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His Duke basketball career ended abruptly. Now he’s returning to Jon Scheyer’s staff

A popular former Duke basketball player whose career ended in a unique fashion is returning to the school.

Justin Robinson, a walk-on who became a key player in the final games of his career in 2020, was hired Tuesday as Duke basketball’s director of player development.

The 6-9 Robinson, the youngest son of Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson, agreed to come to Duke in 2016 without a scholarship to play for coach Mike Krzyzewski. He was awarded a scholarship but played sparingly over his first three seasons.

Named a team captain as a senior, Robinson didn’t play in more than nine minutes in a game over the 2019-2020 season’s first 27 games. But in regular-season wins over rivals N.C. State and North Carolina in March, Robinson became a force.

He played 14 minutes, scoring 10 points, when Duke beat the Wolfpack, 88-69, on March 2, 2020. Five nights later, he hit four 3-pointers while scoring 17 points as the Blue Devils beat the Tar Heels, 89-76.

But that was the last game Duke played that season as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down play on March 12, 2020, causing the ACC and NCAA tournaments to be canceled.

The 27-year-old Robinson returns to Duke after playing professional basketball in the Israeli National League. Robinson most recently played for Elitzur Netanya before the Israeli league halted its season after the Hamas terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 led to the ongoing Israel-Hamas War.

Robinson visited Duke last week, attending the Blue Devils’ 95-66 win over La Salle at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Nov. 21.

“It’s unfortunate what happened with Jay Rob,” Scheyer said that night. “He’s in Israel when everything happened on October 7 and his season got postponed. He’s been back in San Antonio, so he came back yesterday.

“He’s a guy when he’s around, you’re happy. It was great to have him here tonight.”

Robinson’s role at Duke is a support role that, under NCAA rules, doesn’t allow him to recruit or work with players on the court. Past Duke players have returned to the school in the director of player development role before being promoted to coaching positions.

Amile Jefferson ended his professional basketball career to become director of player development in July 2021 and worked in that role during Krzyzewski’s final season as Duke’s coach. Jefferson became an assistant coach in April 2022 and left to join the Boston Celtics coaching staff last June.

Nolan Smith was Duke’s director of basketball operations and director of player development beginning in March 2018 before becoming an assistant coach in April 2021. Smith is now in his second season as a Louisville assistant coach.