Sara D. Davis, Associated Press
Duke's Joy Cheek (21) reaches for the ball held by Utah Valley junior center Robyn Fairbanks. Fairbanks led her team with 10 points.

OREM — Telling a woman that she reminds you of Utah Jazz center Mehmet Okur isn't generally considered a compliment.

But if that woman is Utah Valley State's Robyn Fairbanks, it's an apt description.

"I haven't thought about it before," said UVSC coach Cathy Nixon. "But I would say that would be a relatively good comparison just because she does have really good hands."

That's not the only similarity. The 6-foot-1 Fairbanks is uniquely deft for a center position that usually doesn't require versatility. She feels at home posting up down low in the paint, or she can easily set up shop behind the 3-point line when she gets a chance.

And she handles the inside post and perimeter play well — shooting 57.7 percent from the field, 39.1 percent from 3-point range and a respectable 70.5 percent from the free-throw line.

"It's kind of nice to have the freedom to move around," Fairbanks said.

She added: "Coaches have worked a lot with me on my shot, dribbling and being more comfortable out there."

All has helped her to a 24-points-per game scoring average — good for fourth in NCAA Division I play, even though the NCAA doesn't recognize UVSC's stats in official tallies.

As expected for a center, she also pulls down plenty of rebounds — averaging 9.9 boards per game.

This season hasn't been Fairbanks' breakout year. Last season, she scored 23.7 ppg to become the nation's third-leading scorer. Plus, her sophomore campaign didn't go unnoticed nationally as she was an honorable mention Women's Basketball Coaches Association all-American team.

"We knew Robyn had ability," Nixon said. "As a coach, you're trying to predict the future, which is not easy to do. But we had a lot of confidence in who she was as a person. We knew she had some real useful basic skills.

"But you don't always know how that would transition. Especially coming from a small high school like she did. I wouldn't say that I knew she would be an all-American and one of the leading scorers in the nation, but we did feel really confident that she could help our team and build our program with her."

Fairbanks' improvement on defense, though, has been especially noticed by her coaches. She has 31 steals so far this season — one more than all of last year with at least one more game left to play — and just a few blocks shy of last season's total.

"One of the things we have seen big improvement in is defensively," Nixon said. "She had a ways to go as a defender. I don't think it was an area of focus for her. Sometimes it got overshadowed by her offensive production."

And Fairbanks herself knows that her defense needs to get better to round out her game.

"It's where I struggle a lot," Fairbanks said.

Nixon said Fairbanks' family connections helped her bring the Raymond, Alberta, native aboard to what was a fledgling Wolverines program.

"We knew Robyn's sister Cathy from CSI (College of Southern Idaho), and I know Robyn's high school coach, Karie Tollestrup," Nixon said. "She played softball at BYU when I was there. A combination of those factors and (that) her parents knew about us as a junior college, then, basically, we started to find out about Robyn."

Fairbanks said that helping build the team is important to her and a factor in deciding to come to UVSC.

"It's been awesome to be a part of this, and grow as a team and a program," Fairbanks said. "And just being there from the beginning of it. It's just been really cool to see it all happen."

Also helping Fairbanks positive attitude is becoming a star right off the bat and becoming better at it in each game.

"For Robyn, the fact that she doesn't have too high of highs or too low of lows serves her well as a player and as a star," Nixon said. "It takes a certain temperament for a player to be good as a star."

Blossoming into a leader is something that has stands out in Nixon's mind when asked about Fairbanks progress.

"There's been certain landmarks this season where I have seen Robyn elevate her game, and the expectations she has had of herself and her teammates," Nixon said. "One of those was the Duke game (a 95-61 loss on Dec. 18). She asserted herself in all ways more than any other game that I have seen her play.

"And she has stayed in that role a little bit where she's not the kind of person that's going to yell at people or anything like that," Nixon said. "But she certainly has come out of her shell a little bit more and is way more vocal than she was when she first came here."

Quiet and reserved as usual, Fairbanks keeps team goals in mind over any individual achievements.

"(I just) want to keep on trying to build the program," she said.

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