Whistles. Squeaking sneakers. A bouncing ball. There are certain sounds that have become synonymous with basketball in gymnasiums, churches and recreation centers anywhere the sport is being played.
In Bakersfield, there’s another verbal clue, one that has resonated with the tight-knit local basketball community for more than 25 years — the sound of Randy Robinson’s voice.
Whether he’s in his favorite front-row seat in the stands, patrolling the sidelines as a head coach or seated on the bench as an assistant, Robinson’s distinct, deep, gravelly voice has been put to use anywhere there’s a hoop at one time or another.
To say Robinson is a basketball fan — a sports fan in general — well, that’s as obvious and recognizable as the hyper enthusiasm he showcases whenever and wherever he’s pressed into duty.
“It’s just the joy and fun, and I still have that,” said Robinson, a 1994 Bakersfield High graduate. “I go to the games. When you see me at a game, I sit in the same place more times than not. I sit in the front row, across from the bench so I can see the whole floor, and I just watch. I love to watch the game completely, it doesn’t matter if it’s girls or boys.
“I mean, you’re always learning something new with the game. That’s what I love about high school, junior high or college. Now pros are different. It’s entertainment and totally different. But from college down to even elementary … it’s just a joy to watch.”
Robinson’s passion for the game, coupled with his natural ability to build lasting relationships with pretty much everyone he meets, played a big part in his latest opportunity on the hardwood.
When local legend Stephon Carter, who first met Robinson when he was eight years old, was hired as the next Centennial High varsity basketball coach, he wasted little time filling out his coaching staff. And calling Robinson was a priority.
“I already knew I had a short list, and he was one of the first people I called, for sure,” said Carter, the all-time leading scorer at Cal State Bakersfield who played several years professionally overseas. “He’s a basketball wizard when it comes to Bakersfield. He knows all the kids. He knows who’s going to be the best eighth-grader next year. He knows who is going to be the best seventh-grader … so it was an easy decision. I mean he knows a lot.”
Robinson’s knowledge is not limited to local personnel. He has developed a system of coaching, first fostered as a reserve player and team manager in the Driller gymnasium and fine-tuned as a coach at virtually every level. From elementary school to elite travel teams, Randy has been there, done that.
“You can see his love for basketball and his desire to work with kids is what made him stand out,” said Mark Hutson, a longtime Bakersfield High basketball coach, who guided the Drillers’ program during Robinson’s high school days. “It didn’t surprise me that he went into coaching because he just had a big heart and he wanted to help kids. He’s done it at four, five different schools, different levels, boys, girls, junior high and everything.
“He’s one of those guys that when somebody needs a JV or frosh-soph coach, Randy’s there. They need a coach over there, call Randy, and Randy’s your man. And he gives it his all and you can’t ask for much more than that.”
Hutson was first introduced to Robinson as his junior varsity football coach at BHS. Robinson’s energy and hustle made him an immediate favorite.
“You could rely on him to do anything,” said Hutson, one of the all-time winningest coaches in Central Section history. “He was one of those kids on the football field that just battled and battled. He wasn’t a superstar athlete, but he was a good athlete.
“He’s a great guy. I remember the last game of the season he picked off a pass and ran it 85 yards for a touchdown. I was never so happy in my life. Then he managed our basketball team as a senior. He was just one of those guys, you put him in a situation and he’ll coach any team, anywhere, and give it his all. He’ll put his whole heart into it.”
Robinson’s heart is undeniable. It’s another important organ that has failed him, and the impact has had a dramatic effect on him physically, even as he continues to maintain a vigorous schedule.
Robinson was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2015, which forced him to slow down a bit, although he’s still managed to keep a pep in his step.
After working two jobs for several years, his ailing kidney has forced him onto disability and he receives dialysis three days a week at four-hour intervals.
“It’s part of my life,” said Robinson, a native of St. Louis, who moved to Bakersfield before his freshman year in high school. “It’s kind of like a part-time job.”
It’s a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Robinson’s life just five years ago. Prior to his health issues, Robinson was a security officer for the Kern High School District and then worked three nights a week at a group home. All the while, he continued to coach wherever and whenever he was needed.
“I was working all over the place all trying to make end’s meet, as well as coaching,” said Robinson, who will celebrate his 10th wedding anniversary with his wife Marlo in October. Combined the two have six children and a granddaughter in a blended family. “Wherever I was working, I was trying to keep track of practice times and tournaments, and tried to make sure I had weekends off so I could take teams out of state or across town.”
But the effects of the dialysis have ravaged his body, forcing him to alter his schedule.
“The last couple years that I’ve coached, the day that I have dialysis, I have to come home and take a good nap before I go to practice,” said Robinson, who is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant. “You can tell, I just don’t have the same energy. And on the days I don’t have dialysis, I won’t say I’m back to my old self, but it’s kind of like that. I mean, I am in my mid-40s now, so honestly, energy and other things are a little different compared to what it was like in my 20s. But some days I’m just drained. I don’t have a high energy level and am fatigued for sure.”
Although his energy level may have taken a hit, Robinson has always seemed to have plenty to spare.
That hasn’t always been a good thing for Robinson, who admittedly has an old-school approach to coaching, and is not shy about sharing his opinion to anyone within earshot. He’s also been known to be a bit animated on the sidelines, something that hasn’t always been appreciated by the opposition.
But for anyone that has met Robinson, it’s just him. “It’s just Randy.” Unfortunately, it’s a style that Robinson feels has led to him being misunderstood at times.
“Sometimes people take my passion as anger or aggression,” Robinson said. “I don’t berate kids, but even if I do get on a kid, I personally come back and pat ‘em on the butt and say you’re doing a good job. You’re molding a kid by demanding hard work, and that may not go to the basketball court because they aren’t that great of a player, but it helps in their everyday life.
“And then they come back years later and thank you for being on them so tough. Because they needed that tough love. And that’s what it’s about. That’s what you coach for. Because how many kids that you coach go pro? So then what are you coaching them for? You’re coaching him or her to build character and things like that.”
Robinson should know. The coaches he had growing up did the same for him. In addition to developing his coaching style, it’s where he learned to build relationships with people from all walks of life.
“People can’t believe it when I tell them that I’m not from here,” Robinson said. “My wife always jokes that I should run for mayor because everywhere I go I see people I know.”
That ability to build relationships has served him well, especially as a member of an extended coaching tree. After coaching as an assistant and lower-level coach at his alma mater for several years, he followed former Driller assistant coaches Terrance Hubbert (Stockdale) and Tye Hammond (West High) when the two were hired as varsity head coaches.
Now, his relationship with Carter has sent Robinson in another direction. Robinson coached Carter several years ago as part of the Bakersfield Gladiators youth basketball program and was a close friend with his older brother, Steve.
“It’s kind of like a tree,” Robinson said. “Like a basketball tree. Everybody’s connected in some type of way. When a guy gets a job he brings his guys with him. You either come over with him or you make sure you’re rooting for them, and want to make sure everything is good. Because we all come from that same tree.”
It’s a familiar role for Robinson, one he hopes is productive and a positive experience, not only for the coaches, but more importantly, for the kids under their charge.
“This time around, I really want to figure out what it is that Stephon needs,” Robinson said. “I want to help prepare for the other team and want to make sure we’re not hit with something we’re not expecting. I just want to be his eyes and ears, on and off the court. That’s my biggest thing.
“I think the biggest thing about being an assistant coach is ego. And if you’re working with a person that doesn’t have a big ego, or if they do have a big ego, you have to be able to coincide with each other for the betterment of the kids. Because the kid is the most important thing. My playing days are over. The head coach’s playing days are over. I mean, we’re coaching now. It’s the kids that are playing and that’s the most important thing to remember.”