by Tonya Jameson
Antywane Robinson remembers every detail of the moment he began taking basketball seriously. As he stood in the corner of the baseline, holding a ball in his right hand, his Butler High School junior varsity coach told him that he could get paid to play basketball. Robinson dropped the ball and said, “Tell me more.”
Coach Darell Myers told Robinson that the basketball in his hand could take him far in life beyond just providing a way to go to college. Myers didn’t know that basketball would lead Robinson to play basketball internationally and travel throughout the globe to several countries, including Turkey, Italy, Russia, France and Portugal.
Myers couldn’t have known Robinson would become fluent in those five languages. Myers didn’t know all of these things would happen to Robinson, but he did know that Robinson had the potential to become something special. “I knew it the second time I saw him play — that he was special,” Myers said.
It’s been a hard-earned journey for Robinson, who now lives in Waxhaw, but grew up in a house near the men’s shelter in Uptown Charlotte and later off Farm Pond Lane. His parents and grandparents raised him. Robinson’s grandmother was a housekeeper for a local attorney, Bob Karney, and his grandfather was Karney’s janitor. Karney recalls Robinson hanging out with his children and always playing basketball.
“He has grown into exactly the young man that I thought he would be,” Karney said. “To say I’m proud would be an understatement.”Myers echoed that sentiment. “He was the nicest kid you want to be around, but when he got on the basketball court, he was a totally different person — super competitive,” Myers said.
Talent combined with drive eventually led Robinson to Oak Hill Academy, a top-ranked basketball high school in Virginia. NBA hall of farmers Carmelo Anthony and Jerry Stackhouse are among the school’s alumni. “I realized at that point that I needed to start believing in myself.” Robinson said. His confidence grew when he began receiving recruitment letters from colleges. The letters came from schools like the University of North Carolina, Seton Hall and Temple University.
Robinson decided to attend Temple University to play for the legendary John Chaney, who died in January. Chaney, who was hard on players, directed his expletive-laden vocabulary on Robinson, which was something the shy freshman from the South wasn’t used to.
“Chaney gave me tough love beyond measure,” Robinson said. “He taught me that anything you want in life, whether it’s physically or spiritually, materialistically or anything, you’re going to hit a roadblock. You’re going to hit some adversity, but it’s up to you to push through it.”
Although Robinson excelled at Temple, and was named team captain as a sophomore, he wasn’t drafted in the NBA. He did, however, earn a spot on the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers as well as in the NBA summer league. Eventually he headed to Pau, France to play. Robinson had never been overseas, but constantly fighting for a slot as a free agent in the NBA was grueling. The French team offered a salary plus living expenses.
In France, Robinson realized he had a knack for languages, partly due to his near-photographic memory. He can learn a language while living in a place in about two weeks, he said. “The language barrier was tough. I overcame this by being open to learning the culture.” When he wasn’t playing basketball, Robinson explored his new unfamiliar homes and talked to strangers — lots of them. “I never stayed in the house.”
His favorite country was Turkey. Robinson said, initially he didn’t want to play there because the offer came shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. But the country grew on him. His Turkish teammates treated his wife, Sheena, and their children like family. Robinson and his wife have been married now for 14 years and they have three children.
“Turkey was a pleasant surprise,” Robinson said. “The media painted a culture of hate and violence, but when we arrived, the people were very welcoming to me and my family. The food was amazing, the structures although older, were beautiful, and the culture is very family oriented.”
Each country has its own unique customs, Robinson said. “It allowed me to expand my horizons,” he added. “In France, it was the foods that changed with the seasons. In Turkey, it was understanding Muslim traditions. In Portugal, it was learning about the running of the bulls. In Italy, it was being able to slow down and find the importance of time with family and friends.”
Living abroad wasn’t completely without challenges for Robinson, including some brushes with racism. When Robinson was eating at a restaurant in Eastern Europe, he saw a man with several swastika tattoos on his body. “He didn’t say anything, but the nonverbal looks were understood,” Robinson said. On another occasion when he and two other African American teammates were at a restaurant in Astana, Kazakhstan, Robinson went into a bathroom and a few men followed him into the room. “They told me they wanted to fight me and my teammates outside. I walked out of the bathroom, told my teammates, and we peacefully left.”
Nevertheless, Robinson did create lasting friendships with Americans and Europeans overseas. Some have turned into clients and others have become connections that allow him to help others play overseas. After moving back to Charlotte two years ago, he started AR Levels, an exclusive basketball training program in Pineville for athletes across North Carolina of all levels and ages.
Robinson also now works as a financial representative at Northwestern Mutual. He said he hopes his story can inspire others.
“Do not hesitate. Don’t second guess. Don’t sit in your comfort zone,” he said. “You never know what lasting friends you’ll make that are going to help you open doors.”