AJ Robinson of Crenshaw High is ready to go the distance in the playoffs.

Who knew that learning how to finish a three-mile cross-country race translates to the fourth quarter of a close basketball game, when pressure is building, stamina is being tested and adversity is often peaking.

“It helped us a lot,” All-City guard AJ Robinson of Crenshaw High said in explaining how running cross country in the fall boosted the basketball team to a 23-3 record in the regular season and a spot in this week’s City Section Open Division playoffs.

“Completing those three miles makes you feel so accomplished. That was adversity. We know how to keep our composure. When one loses composure, we pull them back in. When we’re in tight games, calls aren’t going our way and fans are getting in our heads, we know how to keep our composure.”

It’s a wide-open field in the Open Division, from No. 1 Harbor City Narbonne to No. 8 Westchester. Usually during playoff time, an individual player or two elevates their team into contention.

Senior point guard AJ Robinson has led Creshaw to a 23-3 record and wears No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson.

(Robert S. Helfman)

Robinson is one of those capable of stepping forward to get the No. 6-seeded Cougars some wins. They open on Friday at No. 3 Fairfax.

Although Robinson is not related to the great Jackie Robinson, he’s worn No. 42 while playing on sports teams since he was a 5-year-old in soccer to honor the Dodgers great who broke baseball’s color barrier.

“Wearing 42 is a tribute to excellence,” he said.

Robinson, a 5-foot-9 senior, has a high game of 37 points while averaging 18 points and nearly six assists. He takes charges and understands the role of a point guard.

“Over the years, I’ve been working on understanding when I have to score and when to give the ball to teammates,” he said. “I know their strengths and weaknesses and ways to put them in the best position to score. Playing point guard is 90% mental.”

Crenshaw coach Ed Waters said his team’s conditioning shows because the Cougars are averaging 20 points in the first quarter and the same in the fourth quarter, starting fresh and ending strong.

“One of the things about cross country, no matter what, you finish,” he said. “It doesn’t matter about the times, go through the process.”

Robinson, with a 3.7 grade average, intends to give it his best in this playoffs.

“I know someone has to do the dirty work,” he said. “I’m going to do it. We bring the defense every single night.”

Among the City Section players to watch in the playoffs:

  • Keyon Kensie, Taft: The 6-7 Kenzie started the season playing for a prep school (Donda Academy in Simi Valley) and has come on strong, averaging 25.2 points for a Toreadors team that will try not to be eliminated by King/Drew for the third time in four years.
  • Marcus Adams Jr., Narbonne: The leading candidate for City Section player of the year is determined to end his high school days with a championship. The 6-8 forward has a high game of 50 points this season.
  • Anthony Hrboka, San Pedro: The 5-10 three-point shooting sensation helped beat Birmingham in a regular-season game. This time the Patriots know they have to do a better job putting a hand in his face in a rematch game.
  • Darius Carr, Fairfax: The 6-3 wing is another transfer from a prep school (Southern California Academy) who became eligible at midseason and led the Lions to an unbeaten record in the Western League. Carr vs. Robinson should be a terrific individual matchup.

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