Story and photos by Devin Millington, July 2017 Issue.
Danielle Robinson, or DRob, is one of the most noteworthy additions to the Phoenix Mercury’s roster this season, and she’s bringing a lot of sizzle to a team in need of her kind of heat.
The Mercury have not had a point guard with her speed, drive and dish abilities or defensive tenacity, ever. As Diana Taurasi put it, “We’ve always had a slow white girl, like me, running the point.”
And by bringing the heat on the court, DRob frees up Taurasi, Griner – the only players returning from last year– and everyone else to do what they do best. A month into the season, the Mercury is already rising as the nearly all-new team seems to be gelling at a rapid pace.
The Early Years
Robinson was born in San Jose, Calif., into an athletic family. Her father, Albert, played some football and both her mother, Denise, and brother, Jonathan, played basketball at Hampton College in Virginia.
“Athletics are in my genes,” Robinson asserted. “I have an older brother and basically whatever he did, I wanted to do. And basketball was the first sport I saw him play and so I followed in his footsteps. I went to all his practices when I was young and actually jumped into them – no matter how small I was – and just fell in love with the game.”
After excelling at basketball in high school, universities started recruiting Robinson, which afforded her the ability to travel to several college towns throughout the country to see which one would suit her best. She ultimately chose the University of Oklahoma and wore the Sooners uniform from 2007 to 2011.
More than OK
“Everybody talks about this feeling you get when you know it’s the right school and when I stepped on campus, I knew Oklahoma was it,” she said. “The vibe there was amazing!”
Robinson found that the university not only provided a positive environment for her basketball skills to grow, but also her mind.
“I got a lot of support academically. I loved how much help we got and how organized it was,” she added.
One aspect of her decision-making process, Robinson admitted, was the fact that the team was graduating two senior point guards – an opportunity that worked in her favor on the court.
Robinson didn’t waste any time racking up awards and setting records at the collegiate level – bookended by being named Big 12 Freshman of the Year and earning the NCAA Today’s Top VIII honors. Robinson also finished her college career as one of only four players in NCAA history to cross the 2,000-point, 700-assist and 300-steal benchmarks in a career. She was also the top scoring guard in Oklahoma’s history.
In 2011, the San Antonio Silver Stars drafted Robinson in the first round with the sixth pick overall and she immediately made an impact on the team as well as the league. Her rookie season, she was unanimously selected to the WNBA All-Rookie Team and she set the franchise rookie record with 36 points late in her first season. In 2012, she earned WNBA All-Defensive second team honors and was named to the Silver Stars All-Decade Team. In 2013, she was named to the Western Conference All-Star team and was the WNBA assist leader.
But it’s the relationships Robinson built during her time in San Antonio that she cherishes the most.
“I learned so much from Tully Bevilaqua and Becky Hammond in my rookie year,” she said. “Also, I’ve built basically a second family in San Antonio. I was there for six years. My church home, outside of my California church home, is there. To this day, I still have relationships with the fans, too.”
On the other hand, Robinson admits that not everything was great in San Antonio.
“Every organization has its ups and downs,” she explained. “The worst part was not being treated like the Spurs, because they get a lot of stuff and we weren’t given that same consideration – and that was unfortunate.
The Globetrotting Guard
Most players in the WNBA also play overseas, and Robinson is no exception.
“Until you start earning a veteran’s salary in the WNBA, I think it’s hard to live on just that,” she explained. “Stack it all up, as much as you can.”
While she acknowledged that playing overseas initially is a necessary evil for financial reasons, she admitted the global game comes with certain perks, such as the ability to “travel the world on someone else’s dime.”
Robinson has competed in Europe the past five seasons: first with Maccabi Ramat Hen (Israel), then with Tarsus Belediyesi (Turkey) and with ZVVZ USK Prague (Czech Republic), where she helped her squad capture the 2015 EuroLeague championship. After beginning the 2015-2016 season with USK, she sustained an injury that caused her to sit out the 2016 WNBA season. Upon full recovery, she returned to Mersin Büyükşehir Belediyesi S.K. (Turkey) ahead of her 2017 Mercury training camps. Still, she recognizes the toll this schedule takes on players.
“Playing overseas is tough. After playing four grueling months in the WNBA, heading overseas and having to participate in ‘two-a-days’ is tough on the body. Thus, playing year-round, year after year really starts to take its toll. More and more players are taking time off because the year-round schedule is so brutal.”
Welcome To Phoenix
To say that Robinson is happy to be in Phoenix is an understatement, and the team is equally happy that she’s here.
After being top dog in San Antonio for six years, one might assume that coming to a team like Phoenix, with two top dogs, there’s no room for a third. However, Robinson brought the same swagger and mindset that’s served her so well thus far, and it was welcomed by all.
“I am so honored to be here! It’s such a blessing,” she beamed. “Sandy told me not to change anything: ‘do what you do and be who you are.’ After I was traded, Taurasi told me ‘I want you to lead this team,’ and so there’s nothing for me to change. I think I make it easier for both of them.”
The addition of Robinson – not only an outstanding player, but an exceptional human who is devout in her beliefs, , infectious with her laughter and undeniable as a leader – promises a defensive tenacity the team was desperately in need of as it continues its quest for a fourth championship title this summer.