Antoina Robinson — one of two graduating seniors from the Utah State women’s basketball team — has made leadership, passion and encouragement a part of her college career.
Growing up in a family of athletes, Robinson always wanted to become a college athlete, but up until she was in middle school she thought track would be the sport to take her there.
Thanks to the influence of her older brother and his high school basketball career, she decided to start playing basketball and found success on a team in her hometown she said she was fortunate to be a part of.
But it wasn’t always easy for Robinson to find the playing time she wanted. It was times like these that led her to find strength in her mother’s advice. Advice that she later would realize made her into the leader she is today.
“My mom would tell me, ‘You can’t dwell in the past.’ She still tells me that to this day,” Robinson said of her mother. “She would say, ‘You have to keep your faith and everything will work out.’”
It wasn’t only her mother’s words but her sacrifice and hard work, along with that of her brother and father that motivated Robinson to persevere through struggles in high school and past that.
“My brother had a job, he was playing sports and he was in high school and he helped us around when my mom had to work,” Robinson said. “To me, they’re the toughest people I know. I’ve never had a job in my life, I just played sports and they did whatever they could to get me to practice, to help me with homework, staying up long nights. I love them so much for their support.”
When she saw difficulties into her college basketball career, Robinson held to the advice of her mother and made it a goal to be an encouraging leader wherever she was.
“My mom always told me not to be a follower, I know I have to learn some things along the way, but I always have wanted to be a great leader,” she said. “I’m a little aggressive, I feel like I’m maybe too aggressive sometimes but I’m passionate about what I do, no matter what I’m doing. I try to bring that to everything I do, that’s helped me out in being a leader.”
Robinson attended three different colleges in her first three years after high school, while working on development as an athlete and a leader. Ending up in Logan was not only a change of scenery for the Texas native, but also a change of perspective.
As one of four African American teammates, only 254 African American students at USU and a member of one of the least attended teams at the university, Robinson has dealt with being a minority in a variety of ways.
“I could have moved back to Texas and stuck with the same old, all-black school and that, but being here has helped me grow as a person — especially as a minority here,” she said. “I loved the change of scenery, and being a minority. It was hard at first, but I have people here that supported me, and mentally I had to stay tough.”
Angelica De Paulo, the Aggie’s other graduating senior is one of those people that was always there for Robinson.
The two met back at New Mexico Junior College, while De Paulo was in her sophomore year and Robinson was new to the program. Robinson said the help she received from her Brazilian teammate was what led her to work hard at NMJC and learn the skills that brought her to Utah State.
After De Paulo joined Robinson in Logan, their careers took very different turns. But their friendship remained unharmed even though Robinson saw the court far more than De Paulo.
“Jelly and I have had some rough times together — she had her downfalls, I had mine” Robinson said, “but we try to keep encouraging each other. Jelly’s a Christian, I’m a Christian, so we try to keep God in our life and speak the word to each other and bring each other up.”
The two remembered staying late after practice in New Mexico to work on Robinson’s dunking skills — which time payed off big time when Robinson threw down a dunk against conference opponent UNLV a week before tournament play.
“I was so happy when she dunked it,” De Paulo said. “I wanted to go out onto the court to hug her but I had to stay at the bench and that was hard.”
The Aggies ended the season with the most home wins and overall wins ever in program history, finishing off a season of growth for everyone.
As one of only two upperclassmen on a sophomore and freshman-dominated team, Robinson has grown as a leader striving to help her younger teammates.
“At the beginning of the season, it was a little frustrating having a young team that has to learn the plays and all that,” Robinson said. “But I was telling myself I had to be patient, I remembered when I was a freshman I didn’t get it as well. I told myself to be patient and just encourage and encourage them. That’s the biggest thing coming into a Division I college is having encouragement from your teammates. Bringing that confidence to such young players was my biggest goal.”
Encouragement for her teammates is not all she brought to Utah State. Cadi Sande and Jasmine Lee from the Black Student Union are known for their diligent attendance at Aggie women’s basketball games and say that their fandom is a result of Robinson’s support for their organization.
“Being with women’s basketball, I know we don’t get as much support as men’s sports and stuff like that,” she said. “So I think it’s important — especially for women’s teams — to just show support and let your fellow student-athletes know you’re there for them. I know I want support from my fellow student-athletes on campus and my classmates, so if I don’t do it I can’t expect them to do it. I think that’s very important.”
Robinson lives by a motto of encouragement that she will take with her past this last season of college basketball and leave her legacy with the university.
“Sometimes it’s hard to be positive because some things happen in life,” she said. “But I try to bring my teammates up because it’s not about me, it’s about the people around me.”