A gritty start to life

As Shawan Robinson has discovered this season, comfort can be found in the strangest places.

As Shawan Robinson has discovered this season, comfort can be found in the strangest places. Chief Sports Writer Paul Gilder met a basketball player with a penchant for pasties.

Shawan Robinson

The food parcels are still arriving at Shawan Robinson's North-East apartment, but the long-distance deliveries have become a little less frequent in recent weeks.

Boxes containing Kool Aid, the 24-year-old's favourite brand of hot sauce and supplies of grits - the maize-based porridge that forms a staple part of diets across the southern United States - are still awaited with great anticipation.

But considering the American's appreciation of a Tyneside institution, a man more than 3,000 miles from his homeland has at last discovered that life in the UK is not as bad as it first appeared.

"My favourite place is Greggs - I am always in there," explained the Newcastle Eagles favourite, who is finally able to smile about the cultural differences that made his maiden months in the region such a troubled time. These days he eats like a native but, last summer, his move from North Carolina threatened to be shortlived.

"Olu (Babalola, his team-mate and long-time friend) has been a big factor in making the adjustment easier," he said. "I don't know how long I would have stayed had Olu not been here during those first couple of weeks. He let me use his internet to keep in touch with the world and that kept me going. But it is difficult to get used to the differences. It's the small things, the things like the food. That's what made it so hard at first."

Under Babalola's guidance, Robinson has gradually grown accustomed to North-East cuisine and, whilst there are still things from his homeland he cannot do without, they have become less and less. "I have grown used to the food here," said the former Clemson star, who first met Babalola at the South Carolina college. "There are little things I miss but I can get them shipped over. I still get sent Kool Aid (an American soft drink), hot sauce, and grits.

"Most people here don't know what grits are. Grits have the consistency of couscous but are made from corn. It's a southern thing - it's something I like to eat for breakfast."

While he might question the nutritional value of his diet, Fabulous Flournoy will be pleased that, having made such a tough start to his life as an Eagle, Robinson has found his feet in the North-East.

The six-foot-two-inch shooting guard will be crucial to Newcastle's bid to beat Plymouth in this weekend's BBL Trophy final. And the success that has been encountered on the court in recent times has had an obvious effect off it.

"It's much easier when we're winning games," said a player whose first appearances in Eagles colours were made against a background of discontent as Flournoy's team struggled to live up to their reputation as British basketball's dominant force.

"It has been a year that has had ups and downs. Sometimes you get caught up in the downs but you look at your record and realise it really isn't all that bad. It has been difficult to get acclimated and to get used to being a rookie. There have been a lot of changes and I have just had to deal with that. I'm looking forward to the final. I just hope we can win."

Although staging the final at the Metro Radio Arena would appear to hand Newcastle an advantage, the Eagles will be under pressure to perform against Plymouth and a partisan home crowd will demand success. That expectations are high is understandable following Newcastle's remarkable clean sweep last season, but it is a burden that, at times, appears to have weighed on Robinson in particular.

"We're in a no-win situation at Newcastle," he explained. "We're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't. If we win, it is because we're supposed to. If we lose, people want to know why. In a way, you can't win in that situation. When we win a game, the main feeling isn't one of joy. We want to win always. But when we do, the main feeling is relief."

There is a seriousness about Robinson that makes him impossible to read and, whilst culinary discoveries have helped him discover a modicum of contentment, genuine happiness still appears elusive for a player whose confidence seems brittle.

Be it the basketball - "It's tough, up and down," he admits - or his relationship with his coach - "Working with Fab has got its ups and downs; he has a very dominant personality and you have to abide by his rules," he reveals - it is clear concerns remain. "Living is perhaps the best part, the life away from basketball," he said, seemingly surprised at the conclusion he had reached. "Living is consistent, you get up in the morning, you go to sleep at night. That's fine." This is player still requiring reassurance.

While Babalola is a constant companion, fatherly advice is always welcome and Robinson has not been afraid to ask. In his dad, Darryl, a one-time NBA prospect who starred in college basketball at Appalachian State before playing in Israel, he could not have a better confidante and it is his words of wisdom that have enabled Robinson Jnr to overcome difficulties that have tested his resolve to the limit.

"He has been a big influence," added a player who can count on the support of his family this weekend - with his younger sister due to arrive on Tyneside for a long-awaited visit on Saturday morning. "I speak to him after every game, he calls a lot and we talk. He's the person who keeps me going. When it seems things are not progressing the way I would like them to, he is the one who calls and tells me to hang in there."

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