The seeds that would grow to wreak havoc on Robbie Berwick’s basketball career at Florida State were already planted before he even entered his junior year at Atascadero High School.
“I was injured, we just never knew because I just tried to play through it,” Berwick said Tuesday from his Atascadero home. “We got an X-ray. Nothing ever showed up.”
But toward the end of his freshman season with the Seminoles — after he was highly recruited out of high school despite not being 100-percent healthy — the pain became too much for him to handle.
“I would have to check myself out of games my freshman year,” he said. “It was pretty miserable.”
Berwick had surgery a little more than a year ago to repair a bulging disc in his back that caused him to take a medical redshirt and sit out his sophomore season. Less than two months ago, he had surgery to repair a hernia.
Berwick decided he needed a change of scenery and asked FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton for a transfer.
“I just decided I wanted to be closer to home and play in front of my family and have an opportunity to play for a tournament team and play in a lot of games in California,” Berwick said.
Berwick was sought after again — even with the injury issues.
“I was probably recruited harder out of Florida State than I was out of Atascadero,” Berwick said. “People would rather have a 20-year-old kid that has played in 33 ACC games than a high school kid.”
The 6-foot-4 point guard received interest from UNLV, Washington State, Fresno State, Cal Poly, Santa Barbara, Boise State, Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara.
It’s no wonder teams came calling. In limited playing time and playing injured, Berwick scored in double figures twice during his first collegiate season. He had 11 points in his debut against Manhattan and a career-best 13 points in a victory over Virginia Tech. In one of his most memorable games on national television against a Duke team filled with NBA talent, Berwick made clutch shots in front of a sellout crowd in Tallahassee.
In the end, it was the pitch by head coach Larry Eustachy at Colorado State, a school that recruited him at Atascadero, that led Berwick to Fort Collins.
“He just sat me down at his house, looked at me and said, ‘What more do you really want? We have been to the NCAA tournament, have been in the top 25 three of the last four years, you’re gonna run the point guard, and you are going to be a key piece to this program, so what more do you want?’
“I said, ‘Not much.’”
CSU had a mediocre season last year (18-16, 8-10 Mountain West) while dealing with tragedy after forward Emmanuel Omogbo lost his parents and a young niece and nephew in a Maryland house fire in January.
And there is some unrest among the fan base after two top assistant coaches left last month. Still, the Rams are coming off their most successful four-year period in school history, all under Eustachy.
“We are extremely thrilled that Robbie is joining the program,” Eustachy said in a media release on Tuesday. “He has struggled at Florida State through numerous injuries, and I think this is a great place for a new start for him. We have high hopes (his injuries) are past him and he could end up being one of the top players in the (Mountain West Conference).”
Making CSU even more attractive was the fact that Colorado State’s starting point guard last year, John Gillon, announced earlier this month he was transferring to Syracuse next season, leaving the door open for Berwick. He would join shooting guard Gian Clavell, a sixth-year senior who averaged nearly 21 points per game before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, in the backcourt.
“With us in the backcourt, we can be a tournament team, to be honest with you,” Berwick said.
But it’s not a done deal just yet.
Berwick has to jump through a few NCAA hoops before he can become eligible to play next season. Berwick said that Hamilton is going to help him petition the NCAA and work with CSU with the goal of getting him on the floor as soon as possible. If it doesn’t work out, he may have to sit out another season.
“I have a pretty, pretty good shot at it, I think,” Berwick said.
Berwick is currently spending time with his family in Atascadero and working out until he leaves for Colorado on June 9. If the NCAA approves him to play and he can remain healthy, he is confident he can take care of the rest.
“I’m not really too worried about the transfer because I went against the best in the ACC, playing against Duke who had four NBA players and won the National Championship, and I think held more than my own,” Berwick said. “Now that I have three years left it’s a blessing in disguise because I got everything taken care of and out of the way at Florida State.
“Now I’ve got three more years of college basketball to become what I want to be.”