From Chicago to Corvallis
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 02:02
Most college basketball coaches meet their players while they are in high school. They court them and try to woo them to come play at their university like they were trying to convince the prettiest girl at the ball to dance with them.
This was not the case for head coach Craig Robinson and Ahmad Starks.
The Oregon State men’s basketball head coach has known his starting point guard since he was in the third grade.
Robinson and Starks first met when Starks played soccer with Robinson’s son back in their mutual hometown of Chicago more than 10 years ago.
“That was a really long time ago,” Starks said. “That was before I knew him as Coach.”
Robinson and Starks’ dad actually played basketball against each other in high school in Chicago — Robinson at Mount Carmel High School and Don Starks at Hales Franciscan High School — but did not reconnect until elementary school soccer matches amongst their sons brought them together.
Robinson said when Starks was in high school they would inevitably see each other because they were family friends, but he didn’t use those mutual family get-togethers as an excuse to put the recruiting moves on Starks because it would have been disingenuous.
“When he was getting into high school I could tell he was going to be a college player, I just didn’t know what level,” Robinson said. “When I was [head coach] at Brown University, he was starting out at high school and I knew his level was going to be higher than the Ivy League. I just didn’t know that I would be at Oregon State and would be able to recruit him until it all came together.”
As soon as Robinson got hired as the OSU head coach in the spring of 2008, he began recruiting the talented Starks. Starks committed unofficially in August of 2008 and he went on to lead his school, Whitney Young High School, to the 2009 Illinois 4A state title. Starks credited Robinson as the final deciding factor in his decision to come to Oregon State from Chicago.
“Home is a long ways away,” Starks said. “So talking to Coach, he knows what it’s like to be away from home, so he’s definitely something like a father figure.”
Now in his third year at OSU, this season has been an inconsistent one for Starks. He had the best game of his career in the second game of the year — scoring 33 points on 11-for-21 shooting to go along with five rebounds and five assists against New Mexico State. His two games after that: a combined 2-for-14 from the field for a total of 8 points. He hit a career-high seven 3-pointers against then-No. 10 Kansas and followed that with a 0-for-4 performance two games later.
“It’s kind of been up and down right now,” Starks said. “I’m more concerned with the wins and losses though.”
The Beavers are now 2-9 in Pac-12 games this year, with a 12-12 overall record.
Starks’ role has increased in the 2012-13 season, due to the scoring void left to fill when Jared Cunningham left for the NBA.
“I think we’ve asked a lot more of Ahmad than you would ask a normal point guard, because we are asking him to score a lot of points,” Robinson said. “He’s done that for us and what happens is in the scouting report he becomes a marked man.”
Starks is confident but not cocky, and his quiet demeanor is both a blessing and a curse. He said the number one thing he’s been working on this season is being more vocal.
“He’s not an egotistical kid at all, sometimes to a fault,” Robinson said. “I’m trying to get him to be a little bit more outgoing.”
As Robinson said, Starks is a scoring point guard and not a distributor-type — that role falls more to Challe Barton. One of the reasons for Starks’ inconsistency is his size, and in turn, his reliance on the jump shot. Starks is listed at a generous 5-foot-9, so it’s automatic that he won’t score on any post moves.
“Everything he has to get either has to be on a breakaway layup or it’s a shot that’s going to be contested,” Robinson said. “That is a hard position to put a scorer in and we understand that, which is why we don’t look at his games when he doesn’t score 18 points as a bad game. I thought he did a great job in setting us up in our offense and getting some plays for other guys in the Utah game.”
Despite his size disadvantage and his inconsistencies, Starks is having a solid junior campaign. He is tied for first in the Pac-12 for 3-point field goals made, he’s fifth in 3-point field goal percentage, and 20th in scoring — averaging 12.2 points per game.
Guys like Starks are great for team chemistry. A self-described laid-back guy, Starks meshes well with all of the other players on the team and spends his free time doing anything from playing video games with Barton and Roberto Nelson, to just staying home and watching a movie.
“What I like about our team is that we don’t have any cliques,” Robinson said. “They all hang out with each other. Some play video games, some go out, some do other things with their girlfriends; Ahmad can do all of the above. That makes for a good team chemistry and makes him a good captain.”
Alex Crawford, sports reporter