The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, which includes the likes of Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith and Bob Gibson, has inducted another member: Lynnette Robinson. She was officially inducted at a ceremony March 28 in Springfield, MO.
Robinson, who was born in Kewanee, was an assistant coach at Missouri State for 15 years for a program that racked up 316 wins over that period and went to a pair of Final Fours.
“When I got the call from the director, I was pretty much in disbelief,” said Robinson. “I was definitely in shock. It was a big surprise. I look upon the actual honor as a shared award. Shared with all of our players, coaches and support staff that I was so blessed to have during those 15 years.”
The roots of what would be a life in basketball all began in Annawan. Robinson, along with her five brothers and twin sister Lisa, all grew up in Annawan and went through the Annawan School District. Robinsons parents still reside there today.
“Annawan is such a special place and a special home town,” she said. “The people that make up that community – the town people, the teachers and everyone involved in the school – make it an amazing place. Everything started in Annawan. I truly love that town.”
Lynnette and Lisa, both of whom graduated from Annawan in 1978, were players on the first-ever girls basketball team there. Before the run of success the Bravettes have had over the last decade, they had some pretty good teams in the late 1970’s, led by the Robinson twins.
Back then, girls high school basketball was a one-class system and Annawan won a regional title in 1977 and a sectional title in 1978. The 1978 team lost in a super-sectional game against a much bigger school in Moline (78-74), which went on to finish third at state.
“It could have gone either way, it was very close,” Robinson recalled of the game with Moline. “If you ask Annawan fans, some can still recall every detail from that game and say we should have won. We were blessed to have such a good team and great character. Everybody bought into their roles and nobody cared who scored. It was a fun year.”
Robinson, who now lives in Columbia, MO, still follows Annawan basketball from afar and even made the trip to Peoria in March for the Annawan boys state championship game.
After graduating from high school, the Robinson twins, who Lynnette described as “tomboys”, took their talents south on full-ride scholarships to the University of Illinois, where Lisa is still the 5th all-time leading scorer with 1,906 points and Lynnette is 17th with 1,322 points.
Much like at Annawan, the Robinson girls entered the Illinois program at the ground floor. Illinois became a NCAA Division-1 program for the first time their senior year. That year’s team, in 1982, made the first NCAA tournament in Illinois history and lost in the opening round to Kentucky, 88-80.
“We were fortunate to have a head coach and a staff that worked us hard,” Lynnette said. “They taught us what hard work really was. We believed in our coaching staff and we believed in ourselves as players.”
During the run to the NCAA tournament, Cheryl Burnett was a graduate assistant at Illinois. Fast-forward to 1987, Burnett was hired to be the head coach for Missouri State and she called Lynnette and offered her the job as her assistant coach.
“I knew how passionate she was as a grad assistant,” Robinson recalled of Burnett. “Certain people are born to do certain things. She was born to be a coach.”
During the 15-year run of Burnett and Robinson, the Lady Bears made it to 10 NCAA tournaments, including the Final Four in 1992 and 2001.
“Coach Burnett had a vision of what she wanted to build. We were also very fortunate to have an athletic director in Dr. Mary Jo Wynn and she was very instrumental in building the program,” Robinson stated.
The first two years at Missouri State were a bit of a struggle. The Lady Bears won just 16 games compared to 37 losses. But in year three, things started to change.
“In those two years, she (Burnett) built what she wanted our program to be and to do things the right way,” said Robinson, who is also in the Missouri State Hall of Fame and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. “We were going to work harder than anyone in the country every day. We never compromised anything less than your best effort and that’s how our teams were known. We were probably in better shape than anyone we played and more disciplined.”
In their first trip to the Final Four in 1992, which was held in Los Angeles, the Lady Bears beat Kansas, Iowa, UCLA and Mississippi along the way, before falling to Western Kentucky in the Final Four. In 2001, they topped Toledo, Rutgers, Duke and Washington to reach the Final Four in St. Louis, before losing to Purdue in the national semifinal.
“Most mid-majors don’t make a Final Four once, let alone twice. Those two Final Fours were a bit of a blur at the time. It all happened so fast you didn’t get to enjoy it,” said Robinson, who was also the recruiting coordinator of the staff. “The thing you look back on the most is all the players, not just from the Final Four teams, but all the players that we had all played a hand in this.”
After her time at Missouri State, Robinson took a year off before taking a job at the University of Michigan, where Burnett had just been hired as the head coach. After four years at Michigan, Robinson took a job at the University of Missouri and spent three years there as an assistant, before coaching her final game in 2010.
“I can’t even put into words what the game has meant and what it has done for my life,” she said. “The relationships you form is what meant the most to me. All of the people and friendships you’ve made through the game of basketball truly means the most. To think the game of basketball has given all of this to me, I truly cannot put it into words.”