PRINCETON — Colby Robbins really connected with assistant coach Danny Nelson in Robbins’ junior year on the Princeton Tiger basketball team. They had a lot in common.
Nelson was a top-flight golfer at PHS, named as the BCR Golfer of the Year (2006). Robbins was too, twice.
Before he starting coach at PHS, Nelson was a standout for the Tigers basketball team and lived for the game. Same for Robbins.
Nelson was the BCR Basketball Player of the Year, sharing honors in 2005-06.
And now Robbins adds that same honor to his resume, named as the 2016-17 BCR Basketball Player of the Year.
They are the only pair of athletes to have received both the BCR’s top golfer and basketball players of the year honors.
Robbins was looking forward to spending another year soaking in Nelson’s knowledge and love of the game. Sadly, that never was to be, Nelson was tragically killed in an auto accident last fall, leaving behind his wife, Rachel, and their infant daughter, Sadie.
“I looked up to coach Nelson in everything he did, since me and him were so similar and unique in the sports we played, and the personalities we carried,” Robbins said. “Before he passed, coach Nelson and I carried a close bond being on the bench and playing men’s league together and talking basketball and golf. He was a really good guy. He had a big influence on me.”
Nelson served as a source of inspiration for Robbins and the Tigers, who dedicated their season to their fallen coach, desiring to play the game the way he did.
“The whole team came together to dedicate the season to coach Nelson and playing for something. Every win we got, we wanted it to be for coach Nelson,” Robbins said.
Robbins proved to be the kind of player Tiger varsity coach Michael Fredericks wants to build his program around, though he admits he wasn’t sure what he had at first.
“When he came to PHS as a freshman, I had heard he was a solid golf player, but I did not know much about his basketball ability,” Fredericks said. “He proved to me that he could play during his sophomore season. His athleticism really impressed me. That was when I knew he could be something special.”
Fredericks said Robbins really matured into a great player at the varsity level, but it was not by accident. Before each season, Robbins met the challenge of joining the 5,000 Shot Club (made shots), no small feat Fredericks attests.
It was all the time in the empty gym the common fans doesn’t see that made Robbins the player he is, Fredericks said.
“His shot improved; he became stronger, and his work ethic improved,” Fredericks said. “Colby eats, sleeps and breathes basketball. I would most definitely consider him a ‘gym rat or a ‘basketball junkie.’ Kids like him do not come around very often. He is coachable, dedicated and plays the game the right way.
“He is a respectful, hard-working young man both on the court and in the classroom. He wants to be the best in everything that he does. I appreciate all that he has done for the basketball program. He has represented both PHS and the basketball program well over the past four years. I am proud to be his teacher and coach.
Nelson would have been mighty proud of the season his protege had. Robbins led the Tigers in nearly all shooting stats, including scoring (16.0 ppg), free throw percentage (75 percent) and 3-point percentage (40 percent).
The unanimous First Team Three Rivers All-Conference selection poured in a season-high 29 points in conference play against Kewanee. He also had 28 against BV and 24 against Byron, both home victories, but it was perhaps the L-P game that was most memorable.
He started the game out on fire, scoring all 18 of the Tigers’ first-quarter points and their first 21 of the night before the Cavaliers went to a full-out face guard.
“That was crazy. Didn’t think that was going to happen,” Robbins said. “Didn’t know I had that much at first. After the first quarter was up I looked up and I had 18 to L-P’s 15. I probably couldn’t have shot any better than that.”
Tiger fans will not soon forget the pair of what Fredericks describes as “nasty” dunks against St. Bede and Prophetstown that Robbins made off the glass on an assist by teammate Josh Reinhardt.
While Robbins has established himself as the top player in Bureau County, he’s striven to become the best in his family. He’s followed his dad, Scott, and uncles Tom, Tony, Doug, Jeff and Jimmy, who all played to some extent at PHS, but he thinks he’s got them.
“All their highlights and games, I’ve heard them,” Robbins said with a laugh. “Everyone will argue who the better athlete was. I don’t think it’s any question, I’ve kind of took that title from them.
“I’m unique in my own way. I’m a little taller and shooting guard and athleticism, maybe a little bit different. I think we all shot good, but I think I’m coming up on top.”
Scott said he and his brothers always gave the nod to Doug (PHS ‘85) being the best in their family. He thinks Doug would agree to pass those honors on to Colby.
“I think Colby’s goal was to top the uncles. They’re always ribbing him, but they were always supporting him,” Scott said.
Colby’s cousin, Chase Robbins, Tony’s son, was a starter for Normal Community’s 4A state squadin 2011.
Robbins has started to look ahead to his future prospects in basketball. He’s visited Marian University, a Division III school in Fondulac, Wis., and Elmhurst College early in the week. He was making plans to visit Aurora University by week’s end.
He said he would also like to golf, if time allowed him to. He wants to major in business with an eye on accounting.
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The Colby Robbins File:
• Unanimous Three Rivers East All-Conference
• Led Tigers in scoring (16.0 ppg), free throw percentage (75%) and 3-point percentage (40%)
• Named to the All-Tournament teams at Plano and Orion
• IBCA All-State Honorable Mention
• Voted to the Illinois Valley All-Star Game