Jaxson Robinson remembers getting hammered while defending a particular ball screen. He was still at Ada High School in Oklahoma then, preparing for a college basketball journey that would eventually see him go from Texas A&M to Arkansas and then eventually BYU.
But the person who set the immovable screen wasn’t one of Robinson’s teammates or coaches or trainers. It was a member of the WNBA’s Dallas Wings.
One summer, Robinson was in Dallas to visit his aunt, Crystal Robinson, a former Wings assistant coach who now has the same job with the Phoenix Mercury. She brought him to a Wings practice and suggested he join in on a scrimmage.
Robinson never forgot the experience.
“Those girls are going at it,” Robinson said. “So just kind of getting out there and doing that, having them rough me up while I was still young, it was good for me and I think kind of helped me [get] where I am now.”
Women on the court were crucial to Robinson’s development.
Robinson’s mother, Brandi McWilliams, and his aunt both had successful college careers at Southeastern Oklahoma State. Crystal Robinson also played in the WNBA for the New York Liberty and Washington Mystics before starting her coaching career.
From a very early age, Robinson showed a knack for the game. McWilliams said she bought him a Little Tikes adjustable hoop when he was 1, and his first-ever shot had “perfect form.” From that point on, basketball and Robinson were inseparable.
That’s where McWilliams and Crystal Robinson put their stamps on Robinson’s development. His aunt coached him on a travel team for three summers to “toughen him up a little bit” and constantly had him compete against older players.
McWilliams said that, genetically, Robison wasn’t the fastest or most athletic player growing up. So in his development, the focus was on fundamentals such as shooting form, footwork and sharpening his basketball IQ.
“More than anything, the most that he’s learned from me is that he learned to play basketball on the ground first,” Crystal Robinson said. “I think Jaxson has a really solid base of real strong fundamentals because he learned a lot of things from a girl.”
Robinson so far in the 2022-23 BYU season has shown that he’s not afraid to shoot the ball. He took seven shots in the win over Idaho State, and 10 in the loss to San Diego State. He’s averaging 4.5 points in 21 minutes per game.
Robinson still takes advice from his mother and aunt. He enters the locker room after games to text messages from them saying what they liked and what he can improve on.
For instance, Robinson missed a dunk in each of first two games in a Cougars uniform. Against Idaho State, he threw a one-hander down with authority. His mom texted him about that, too.
“She actually texted me after this past game against Idaho State and said she was a little nervous when I went up for that last dunk,” Robinson said. “She didn’t know if I was going to make it.”
Back when she played, Crystal Robinson was known for her elite shooting stroke. She used to beat her nephew at shooting games when he was young. Robinson still seeks advice from his aunt when he needs tips on his own shot.
“When my shot might be messed up a little bit, I can always just call my aunt and she can immediately tell me what’s wrong with it,” Robinson said.
With what McWilliam’s knows about her son’s game, she feels there are ways he can help BYU that he hasn’t yet shown much. She said Robinson has a talent for getting to spots in the midrange and shooting efficiently from those areas.
And with BYU coach Mark Pope’s emphasis on “disruptive defense” this season, Robinson may be able to help there, too.
“I don’t think Jaxson realizes what a good defender he is because of this length,” McWilliams said. “His feet aren’t quick and he’s not big or strong or anything like that. But he can guard one through four, I feel like, just based on the length he has and just how he can use his body to get there.”
The BYU women’s team has had male practice players for several decades, and they have said how much they came to respect female players through that experience. Through his mother, aunt and the female players he knows and has played against, Robinson has developed that same respect.
“Me personally, I got a lot of respect for all those female athletes,” Robinson said. “I don’t think they get the credit they deserve. They’re all tough. It’s not as easy as it looks.”