UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Leslie Robinson joined an exclusive club when she was drafted by the New York Liberty last month.
The Princeton star is just the third player with Ivy League experience taken in the WNBA draft, joining former Harvard standouts Allison Feaster and Temi Fagbenle. While Robinson is 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.
Coming from a conference known more for its academic achievements, Robinson is one of four Ivy Leaguers on training camp rosters this spring. She’s joined by Princeton’s Blake Dietrick (Atlanta), Fagbenle (Minnesota) and Columbia’s Camille Zimmerman (Minnesota).
Dietrick played in three games in 2016 for Seattle, and Fagbenle appeared in 21 contests last season for the reigning WNBA champion Lynx. Fagbenle played for the Crimson before finishing her basketball career at USC after 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 for the NBA, was the first Ivy Leaguer in the WNBA. She helped No. 16 seed Harvard upset No. 1 seed Stanford in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament and was drafted fifth by the Los Angeles Sparks.
“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 recently talked to Leslie Robinson, whose aunt is former first lady Michelle Obama, 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. She was watching 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. Former Oregon State men’s basketball coach Craig Robinson, who is now the Knicks vice president of player development and G League operations, missed it because the television in his apartment didn’t have ESPNU. That channel carried the second and third rounds of the WNBA draft.
“I got a call from my wife who was in Milwaukee, screaming ‘Leslie got drafted’. My eight-year old was also screaming,” Craig Robinson said. “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 Princeton grad and former fourth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers. He got a text from his brother-in-law — former President Barack Obama. An avid basketball fan, Obama went to Princeton’s 2015 NCAA Tournament game in Maryland during Leslie Robinson’s freshman year.
“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 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 while growing up in Arizona. She became a Lynx fan 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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