GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Craig Robinson has a direct line to a power couple who often share their opinion of the Knicks with him.
Robinson, in his first season as the Knicks vice president of player development and G League operations, is the brother of Michelle Obama. Robinson said former President Barack Obama and Michelle follow the Knicks now.
“They are absolute Knicks fans but they are both Chicago Bulls fans,” Robinson told a small group of reporters Wednesday at the team’s practice facility. “They are Knicks fans. They pay attention. So I get critiqued by the former President of the United States and the former First Lady.”
Converting the two former Chicago residents to Knicks fans probably was easier than what Robinson was charged to do by team president Steve Mills. Robinson, who played with Mills at Princeton, is in charge of making the Knicks’ players better.
Mills hired Robinson away from the Bucks over the summer to run the Knicks’ developmental program.
Robinson said what the Knicks are doing is “innovating” and “transformative.” Robinson likened it to working in “a forward-thinking” company such as “Nike or Google.” But other than saying the Knicks are combining on-court development with off-court growth, Robinson wouldn’t divulge any details or specifics about it or his work with any players.
“If you look at how things are done around the league, no one is actually trying to do this the way we’re trying to do it,” Robinson said. “So it’s also got that aspect of being able to do something that is completely new and could be transformative in the industry.”
Robinson, the former coach at Oregon State, referred to it as “vertically integrating.” Everyone is involved from top to bottom and there is no separation between the Knicks and their G League team. But Robinson isn’t hands-on. He delegates responsibilities to Jeff Hornacek, the assistant coaches and the training staff
“The whole building is part of the player development process rather just a small cadre of individuals whose specific focus is player development,” Robinson said. “It’s hard to have just a small group work on something where the measurement is broader.”
Player development is a critical part of the NBA, and especially for the rebuilding Knicks. They’re a team that’s filled with young players who are trying to make it in the league, let alone be impactful.
The Knicks have lost 16 of their last 17 games while giving the younger players more minutes. But the organization hopes the success of the Westchester Knicks — they clinched a G League playoff spot and all five of the opening-night starting unit have seen time in the NBA — is an indication that Robinson has them headed in the right direction. This summer will be critical and telltale in the growth and development of the players as Robinson can fully implement his vision and plan.
“There’s a lot of different aspects to the game,” he said. “Not just shooting the ball, not just dribbling the ball. There’s basketball IQ, there’s defense, there’s things that are hard to measure quantitatively that I think players can get better at with the right instruction. And just view it as an all-inclusive basketball skill development
“I really like the direction we’re going. I like the culture we’re building, the philosophy we’re following, the strategy.’’
Robinson, who was a bonds trader before he got into coaching, said part of the off-court development includes focusing with the players on “financial literacy, critical thinking and career planning.” He said it’s also important to build that off-the-court connection with the players, which is a big part of leadership he learned from his brother-in-law.
“The most I learned from him is how to deal with my sister — she’s not the easiest,” Robinson said jokingly. “But what I learned from him . . . is the best way to help the people you want to influence is by having a true and genuine connection with them.
“The reason why he was such a good, in my opinion, leader, is because people felt connected to him. That was one of those things where as a coach I knew you had to be connected with the players before any kind of X and O’s because I never had jobs where you could get all the recruits. So you don’t get the best players, so you have to develop them. And the best way I found to develop them is to have this wonderful relationship that had nothing to do with basketball. And then I could get them to do anything for you.”
Notes & quotes: Tim Hardaway Jr. (sprained right ankle) did not practice and is questionable for Thursday’s game against the 76ers . . . Lance Thomas (personal reasons) was not with the team due to a family matter.