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Decade’s best No. 10: Robinson was a force inside for Millionaires

When I first noticed Jaynelle Robinson it was halftime of a varsity girls basketball game and she was walking the hallways. She was 6-feet tall and looked like she could dominate.

I wondered why she was not playing that night and soon learned the answer.

She was in seventh grade.

Robinson looked the part and played the part of a basketball force at Williamsport. By her senior year, Robinson was 6-foot-3, but her basketball growth throughout her scholastic career was more impressive than her personal growth spurt. It was not always sunshine and rainbows and Robinson battled inconsistency at various times throughout her first three years at Williamsport. Often, Robinson looked like a tall girl playing basketball.

By 2016, however, Robinson was tall and tremendous. She became a complete player, one of the state’s best. Robinson earned second team Class AAAA all-state honors as a senior and put together the best year any area post player last decade, averaging 21 points, 15 rebounds and more than five blocked shots per game. Now playing at Lock Haven, Robinson was the only Millionaire to be selected to the all-state team last decade and closed her high school career with 1,116 points and more than 600 rebounds despite not playing much as a freshman.

It is not easy carving out one’s basketball niche when your older brother is Taurance Johnson and your cousin is Williamsport legend Chevy Troutman, but Robinson did it.

“It means so much to me being recognized as one of the state’s best players,” Robinson said that year. “It’s not just because of the recognition, but because of the history I’m making following in the many footsteps of my family.”

Robinson left her own footsteps, averaging a double-double over her last two seasons and becoming the team’s best post players since Madina Ali in the mid-2000s. Throughout her senior year, Robinson often was double and tripled teamed. Opponents tried everything they could to stop her, but no one ever really did.

“Jaynelle stacks up against anybody in the state,” Williamsport coach Derek Slaugther said that year. “Her numbers against all the high-quality quad-A teams are as good as it gets and she’s as good as it gets across the board and across the state.”

How Robinson reached the point reveals as much about her character as it does her talent. She came a long way in four years, improving each season and then putting all the pieces of the puzzle together in that senior season. She was an imposing presence as a freshman, but extremely raw and received sparse minutes. In a late-season win against Mansfield, however, Robinson showed how dangerous she could be, scoring 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds in just 12 minutes.

A year later, Robinson was starting and averaged 12.2 points per game. She erupted for a career-high 34 points against Danville and went off for 12 points, 19 rebounds and eight blocks in a 48-30 victory against Loyalsock. Still, Robinson was inconsistent and Slaughter was unsure what kind of production she would deliver each game.

That trend continued as a junior, but Robinson also showed immense improvement, averaging 17.4 points and 11 rebounds per game. The highs were phenomenal, but the lows perplexing. She was a player capable of overpowering opponents as she did against Wyoming Valley West, scoring 31 of her 34 points in the second half, and adding 11 of her 14 rebounds as Williamsport erased a 12-point halftime deficit and won, 66-57. A few nights later, she became the first, and only, area player of the 2000s to score 30 points and grab 30 rebounds in a victory against Troy. But she struggled the following night against Montoursville. And usually, it was not opponents slowing down Robinson, it was herself.

“I don’t care who we’re playing against in the state. I’ll put Jaynelle against anybody in quad-A,” Slaughter said after the Valley West win. “It’s just the mental side. If she can focus mentally and know what she has to do and not get frustrated, she’s fine. In the second half she was having fun and enjoying herself. She will dominate every game if she comes in mentally focused and prepared. If she does that, she’s unstoppable.”

As a senior, Robinson became just that.

She learned from past mistakes and nothing rattled Robinson as a senior. In the past, foul trouble would have frustrated her and she might have compounded the problem by committing another foul. Robinson learned to stay cool under fire at all times and became a team leader as well as a sensational player.

That maturity and poise were evident early in the season against Jersey Shore. Robinson missed seven of her nine shots, but kept focused, kept working and produced one of the best all-around games of the decade. Robinson scored 40 points, pulled down 29 rebounds, dealt five assists and added three blocks as Williamsport broke open a close game and won, 73-43.

“This year I’m doing better with my attitude. I don’t let it effect me as much. I don’t shut down anymore,” Robinson said after becoming Lycoming County’s first 40-point scorer since Tierney Pfirman. “I’m pretty sure if that would have happened last year I would have shut it down and fouled out. I pulled it together and kept my head and finished out strong.”

“She has a new senior attitude, senior mentality and is providing senior leadership,” Slaughter said. “If she can maintain this the sky is he limit. There’s no girl in the area that can stop her if she keeps that up. If she plays the way she’s capable of playing she can play with anybody.”

Robinson proved that all season, topping 30 points four times and 20 points 13 times. Just as important, she did not force things. Teams were smothering her, cutting off the lane and collapsing around her. When it was time, Robinson could take over, but she also loosened up defenses by working the ball around and kicking it back outside to dangerous shooters like Chloe Jennings. All aspects of Robinson’s game were improved and she torched Hazleton for 33 points. She also made a major statement against State College’s Connecticut-bound Kyla Irwin, scoring 24 points and adding 19 rebounds against her.

Robinson’s signature performance came on the night she scored her 1,000th point. Williamsport trailed a good Bethlehem Liberty team by 18 points in the fourth quarter. Instead of wilting, Robinson ignited an inspired comeback, scoring 29 points and grabbing 15 rebounds as Williamsport rallied for a thrilling 57-53 win.

Dominant, tough and resilient. That was Robinson that game and that season. She not only made herself better, but her teammates as well.

“This was by far Jaynelle’s best year,” Slaughter said. “Her maturity level was much higher and the others fed off that.”

And the family tradition grew even stronger.

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