By Laura Amato
It still looked the same.
Melvin Robinson used to walk down the hallways at Cardozo and wonder how he was ever going to make it. The former Judges basketball star nearly came up short of his goal, struggling that first semester, but Robinson hit his stride on the hardwood.
He found success with a ball in his hands and eventually success in the classroom followed – it also led him back to ‘Dozo Monday afternoon.
Robinson returned to those same hallways that used to intimidate him and the same gym that helped shape him – not as a player, but as a coach, leading Environmental Studies in a non-league matchup against the Judges.
“My first marking period I almost failed off,” said Robinson, who attended ISA prior to coming to Cardozo. “It was a big thing for me to come here to Cardozo and play basketball, everybody was looking forward to it and I didn’t want to disappoint. This just opened my eyes.”
Robinson found a family at Cardozo, a culture shaped by Judges head coach Ron Naclerio, who took the standout under his wing. It’s a relationship that has survived the better part of the last two decades and one that has shaped Robinson as a coach and a person.
“I can never be thankful enough for what he did for me,” Robinson said. “Those life skills about being disciplined and respectful and working hard, I learned that here.”
Robinson went on to play Division I basketball at Saint Peter’s and he didn’t struggle in the classroom again.
“I just never looked back,” he said. “I finished [at Cardozo] and graduated with a 90 GPA. I went on to play Division I basketball and I never failed a class in college.”
Robinson always knew he wanted coach – inspired, as per usual, by Naclerio – and as soon as the opportunity came to pace the sidelines at Environmental Studies, he jumped at the chance.
Now, he’s simply hoping to have the same impact on his players that Naclerio had on him.
“I have to give it back now and that’s why I coach,” Robinson said. “It’s bigger than basketball. We’re just trying to get them on a good path after leaving high school. We want them to be great young men.”
Robinson approached Naclerio about the possibility of scheduling a non-league matchup and the Judges longtime coach was quick to help set it up. It turned out to be a bit of a mini-reunion as well with several of Robinson’s former teammates sitting in the stands.
“He called me and I know when you’re a young coach you want to play some high-profile games,” Naclerio said. “So we ended up getting it to work. I said, ‘Listen, I know how it was when I first started’ and we made it work.”
Robinson isn’t gunning for Naclerio’s win record, but he is anxious to follow in his former coach’s footsteps. His players warmup jerseys read “There’s only one way, it’s the right way,” words practically bored in Robinson’s head when he played under Naclerio.
The Eagles are playoff-bound for the first time in program history this season and Robinson is anxious to see what the future will hold, hoping to help his players as much as Naclerio helped him.
“He impacted my life so much,” Robinson said. “Some of the seniors they’ve been here for four years and they’re finally making it to the playoffs, so there’s a lot of excitement around this. We’re looking forward to it.”