At Lake Hamilton High School basketball practice in Pearcy, Ark., they play a game called Free Throw Golf. Recently, FAU Class of 2024 recruit Ty Robinson played a round in 17-under: He hit all 18 free throws and swished 17 without hitting rim. Impressive? Yes, but maybe not as much as his play in H-O-R-S-E.
“My coach will probably be mad I’m telling you this,” Robinson said, “but I beat him with a hook shot 3 about a year ago and won’t play him again.”
Picture yourself trying a hook shot from behind the 3-point arc, then think about this: The odds of the confluence of events taking place that brought Robinson to FAU are about the same odds as you (or anyone besides Ty Robinson) nailing a hook shot 3.
- The 6-foot-4 guard hadn’t gained much Division I recruiting traction before this spring—despite landing a Division II offer after his first varsity high school appearance as a freshman—because he’d played only one previous summer on a high-level circuit, and for a program that emphasizes teamwork over Individual showcasing.
- Dusty May of FAU was blown away by Robinson’s signature recruiting-circuit game this spring after he and many of the 60-some other D-1 coaches there had shown up mainly to watch the other team.
- FAU’s ball-sharing, four-guard style and credit-sharing, family culture mirrors his own high school experience, right down to unexpectedly advancing to the state finals last year and beginning this season highly ranked.
- And—get this!—May got a surprise endorsement from Robinson’s neighbors who, it turns out, had been great friends of May’s family years ago in Ruston, La., while Dusty coached at Louisiana Tech.
“We had some built-in advantages,” May said.
May and FAU capitalized in a quick-turnaround recruitment that landed what Robinson’s high school coach, Scotty Pennington, called “the best-kept secret in the country.”
More from Pennington: “Ty loves the way FAU plays. The system here is very similar, where we play four guards around one big. The ball moves, not a lot of iso ball, not a lot of one-on-one. We score off of player and ball movement. It was a perfect match.”
May could not agree more. Three times in a five-minute discussion of Robinson, May used the term “natural fit.”
Robinson is a proficient 3-point shooter, but that’s only a part of his game. He’s also an inventive scorer, able to get off a variety of different shots from a variety of different angles and on the move. The 3-point hook shot was not exactly all luck. “I work out very creatively,” he said. “A lot of kids make fun of the weird shots that I hit. I work on a lot of release points to simulate weird situations in games.”
Some in Arkansas say Robinson’s passion for basketball calls to mind home-state NBA hero Austin Reaves, Pennington said—a connection he said is strengthened by friendships between the two mothers, who were long-time teammates on a traveling softball team. But Dedra Robinson also has something to do with any comparison he son may draw as a shooter. A career girls basketball coach—now assistant coach at Lake Hamilton—she “taught me pretty much everything about shooting the ball,” Ty Robinson said.
What caught May’s eye was not only Robinson’s shooting but also—maybe more so—his rebounding. FAU’s system is dependent on guards rebounding the ball to begin fast breaks. Robinson said he’s always been able to hold his own when rebounding against taller players. That came from growing up playing against friends of his older brother, Cade.
“I was always playing older kids when I was younger,” he said. “I never played my grade (level), so that allowed me to be a better rebounder, playing bigger, stronger kids. So I developed my skills a lot faster than the rest of the kids.”
Robinson gave May a glimpse of his shooting and rebounding prowess in the first minute of the game that changed his recruiting fortunes. The FAU coaches had come to Wichita, Kan., for a NXTPRO circuit tournament in late April. It was the first spring evaluation period, the first time college coaches are allowed to watch and recruit players. May and Todd Abernethy were evaluating players on both teams but had planned to focus on 1Family, a powerhouse Florida team featuring several players familiar to them.
The 1Family lineup included not only 6-foot-10, five-star eventual Georgia signee Asa Newell, but also Robinson’s fellow future FAU recruit, Lorenzo Cason of Lakeland Victory Christian. The FAU coaches weren’t as familiar with the opponent from Fayetteville, Ark., AAO Flight. But the spring-summer basketball basketball world was starting to take notice.
“At that time, we were the last two undefeated teams in the circuit,” Robinson said. “(My team) already played two or three tournaments and knocked off some name teams. This was the real test we were looking for. Everyone came to watch that game.”
It was the biggest NXTRPO crowd he’d ever seen. “Two sides of the court filled up—the balcony, all the way to the top. This was the game everyone was looking forward to. The energy. … It was special. That’s the best way I can describe it,” he said.
Robinson was not feeling 100 percent. He was wearing two braces after tweaking both ankles. But the natural athlete in him—he was state high school tennis singles runner-up as a junior—took over, not to mention the natural competitor. “I was hobbling around, but I remember getting into the flow of the game right away,” he said. “Just the way it felt, I knew it was going to be a good night.”
A couple of possessions into the game, Robinson found himself racing ahead of the pack in transition, catching a long pass, raising up from the right corner and swishing a 3.
Moments later, he was scrapping against bigger players under the Florida basket for a loose ball after a teammate’s miss and laying it in.
Just like that, he won May’s attention. He went on from there to score 18 first-half points and lead his team to a surprising victory. “Within the hour,” Pennington said, his phone buzzed. It was FAU assistant coach Abernethy. “Coach Abernethy called me and said, ‘Who in the world is Ty Robinson?’ "
Pennington was uniquely positioned to explain. He’s Robinson’s neighbor. His son and Robinson have been friends and teammates all their lives. He coached Robinson in travel ball and early AAU. As head high school coach, he promoted Robinson to the varsity as a ninth grader, watched him score 17 and grab 11 rebounds in his debut—after which he received his first scholarship offer. Last year, he coached Robinson and the Lake Hamilton Wolves to their first Class 5A state title game in 25 years, where they lost to a bigger, stronger team with four 2023 SEC and Pac-12 football recruits.
“He’s always been this guy.” Pennington said. “We’ve been screaming this from the mountaintops for years.”
May and Abernethy believed him. They called Robinson while he and his mother were driving home from the tournament.
“And what stood out was our first conversation,” May recalled. “This was following our (NCAA) run. I asked if he’d seen us play, and he said, yes, and I asked what stood out, and the first thing that came out his mouth was the teamwork, the way we shared the ball, the toughness we played with.”
That was all they had to hear. But Robinson soon was hearing more about May, and from an unexpected source. As word spread through the neighborhood that FAU had offered a scholarship, nobody was happier than a family that lives in a house between the Robinsons and Penningtons. That family knew the Mays well from their days in Louisiana. Their children grew up as best friends and attended Sunday school together.
“When (that neighbor) saw that FAU made an offer, she was all over that,” Pennington said. “She was, ‘Oh my God, they’re awesome people. We know them. You’ll love them.' ”
Was that a factor in Robinson’s decision? “That did help for sure,” Pennington said.
Robinson, whose only other scholarship offer had come from Central Arkansas during the school year, made a few campus visits on an in-season AAU break. His experience on campus in Boca Raton only reinforced his impression of May, his staff and their program. “When I went to FAU, I felt the friendliness and family-ness and decided to commit before playing more events.” He said.
After getting to know May, Abernethy and others, Pennington wasn’t surprised.
“I’m floored by the kind of people they are,” he said. “In Division I, it’s hard to find people as genuine, just really good guys.”
Maybe, but they’re also competitive. Maybe Ty Robinson will take that into consideration next year before challenging them to a game of H-O-R-S-E.