May 30, 2012
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) When Derek Robbins began attending basketball games at La Sierra University 15 years ago, the school’s sports program had a somewhat lower profile.
Back then, mobile spectator stands were rolled from the soccer field into the Alumni Pavilion gymnasium to accommodate perhaps 20 basketball fans. Robbins, who was coaching Amateur Athletic Union youth basketball in Corona at the time, came to La Sierra’s games to cheer on La Sierra student players who had worked with his AAU teams. He didn’t know that a few years later he would become a key part of the rapid growth of the university’s Golden Eagles sports program.
These days, large crowds often fill the gym’s bleachers to watch Golden Eagles teams play. Media sports writers regularly cover La Sierra’s games. A Golden Eagles athletics web site posts team statistics and news. A Golden Eagles bus transports players to and from games. New, professional lighting floods the gymnasium court, and teams are winning titles and competing at the national level as the university completes its first official year with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
The Golden Eagles men’s basketball team is among La Sierra’s top programs. Robbins has served as head coach since October 2008 and for the past two consecutive seasons the Golden Eagles have won the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference title under his leadership. He has recruited most of his players from regional and West Coast high schools and colleges and several have earned top academic and athletic recognitions through NAIA. In March, Robbins’ PCAC peer coaches unanimously voted him Coach of the Year while naming Golden Eagles 6’6” forward Kenny Penn Most Valuable Player.
His coaching award “shows the growth of sports at La Sierra,” Robbins said. He sent letters to department leaders and faculty thanking them for their support, particularly with his players’ academic progress and financial aid. “It takes a whole group to be successful,” he said. “They’re doing all the right things to achieve greatness and that makes it easy to manage. I share this award with the university as a whole and with my guys.”
Athletic Director Javier Krumm noted Robbins’ dedication. “Derek is a Christian leader, a coach who cares for his athletes and follows their educational progress, and who also cares about their personal lives,” he said. Krumm has spearheaded the athletic program’s growth since his arrival in July 2009. “Derek has a local network of recruitment and a charisma that makes him successful in bringing young talent to La Sierra University,” said Krumm.
Rob Thomas, chair of La Sierra’s Health and Exercise Science department has followed Robbins’ work with his team. “He’s someone who definitely brings energy and commitment to the basketball program and to his players. He’s building a team, but he’s also invested in helping the men become successful in life and that’s something I appreciate,” Thomas said.
Robbins lives in Corona with his wife, Lori, and their five children. He came to La Sierra after coaching local basketball for the Amateur Athletics Union. He has coached basketball and worked with players for more than 20 years including 13 years as coach at Corona High School. Robbins lettered in baseball, basketball and football in high school and focused on football at Riverside Community College where he was known as a standout player. He tried out for the National Football League and the United States Football League, but his career was cut short due to injury. Robbins earned a bachelors degree in kinesiology in 2001 from California Baptist University.
Robbins is bringing in 10 new players for the upcoming season. He routinely receives 10-12 emails a day and calls from coaches and students interested in La Sierra’s basketball program. “We’re turning kids away,” he said.
While playing ability and height are important criteria during recruitment, academic performance is paramount. The team seeks players with a grade point average of at least 3.0. “We try to find the right student-athlete to fit here which means academics is first,” said Robbins.
Robbins describes his coaching style as “aggressive, up tempo” with an emphasis on conditioning, an approach that brings the players out strong against competitors during the tiring second half of a game. “We’ve always been a smaller team,” Robbins said, a disadvantage against much larger schools like Loyola Marymount University, one of the Golden Eagles’ contenders this past season. Despite the challenges, the Golden Eagles finished the season with 13 wins, 17 losses overall--the first 14 games against Division I scholarship teams--and a clean sweep of the PCAC games. “We play very clean and aggressively,” said Robbins.
This year Robbins is padding out basketball leadership with two assistant coaches, Tommy Denson III and Michael Washington. Denson III is a local high school coach who works with professional athletes during the summer, and Washington is a two-time All American former basketball player from the University of California, Riverside. The new coaches will help the Golden Eagles increase their wins, and “get over the hump in some of these games,” said Robbins.
“I’m just thankful [God] has blessed me with La Sierra,” said Robbins. “I had semi-retired from coaching and this put the fire back in me.” His faith is an integral part of his life, including in his work as head coach. The team, which functions like a family, regularly prays for teammates, their family members and friends who are grappling with life’s issues.
Robbins grew up in Carson and attended weekly meetings and services at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles with his grandparents who held church positions. His father, Robby Robbins, was a member of the U.S. military before becoming a physician. His father and mother, Eva Robbins, stressed the importance of church attendance. “My mom and dad always believed that’s where success is made, through prayer,” Robbins said. “My mom …taught me about prayer, about the Lord and what I needed to know. She’s my best friend, my consultant.”
Says Robbins, “at the end of the day I want the guys to know that through God who strengthens us, anything is possible.”
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University