By Nate Weitzer Globe Correspondent,Updated February 14, 2020, 8:43 a.m.
Mike Crotty, director of the Middlesex Magic AAU basketball program, stands between former pupils Duncan Robinson of the Heat and Pat Connaughton of the Bucks prior to the March 15 game between Miami and Milwaukee. Crotty is proud of the two players’ progress.
Mike Crotty, director of the Middlesex Magic AAU basketball program, stands between former pupils Duncan Robinson of the Heat and Pat Connaughton of the Bucks prior to the March 15 game between Miami and Milwaukee. Crotty is proud of the two players’ progress. COURTESY OF MIKE CROTTY
When Duncan Robinson was a skinny shooter in his Middlesex Magic AAU program, Mike Crotty saw a hard-working, high-character kid, but not necessarily an NBA standout.
But after a tumultuous journey, the 6-foot-7-inch guard from New Hampshire has emerged as one of the best shooters in the world, earning him a place in the NBA 3-point contest during All-Star Saturday Night at Chicago’s United Center.
“[Robinson] certainly continues to write a great story,” said Crotty, the director of Middlesex Magic and a former national champion at Williams College.
“If I told you he looked like a surefire NBA prospect, I’d be lying. But he just kept working every stop of the way and those stops helped shape his mentality, which is a much deserved level of confidence. Of all the players in the [3-point] contest he’s not the most well known, but I think he’s the best shooter in the world and he’s going to beat them all.”
Robinson started his high school career as a 5-foot-7-inch freshman at Governor’s Academy in Newburyport. After growing nearly a foot over four years, he led Phillips Exeter (N.H.) to a New England title during a post-graduate year. As a freshman at Williams, Robinson helped his team to a Division 3 national championship apperance. He transferred to Michigan ahead of his sophomore season and finished fourth in program history with 237 made 3-pointers over three seasons.
Duncan Robinson took an unlikely path from small-town New Hampshire to NBA starter
While he went undrafted in 2018, Robinson earned a two-way contract with the Miami Heat and set a franchise record for 3-pointers with Miami’s G-League affiliate in Sioux Falls. This season, he’s shooting 43.8 percent from deep for Miami with at least three 3-pointers in a franchise record 16 straight games heading into the break.
“Shooting has always been a big part of my game and I take a lot of pride in it,” said Robinson. “I think once the first ball goes in the air all of the nerves will go away and you just have to do what you do. I look forward to locking in and giving the best performance I can.”
Crotty believes that Robinson’s consistent mechanics, honed from offseason workouts in which he sought to make 1,600 shots a day, will give him the stamina to compete on Saturday night.
“You’re talking about a 6-7 guy with a high release, perfect mechanics, and a pretty effortless stroke,” said Crotty. “It can be really helpful in this format when you don’t tire.”
Robinson is the first New England native to compete in the 3-point contest since Matt Bonner in 2013, and his good friend, Milwaukee Bucks forward Pat Connaughton, is the first Massachusetts native to compete in the slam dunk contest.
What Arlington’s Pat Connaughton is thinking before his first NBA Slam Dunk Contest
The duo, who were one year apart during their AAU careers with Middlesex Magic, are relishing the chance to represent their region on the grand stage.
“With an event of this magnitude, there are always some nerves,” said Connaughton. “But to me, it’s more excitement. I often say that I’m hardly home, but always [representing Massachusetts]. I look forward to representing New England and hope to put on a show and win.”
After Saturday’s festivities, Connaughton and Crotty will fly home to run Connaughton’s annual skills clinic at his alma mater, St. John’s Prep. The clinic, serving 130 kids, donates all proceeds to Connaughton’s “With Us” Foundation, and is just one example of how the Arlington native makes time to connect with his community.
“[Pat] is a very loyal kid,” said Crotty. “Everywhere you go, he’s got hundreds of people and connections and he has a great ability to make people feel genuinely connected to him.”
“A lot of people are going to be rooting for him, and they’re going to be locked onto his shoulder as he’s soaring through the air Saturday night.”