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ROBINSON THRIVING IN THE WIDE WORLD OF PRO BASKETBALL

I suppose we lost touch with Keith Robinson for awhile. That is what happens when our local athletes fall short of major stardom. As a senior at Buffalo's Grover Cleveland High, Robinson was the state player of the year in 1986. He had a nice college career at Notre Dame, as both a basketball player and a student.

But he never reached the goal that so many city kids fantasize about and so few actually achieve. He never made it to the NBA. He never became a wealthy and famous man.

Robinson isn't crying, though. He says he's earned an average salary of about $100,000 as a pro. And he's become rich in less tangible ways. Basketball has allowed him to travel the world, to experience different cultures, to observe landscapes and lifestyles that most Americans could only imagine.

He has played professionally in Spain, France and Turkey, in England, Monaco and Puerto Rico (plus CBA stops in Iowa and Nebraska). For Robinson, traveling isn't a violation, it's a way of life.

"I'm the adventurous type," Robinson said last week from Atlanta, where he recently bought a home. "You have to make a big adjustment to a whole other lifestyle. It's an opportunity to see other parts of the world."

Last season, Robinson decided to take a year off. In December, he was home in Atlanta when he got a call from his agent, Lamar Holt. Holt, a Buffalo native and son of Erie County legislator George Holt, said a team in England, the London Towers, needed a big man who could score.

What's more, the Towers were coached by Kevin Cadle, a native Buffalonian who starred at Baker Victory High in Lackawanna the early 1970s. Robinson did everything Cadle asked of him. At 6-foot-9, he gave the Towers another inside presence; he caused matchup problems with his outside shooting; and he played solid defense in the post.

Last May, the Towers won the British League championship. Robinson was MVP of the title game after scoring 25 points. Cadle was named national coach of the year for a sixth time.

"He surprised a lot of people over here," Cadle said. "The reason I wanted him was because he could hit the outside jump shot. He also gave us some physical play, and he's an excellent passer for his size. In the big games, he seemed to give us whatever was necessary to get us over the hump."

Next week, the Towers go back to camp. As defending champs, they will play in the European Cup, which matches the top pro teams on the continent. So this weekend, Robinson will embark on a new experience: For the first time as a pro, he will return to the same team for a second year.

"I usually sign one-year deals," Robinson said. "I like to keep my options open."

He recently entered into an arrangement that should be more lasting. He asked his girlfriend, Andrea Mangum, to marry him.

Mangum is also a pro basketball player -- a 6-1 forward who is the third-leading women's scorer in Providence College history. She and Robinson met through another player four years ago in Barcelona, where both were playing in Spanish leagues.

"It was just a friendly-type meeting at first," Robinson said. "Americans over there try to get along and hang out. We started talking, then we decided to see each other over the summer and it went from there."

Last weekend, Robinson took Mangum to a revolving restaurant in Atlanta on the anniversary of the opening of the 1996 Olympics. After dessert, he took her to the roof and proposed to her during a fireworks display.

"I figured she knew it was coming, but she had no idea," he said. "She was in tears."

No date has been set for the wedding. Mangum will play overseas this year, perhaps in Taiwan. Robinson says he'll play another couple of years before embarking on a new career, probably coaching high school basketball in Atlanta.

"I mean, I'm having a great career right now," he said. "I guess if I made the NBA, I'd be living a luxurious lifestyle. But I'm doing just fine."

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