinson: Despite standing 5 ft 8 in tall, he’s playing in the VTB United League, one of the top basketball leagues in the world, which means you can too! 

Viktor Shestopalov