Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden inspired Robinson in life and in basketball

December 12, 2018 — by Anna Novoselov and Oliver Ye

Even at age 62, principal Paul Robinson can be found on the basketball court, dribbling a ball among the teachers during the weekly staff lunch game on Fridays or shooting layups over the varsity boys basketball players during their off-season open gyms.

Journalism adviser Mike Tyler, one of the regulars for staff games, said that Robinson is known for his sharpshooting and ball-handling skills.

“He really is quite a player,” Tyler said. “I can’t guard him to save my life. And I try!”

Robinson frequently coaches his young grandchildren, gives tips to the SHS players and plays weekend games with his friends at the Church of Hoops, a group of older local residents who have been playing games on campus for many years.

Robinson has had a long and successful career in education as a teacher and administrator, and he credits his much of success to his mentor, famed UCLA Bruins head basketball coach John Wooden, who inspired him to pursue his goals and work hard to attain success.

Robinson began admiring Wooden in middle school when he would sneak out into the living room late at night to watch UCLA game replays on TV. Wooden led the Bruins to 10 national championships in 12 years and is considered one of the greatest NCAA basketball coaches of all time — perhaps even the greatest coach of the 20th century in all sports.

In eighth grade, Robinson read Wooden’s book, “They Call Me Coach,” in which Wooden talked about his life, philosophy and experience coaching basketball.

Later, when Robinson played basketball in Point Loma Nazarene University in the mid ‘70s, he got the opportunity to coach at Wooden’s basketball camp. While he said that he and  Wooden did not have an extremely close relationship, Wooden would sometimes sit down and speak with Robinson, becoming a mentor figure to him.

“I was always impressed with Wooden as a person,” Robinson said. “I sort of followed along in his footsteps.”

Like Wooden, Robinson also taught English and coached basketball. Robinson taught at Oak Park High School, Medea Park Middle School and Mt. Carmel High School in the San Diego area for a total of 18 years and coached high school basketball at the same schools, for a total of 14 years.

Later in his career, Robinson wrote a letter to Wooden saying that he owed a lot of his success to following many of his principles, specifically those in Wooden’s “pyramid of success.” Wooden wrote him back. The reply has been hanging on Robinson’s office bulletin board ever since. Wooden died in 2010 and lived almost to the age of 100.

In his pyramid of success, Wooden includes the qualities and conditions he believes are fundamental for success, such as poise, confidence, patience, initiative, enthusiasm and faith. The pyramid has a total of 15 blocks arranged with five blocks at the base and one (competitive greatness) on top. On the sides of the pyramid, he lists characteristics that he attributes to successful individuals and teams, including ambition, resourcefulness and reliability.

“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the best effort to become the best you are capable of becoming,” Wooden said in his book.

From Wooden, Robinson said he learned to not worry about the final score but instead to focus more on giving the maximum effort and letting the score take care of itself.

Robinson transfers these values to the varsity basketball teams, to whom he has become an inspiration and helpful mentor.

Senior guard Hanlin Sun said that Robinson helps the boys team by giving them “nuggets of advice” during practices, halftime and after games.

“Having a principal look out for our team like that is very unusual, and speaks volume to Mr. Robinson’s commitment to us students,” he said. “He’s always looking for some way to help out, which is awesome.”

Sophomore point guard Tyler Chu said that Robinson has high expectations of the team and always pushes them to be their best.

“He knows we can be a really good team and doesn’t want us to go on cruise control,” he said.

As a child in the mid ‘60s, Robinson grew up playing sports such as in football, baseball, tennis, swimming and basketball. In eighth grade, he realized that he had the potential to play basketball at higher levels and decided to pursue it seriously from then on, playing many pickup games at the local college.

Robinson went on to play tennis for two years and basketball for four years at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego on a dual tennis and basketball scholarship, a scholarship that allowed him to go to a four-year college, something that his parents otherwise could not have afforded.

After graduating from college in 1978, he played for USA basketball, and toured the world, playing against national teams from Korea, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines for a total of 36 games in 42 days internationally.

Even after this experience, though, he realized his true career path lay in education.

“I’m very grateful for basketball,” Robinson said. “Without it, I probably would not have gone on to college, gotten a teacher credential, been a teacher, an administrator or the principal of Saratoga High School.”

Because of basketball, Robinson said he had the opportunity to meet many different people from many different areas, which opened up many opportunities for him.

To this day, he tries to live by Wooden’s teachings and apply them to his career and family life.

“I really don’t worry about wins and losses. I try to do things to the best of my abilities, and I feel confident in that,” Robinson said. “I try live by that and encourage all of my players and students to not worry about whether something reaches a certain level or not.  All that matters is that you've given your best.”

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