Family ties: Obama calls Oregon State coach
By ANNE M. PETERSON
AP Sports Writer
By ANNE M. PETERSON
His inauguration is less than two weeks away and waiting is an economy in turmoil and violence in the Middle East. President-elect Barack Obama still found time to chat with a basketball coach.
Oregon State's Craig Robinson, his brother-in-law.
The Beavers, a team in need of a big turnaround, beat Southern California last weekend. Obama, a dedicated basketball fan, wanted to pass on his congratulations.
The 62-58 overtime win was Oregon State's first in the Pacific-10 Conference since a 73-65 home victory against Washington on Feb. 22, 2007. The Beavers had lost 21 regular-season games and their opening-round games of the conference tournament the past two seasons.
Robinson was a bit surprised at the call, given the other matters on his brother-in-law's mind. Yet the two talked for about 20 minutes.
"I figured this would be the one time he didn't call, but sure enough," Robinson said. "My family always calls, but he calls on the bigger games, so this was pretty big."
Robinson is in his first season with the Beavers. He, too, is promising change.
It started with little things, like 5:30 a.m. practices. Robinson also wanted to transform the culture of a team that had been in a steep decline since a heyday in the 1980s.
On Sunday, the Beavers' second game into the Pac-10 schedule, Robinson saw real results.
Roeland Schaftenaar's 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left in regulation forced overtime and the Beavers outscored the Trojans 8-4 in the extra period.
"I have been trying to keep the pressure off these guys by saying that we just want to keep getting better," Robinson said. "I still want to do that even though we won this game."
After the game, Oregon State fans at Gill Coliseum were chanting, "Just like football!"
In September, the Beavers' football team upset then-No. 1 USC 27-21. It was Oregon State's first victory over a top-ranked team since the storied "Giant Killers" defeated the O.J. Simpson-led Trojans in 1967.
"We are no longer the same team we were last year," guard Calvin Haynes said. "We proved to everybody that we can execute down the stretch of a big game and get it done. All we can do is get better and better."
Obama was not the only one to phone Robinson after the big victory. UCLA coach Ben Howland chimed in.
In the 1980s, Oregon State won the conference championship three times and shared it twice. Teams that featured such stars as Gary Payton, A.C. Green, Lester Conner and Steve Johnson went to the NCAA tournament eight times during the decade.
In a slump since, the Beavers reached new lows last season. They became the first Pac-10 team to finish the regular season without a victory since the league expanded in 1978.
Hoping to get back on track, the Beavers chose Robinson, Michelle Obama's older brother, who led Brown to a school-record 19 victories last season.
Robinson did double duty during the summer and fall, working with both the Beavers and the Obama campaign. In August, he spoke at the Democratic National Convention, introducing his little sister. Dressed in school colors with a black blazer and a bright orange tie, Robinson even sneaked in the shout-out "Go Beavers!" during the nationally televised speech.
Shortly thereafter, highly touted shooting guard Roberto Nelson of Santa Barbara, Calif., committed to Oregon State.
Robinson also was on stage with his sister and brother-in-law in Chicago on election night. He plans to attend the Jan. 20 inauguration in Washington before meeting the team for the next day's game against Cal.
The Beavers are 6-6 and 1-1 in the Pac-10. They are on the road Thursday at Arizona State and Saturday against Arizona.
As a reward for the victory, Robinson has let up on the 5:30 a.m. practices — they're now at 7 a.m. That may change if the Beavers fail to keep showing improvement.
"We are certainly not to the point where we can win games without playing our best," Robinson said.
However, he's happy with the way the USC victory changed his players' outlook.
"They have put in the work and deserve the right to feel that they can be in any game," he said.