Skinner, Balers flying high

San Benito's Robbie Skinner has been a key playmaker this season.

San Benito High senior forward Robbie Skinner has always been fascinated with flight.
When he was 4 or 5, Skinner vividly remembers being on an airplane taking a cross-country flight to Virginia to visit his grandmother.
“I just liked how this big piece of machinery could take us across the country in less than a day,” said Skinner, who is averaging 13 points per game, which ranks second on the team. “My innovation and curiosity continued to grow as I played with Legos everyday, building planes and also reading on how flight works.”
It’s only appropriate Skinner has a fascination with flight, because on the basketball court he’s put on his own aerial show for a San Benito team that was 14-2 overall and 3-1 in Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division play entering Wednesday’s contest against Palma (the result was not available when this edition went to press).
In the Haybalers’ 65-47 win over Christopher on Jan. 15, Skinner scored a team-high 16 points, 11 coming in the second half. San Benito, which led 21-6 after the first quarter, saw its advantage cut to four, 36-32, with 4:55 left in the third quarter.
The Balers desperately needed a lift, and the 6-foot-3, 165-pound Skinner gave it to them, scoring six of the team’s next eight points — including a driving layup down the lane, a jumper at the free throw line and a steal and layup — to start a decisive 17-4 quarter-ending run and make it 53-36 entering the fourth.
The outcome was all but sealed, and Skinner, who made a number of strong drives to the basket throughout the contest, played the leading role, aggressively taking his defender off the dribble and floating through the lane with a controlled aggressiveness.
“Robbie is by far the most improved player in our program,” Balers coach David Kaplansky said. “He’s very cerebral on the court, just in terms of knowing the open spots on the court. He’s also very good without the ball, and a very good screener. He just does everything well.”
Skinner faces a unique challenge in that he always defends the opposing team’s power forward or center, which at times puts him at a significant height and weight disadvantage.
Skinner counters this by using his agility to front his man and deny the ball, making it hard for the opposition to get the ball into the post. Against Christopher, Skinner had a game-high four steals, often showing a great anticipation for the ball.
“Robbie has been doing a great job of neutralizing the other team’s big guys,” Kaplansky said. “He’s able to utilize his quickness against bigger guys, and we know it’s been challenging for him. We wouldn’t be having success this year if it wasn’t for Robbie playing at a high level.”
Skinner said playing defense comes down to a matter of determination: “It’s about having the will to get in there and take on the challenge. You can have all the size you want, but it means nothing without effort.”
Skinner plays a high-energy game, always moving whether he has the ball or not. When Skinner drives to the basket or goes up for a rebound, he explodes off the court as if he was on a pogo stick.
Even though he continues to grow physically, the biggest difference in Skinner’s game is on the mental side. When Skinner was a freshman, he was a timid player, afraid to make mistakes. Now he simply goes out and plays with a mindset that he’s the best player on the court.
“The best part of my game right now is I’m playing quick but I don’t hurry,” Skinner said. “I know when to push the ball, but I also know when to slow things down. I’ve become better at reading defenses, and I make better decisions with the ball. Freshman year, I was always scared to do something wrong.”
Skinner credited his freshmen coach, Mitch Burley, who is currently the school’s girls’ basketball coach, along with his father, Johnny, for transforming him from a timid player into a confident one.
Johnny grew up in Philadelphia and had several Division I offers to play basketball before deciding to play for San Jose State in the early 1970s and later with the San Jose Winchesters of the now defunct Western Basketball Association.
Johnny, who is an assistant coach on the boys’ team, recently retired after enjoying a 39-year run as a teacher in the San Jose Area. In 2007, he was named the Teacher of the Year for the Evergreen Valley School District.
Skinner’s mom, Eileen, is also a teacher at Southside Elementary School.
“Coach Burley and my dad taught me to be more determined in everything I do,” Skinner said. “I never saw my dad play, but I’ve seen a lot of pictures and stories on what he’s done. It’s really awesome to have a full scrapbook of things on his career because I can almost picture him in his playing days.”
For the longest time, Skinner marveled at his dad’s playing career, even though he never got to see him play. Today, the elder Skinner has a front-row seat to watch his son soar on the basketball court.
“I’m proud of Robbie and all the things he’s done,” Johnny said. “It’s a joy that I can watch him play everyday.”

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