ST. GEORGE – Have you heard of Zach Robbins? He’s best known as Dixie State’s star center and a first-team all-PacWest Conference basketball player. But he is known for a few other things, too. There is Zach Robbins, the devoted husband. Zach Robbins, the great brother and son. Zach Robbins, the prankster teammate. Zach Robbins, the missionary who every elder wanted as a companion. Add in self-proclaimed cheese connoisseur and humble servant.
Zach came from good stock. His father, Jay Robbins, played basketball at Ricks College. His mother, Pamela Robbins, played softball in high school.
“Obviously my father was a big influence in my playing basketball,” said Zach. “But my one-on-ones with my older brother, Jordan, probably helped me to develop my skills more than anything else.”
Jordan was three years older than Zach. They were never on any organized teams together, due to the age difference, until Zach’s freshman year in high school. “They moved him up once the playoffs started,” said Pamela. “But he never saw the floor. So, while technically they were on the same team, they never really played together.” Zach was mending from a broken ankle suffered earlier in the school year.
Speaking about the difference in talent between his two oldest sons, Jay noted, “Zach was taller, but also more agile than Jordan. It would have been understandable for Jordan to resent his younger brother’s talent, but Jordan was just the opposite, very supportive of Zach’s development.”
“Even though we were not keeping score, we still heard the taunts from the other parents, like ‘Check that kid’s birth certificate,’” Pamela said. “It was hard not to feel sorry for the smaller kids that Zach towered over.”
Zach also flourished in other sports. He really enjoyed playing volleyball at the high school level until the program was dismantled for lack of funding. He also picked tennis up quickly and played for Upland his freshman year.
Upland High School varsity basketball coach John McNally explained that he was not expecting Zach to develop as quickly as he did.
“Jordan (Zach’s brother) played for me and he was a good ball player who stood about 6-foot-6,” McNally said. “When Zach was a freshman, he was about the same height, only a lot more lankier. I figured he would be a project.”
It did not take long for Zach to not only develop in agility, but also add three more inches to his frame. “For Zach’s junior year, we had a very talent-laden team. Four of our players went on to play college basketball. Zach started, but played more of a supporting role. He did not need to carry the team. His senior year he came out of the shadows. He did not surprise me, but he certainly surprised many other people.”
Because the club teams during the off-season played on Sundays, Zach, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, did not participate. “Zach is very principled,” said Jay. “He understood the importance of keeping the Sabbath and so did not get some of the attention that other athletes received.”
Zach did not get any substantive offers from any universities his senior year. “He truly had to self-promote,” said McNally. “I believe he sent some video to Dixie State. They came and scouted him and then made him an offer.”
The lack of attention did not last though. “Zach participated in some showcases,” McNally said. “In one, he completely outplayed Tyler Honeycutt, who had already committed, but not signed, with UCLA. The next thing I knew I was getting phone calls from all the Pac-10 schools as well as some others. Washington State and Boise State were ready to give him an offer immediately.”
Though Robbins had already committed to Dixie State, he had not signed the letter of intent. “Zach wanted to play in the showcases,” Dixie State coach Jon Judkins said. “The showcases were only for players who had not actually signed. So he told us he was holding off signing until the showcases were over. We hoped that he would stick to his earlier verbal commitment.”
Robbins said the decision was not an easy one, but one that he took very seriously.
“I am sure that Coach Judkins would have understood if I had decided to play Division I,” he said. “But I discussed it with my family, prayed about it and felt good that Dixie State was the right place for me.”
Zach’s presence on the court his freshman year played immediate dividends for Dixie State. He averaged 7.5 points and led the team with 7.5 rebounds per game in 20 minutes of average playing time.
“There is one play that sticks out in my mind that season,” Judkins said. “He caught a pass on a dead run on the fast break and in one motion caught the pass, did a 360 spin around a defender and dunked the basketball. Not many guards can do that, let alone a 6-10 kid.”
The team was 20-6 and won both the PacWest regular season and tournament championships. Dixie would lose to Cal Poly Pomona in the first round of the NCAAs that year.
After the season, Robbins turned in his papers to the LDS Church headquarters and prepared to serve a two-year mission for the LDS Church. But while friends and other church members were getting mission calls to serve in exciting places around the world, Zach seemed less than thrilled when he received his mission call to serve in the Ohio Columbus mission.
“One of his first calls was to Coach Judkins,” said Jay Robbins. “Coach Judkins told Zach that that was where he had previously served a mission and from that moment, Zach’s demeanor completely changed and he was very eager and excited to serve.”
Coach Judkins explains, “I was just as disappointed when I got my mission call there. Zach is a smart kid and I believe he wanted to learn a language. But having served in Ohio you realize that much of our history as a church was in that mission. The church had its infancy there and when I told Zach about that I think he felt better about serving there.”
“Elder Robbins was the perfect example of a missionary,” said President Robert Nielson, Zach’s mission president. “Humble, obedient and very service-oriented. I had multiple requests from other missionaries to be his companion. He was universally loved by everyone he came in contact with, whether it was another missionary, a member or an investigator.”
Coming home from his mission, the issue of whether returning to Dixie State again arose. “I felt that surely he would transfer to a Division I program,” said McNally. “There were still several schools still interested in him.”
“It did come up again,” said Zach. “I personally weighed the pros and cons of transferring, discussed it with my family, prayed about it and felt that I would be happiest returning to Dixie.”
Judkins knew of the other teams’ interest in Zach. “Zach is a Division I player. There is no question about that. But I thought that in terms of development, his opportunity was better to remain with us. If you have NBA skills, you will make it there, whether you come from Division I or Division II. We were very hopeful he would return to the program.”
It is not as difficult for a Division II player to get attention from NBA scouts as it has been in the past. There are four Division II players currently in the NBA. And there have been as many 12. Former Division II players include Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace and Darrell Armstrong.
In Zach’s sophomore year, he played with an entirely different cast of characters. It did not take long for them to gel though, as they went 22-7 and again won the conference season and tournament championships. Robbins averaged 13 points and 8.6 rebounds, leading the team in both categories. However, Dixie State would fall again in the first round of the NCAAs to Cal State-San Bernardino.
Along with basketball and religion, a third part of Zach’s life was beginning to emerge in importance. Love. The young man had his eye on a young woman he’d known for quite some time.
And so, after a year back from his mission, Zach took the plunge and proposed to his childhood sweetheart, McCall Packer.
“We have known each other since I was in sixth grade and he was in seventh,” McCall said. “We were always friends and then in high school it just kind of blossomed.”
The Robbins-Packer wedding was not the first, as older brother Jordan had already married McCall’s older sister Meagan. “I had told him earlier that he could not propose to me at the temple,” said McCall. “I wanted something a little more creative. He apparently didn’t get the message.”
After a short engagement the two were married in the Los Angeles Temple May 25, 2013.
Coming into the current season, Zach was selected as the Preseason PacWest Conference player of the year. The team is currently 19-4 and for the first time in Zach’s college career, in danger of not winning at least a share of the conference season title.
“We had a difficult stretch of games where Louis (Garrett) and then Dalt(on) (Groskreutz) were both injured and missed some games,” said Zach. “When we are at full strength our team is able to keep the intensity and pressure on other teams and we have more options at the offensive end.”
Robbins’ numbers have improved each year he has played. He currently averages a double-double in scoring (15.8) and rebounding (10.1), leading the team in both categories.
“Zach is definitely a leader with his play on the court, and also vocally off the court,” Judkins said. “He has a very quiet demeanor on the court. We are trying to get him to be more vocal on the court.”
Point guard Kimball Payne, who rooms with Zach for road games, had this to say about Zach’s leadership. “Zach leads by example on and off the court. He keeps things light off the court. He always has a prank planned for some member of the team when we are on the road. He is also very witty and keeps us all in good spirits with his humor.”
As the team winds down the season, the Red Storm is jockeying for PacWest and NCAA tournament seeding. Undoubtedly, Zach Robbins will play a big role in shaping that outcome.
Email: [email protected]
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.