UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Leslie Robinson joined an exclusive club when she was drafted by the New York Liberty last month.
The former Princeton star is just the third player with Ivy League experience to be taken in the WNBA draft, joining Allison Feaster and Temi Fagbenle. While Robinson’s a longshot to make the Liberty, she’s happy to have the opportunity.
“It’s been great to learn from everyone and has been a really good experience so far,” she said.
A conference that has been known for its academic achievements more than its athletic ones, has been starting to get more well-known on the women’s basketball court. Robinson is one of four Ivy Leaguers on training camp rosters this spring. She’s joined by fellow Princetonian Blake Dietrick (Atlanta), Harvard’s Fagbenle (Minnesota) and Columbia’s Camille Zimmerman (Minnesota).
Dietrick played in three games in 2016 for Seattle while Fagbenle appeared in 21 contests last season for the reigning WNBA champion Lynx. She starred at Harvard before finishing up her basketball career at USC when she exhausted her Ivy League eligibility.
“The Ivy League definitely has gotten better,” New York Liberty coach Katie Smith said. “They are clearly smart players and while they may not be the most athletic, they figure out other ways to make up for it.”
Feaster, who now works at the NBA, was the first Ivy Leaguer in the WNBA. She was drafted fifth by the Los Angeles Sparks in 1998 and has been proud to see other Ivy players get a chance.
“It’s a source of pride whenever you see fellow Ivy Leaguers,” said Feaster, who played in the WNBA until 2009. “It’s such a grind to be a student-athlete first and foremost and you understand a lot of these students have work study jobs too as well as the academics. They aren’t the typical Division I student athlete by a long shot.”
Feaster said she talked to Leslie Robinson last month about playing professionally.
“Playing professionally isn’t the traditional track of an Ivy graduate,” Feaster said. “What I learned playing basketball domestically and internationally are skills and tools I use on a day-to-day basis.”
Robinson had no idea whether she’d get drafted with so few Ivy Leaguers getting their name called. She was watching it with her Princeton teammates and started to cry when her name appeared on the screen in the third round.
While she was fortunate to see her name on TV, her dad wasn’t so lucky. Craig Robinson, who is the Knicks vice president of player development and G League operations, missed it because the television in his apartment didn’t have ESPNU which carried the second and third rounds of the draft.
“I got a call from my wife who was in Milwaukee, screaming ‘Leslie got drafted’. My eight-year old was also screaming,” said Craig Robinson. “The entire Liberty organization is keeping their eye out on her which really means a lot.”
Robinson’s wife wasn’t the only one who reached out to the former fourth draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers. He got a text from his brother-in-law — President Barack Obama. The avid basketball fan, who went to an NCAA Tournament game at Maryland when Princeton played there during Leslie Robinson’s freshman year, was well aware of his niece’s achievement.
“The President called me once he heard and he must have been watching on TV,” Craig Robinson said. “He texted and called me before I could text him. My sister was on vacation out of the country and I didn’t talk to her until she got back.”
Leslie Robinson played Monday night in the Liberty’s exhibition loss to Dallas. She had two points, two rebounds and drew a charge.
While it may be difficult for Robinson and Zimmerman to make a WNBA roster, they are both gaining valuable experience.
“I’m trying to take in as much as I can,” Zimmerman said. “Trying to be a sponge.”
Zimmerman admits she was a Mercury fan growing up since she’s from Arizona. She became a fan of the Lynx when the team played an exhibition game at Columbia her sophomore season.
“When they came to school that’s when I started really watching them,” she said.
Now she’s a member of the defending champions’ roster, playing alongside Lindsay Whalen, Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus.
“I can picture myself as a kid on the sidelines watching WNBA games and now I’m shooting with them and actually playing with them,” Zimmerman said. “I’m taking it one day at a time, I know the Lynx have a stacked roster and chances are slim, but I’m going to make the most of my chance.”
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