Ayriell Robinson’s journey to Saint Louis University had many twists and turns along the way. On Saturday, Feb. 26, the journey as a Billiken concluded.
Robinson, the 5-foot-9 guard for the SLU women’s basketball team, began to develop her love of the game at a young age. While her father would coach her brother’s youth basketball team, Robinson would not sit idly in the bleachers, like most four- or five-year-old girls would. Despite the fact that the boys were two years older than she was, Robinson practiced with her brother’s squad, planting the seeds for a fruitful career.
Robinson began her high school career in Louisiana, playing a year each at St. Mary’s Academy and Xavier Prep in New Orleans. Success followed, with Robinson earning All-District honors as a freshman.
Then natural disaster struck.
Like so many New Orleans citizens, the Robinson’s were forced to relocate after Hurricane Katrina. The family ended up in Texas, and Robinson began her junior year of high school at Spring High School, playing AAU ball for the Texas Blazers. Although any move is difficult for a high school student, it did provide a platform for Robinson to showcase her talents to college coaches.
“It was not all great, but it did provide me with more opportunities to be seen as a college athlete,” Robinson said. “It was hard because I lost a lot of friends, and we had to go our separate ways, but in the end, it was something that helped me in the long run.”
Robinson’s high school accomplishments, including an all-region selection, garnered attention on the national recruiting scene. Allured by the coaching staff, Robinson decided to attend Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. However, she began to look at transfer options after her freshman year due to coaching changes.
Per NCAA rules, Robinson would have had to taken a redshirt if she were to transfer from Division I school to Division I school. Not wanting to lose any edge off of her game, Robinson decided to enroll at Labette Community College in Parsons, Kan. At the junior college level, she averaged 13.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, earning second-team All-Conference accolades. Despite the success, Robinson knew that she had D-I talent and was hungry to face off against top competition.
“It was very different. Of course, the talent level is not the same, and the schools are not the same. It was a reality check, letting me know where I wanted to get again. It provided me with another goal to get better than I was at Fairfield,” Robinson said.
While searching for schools to transfer to, Robinson’s junior college coach ran into SLU assistant Stephanie Rich. Coach Rich, along with coach Shimmy Gray-Miller, heeded the words of Robinson’s coach and took a trip to Kansas to watch her play. Robinson took a visit to SLU shortly thereafter, and it was a done deal.
“I loved the campus, the coaches, the city, how the coaches interact with the athletes, everything. I just knew this was where I wanted to be. Other schools did not matter; it was SLU,” Robinson said.
Settling into SLU posed no problems for Robinson either.
“When you transfer, or come into a new environment, you do not know how you are going to fit in. The girls were so nice, so cool, and I wanted to ease my way into everything slowly, and they made it so easy,” Robinson said.
Robinson first suited up for SLU during her junior campaign in 2009-2010. She played in all 30 of the Billikens’ contests, leading the team in 3-point field goal percentage at 39 percent.
This past season, Robinson provided steady guard play for the Billikens, averaging 6.6 points per game and distributing 47 assists.
What Robinson prides herself on most is something that hardly shows up in the box score but can make or break a team: Defense.
“I always wanted to get a stop or make something happen,” she said. “I was probably more focused defensively than offensively. We have a lot of people who contribute offensively. Defense is something that is heart, toughness and something to be proud of.”
Robinson has had many proud moments as a Billiken on the court, but none stands above the team’s win against Xavier University her junior season. After struggling throughout conference play, the Billikens finally clicked against the 49ers and earned a much-needed victory against a tough conference foe.
“We went crazy in the locker room, dancing, having a good time. We know we worked so hard at that point and to get over the hump was great,” Robinson said about that victory.
Off the court, Robinson has been fortunate enough to meet people who have not only made her a better basketball player, but people who have become friends and mentors.
“I definitely take something from every person I have ever met or any person who has coached me. The best part [of being a college athlete] was meeting teammates and coaches, people who are around day in and day out. We do so much together,” Robinson said.
Although her career as a Billiken has ended, Robinson’s love of the game, which has been a part of her life since she could walk, is something that will not fade away. After college, she has plans to go to graduate school for athletic training. Beyond that?
“I just know I always want to be around the game,” Robinson said.