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Published: July 17, 2009 09:46 pm   

BASKETBALL: GI's Wil Robinson heads into hometown HOF

By Jeff Sowa
Niagara Gazette

Wil Robinson is no stranger to halls of fame, already a member of the West Virginia University and the Western Pennsylvania halls.

But his induction today into the inaugural class of the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame in Uniontown, Pa., means much more to the Grand Island resident than the others.

“I feel really honored,” the legendary WVU player said Wednesday. “The other halls of fame were very important to me, but this one’s a little bit different, a little more special.

“Uniontown’s where I grew up at, it’s where people knew me when I was 2 or 3 years old.”

No longer spending his time on the court, and having chosen not to use what have been referred to as “leading-man looks” in a previously considered acting career, Robinson, 59, serves as district manager for 14 stores under The Shoe Show company in Western New York. He lives in Grand Island with Pam, his wife of 23 years, and his 18-year-old son, Lance, an all-Gazette player of the year in football at Grand Island High School.

Robinson was born in Uniontown, 52 miles outside of Pittsburgh. He lived in the Steel City from second to ninth grade, then went back to Uniontown to live with his father and pursue a life rooted in the hardwood.

Uniontown is where Robinson, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard, shined on the court at Laurel Highlands High School, which he led to a state championship his senior year in 1968, scoring 30 points a game while boasting All-American honors.

After pouring in 20 points in an impressive performance at the 1968 Dapper Dan Roundball Classic between Robinson’s Pennsylvania All-Stars and the United States All-Stars, the sharp-shooter went on to play at WVU.

“I was recruited very highly and had at least 250 offers from colleges all over the country,” Robinson said. “I could’ve played anywhere, but I chose West Virginia because it had a good tradition, and it was close to my family.”

Robinson was named an All-American his senior season in 1972 with the Mountaineers, putting up 29.4 points per game, the highest single-season scoring average in school history. He tallied 1,850 points in his career, which is third at WVU only to Jerry West’s 2,309 and Rod Hundley’s 2,180.

Robinson left school early for a brief stint in the American Basketball Association. He played a portion of the 1973-74 season, averaging 8.6 points per contest in 45 games with the Memphis Tams. Citing troubles with the “politics of the league,” he chose to give up basketball and earned his bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1975 at WVU, later earning his master’s in industrial safety in 1984, the year he moved to Grand Island.

“I didn’t want to be a basketball bum, going here, going there,” he said. “So I went back to school.”

George Von Benko, executive co-chair of the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame and longtime friend of Robinson, indicated that Robinson is “very deserving” to go in the inaugural class along with such men as former NFL running back Chuck Muncie and quarterback John Lujack.

“Wil’s number was the first basketball number retired at Laurel Highlands, and he’s never forgotten where he came from,” Von Benko said. “Wil has a very pleasant demeanor and it’s hard not to like him. He’s just that kind of guy.”

As for his plans after The Shoe Show, Robinson would like to get back into coaching. He spent part of his final year at WVU as a graduate assistant coach, and is yearning to get back on the bench.

“When I retire I’m going to try to go out to Tonawanda or Niagara Falls or Grand Island — somewhere — to coach,” Robinson said. “Not for the money, but for the sheer fun of it, trying to help some kids down the road.”