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Roby learns about NBA teams as they learn about him

May 18, 2019

CHICAGO — Thirty NBA teams came to Chicago this week on fact-finding missions to find players they hope will be cornerstones for their franchise.

For a select few such as Nebraska’s Isaiah Roby, the data exploration was more of a two-way street.

Roby still has until May 29 to decide whether he’ll return to Lincoln for his senior season, but the NBA options appear favorable for the versatile 6-foot-8 forward.

“Right now, I’m just trying to show that I can compete and just trying to show that I belong,” said Roby, a native of Dixon, Illinois, two hours west of Chicago. “There’s no reason for me to declare without having a solid chance of making the NBA. I want to play in the NBA. That’s what I’m trying to get right now.”

Experts are starting to come around on Roby as a possible first-round draft pick. ESPN’s Jay Bilas noted during the combine broadcast that Roby was one of three guys who stood out on the first day, noting he could find himself in the first round.

Jonathan Wasserman, the lead NBA Draft writer for Bleacher Report, was the first to tab Roby as a first-rounder, projecting him at No. 29 to San Antonio before the combine.

After Roby had 10 points and five rebounds in Thursday’s scrimmage loss in front of his coach in Lincoln and perhaps his next coach, Wasserman said he saw what he expected.

“I saw a little bit of the positives, a little bit of the negatives,” Wasserman said. “He made a corner three, that was nice to see. He was pretty active, he was involved in a lot of plays, but at the same time, I think you saw some of his raw lack of polish a little bit: Fumbling the ball a little bit, needs to get a little stronger.

“But I think he has the upside, but obviously he’s somebody that’s going to take a little bit longer to develop.”

When asked to name three unheralded prospects who could make a strong impact in the league, ESPN’s Mike Schmitz listed Roby among them. However, the draft analyst said there are big questions about him.

“It’s all about toughness and consistency,” Schmitz said. “From a talent perspective, he has pretty much everything you’re looking for in kind of a modern big man. A guy who can switch screens and protect the rim and kind of handle as almost a point forward.

“I think shooting also on top of toughness is important for him. He’s a guy that kind of turns down open threes a little bit too often, and teams want to figure out whether he’s confident enough and tough enough to play to where his talent suggests on a consistent basis.”

Nebraska hasn’t had a player picked in the NBA Draft since 1999, when Venson Hamilton was selected in the second round by the Houston Rockets. Only one Nebraska non-senior has ever been drafted — Tyronn Lue was the 23rd overall pick by the Denver Nuggets in 1998. Lue also was the last first-round pick for the Huskers.

Roby also would be the first player from Dixon to make the NBA — he thanked a television reporter from Rockford, Illinois, for covering him during the event on Friday.

Roby showed nice physical tools this week to serve as a foundation. His three-quarter sprint time of 3.21 seconds was second among forwards and his lane agility mark ranked third. Roby’s body fat percentage of 3.9 was fourth-lowest out of 69 players tested.

Former Nebraska coach Tim Miles was at Quest Multisport on Thursday to observe Roby. Clad in a Nebraska polo was new coach Fred Hoiberg, back in Chicago, about a mile away from the United Center where he spent four seasons as a player for the Chicago Bulls and made it nearly that long as coach.

Hoiberg even chatted with Bulls executive John Paxson, who fired him on Dec. 1.

“I’ve talked to John a few times. I’m very thankful for the opportunity I got in Chicago,” Hoiberg told the Chicago Tribune. “I learned a lot there and am a better coach because of that experience. I’m doing everything I can to make the most of my new opportunity. I’m excited about it. And that’s all I’m looking forward to.”

Roby, who averaged 11.8 points and 6.9 rebounds as a Nebraska junior, said Hoiberg has been invaluable to lean on.

“He knows how this process works,” Roby said. “Me and Coach Hoiberg have a really good relationship.I was in Lincoln for two weeks working out with him before I came out to Chicago to start training. We got in the gym a lot, we got some shots up, got some work in.”

Roby came to Chicago early to train with players such as Bruno Fernando, the former Maryland center, and impressed the former Big Ten rival with his outside prowess.

“I know the type of player he is,” Fernando said. “He plays with poise on the court, his shooting ability is really something that stood out for me.”

On Friday, Roby had 15 points and six rebounds in another scrimmage loss, showing off the ability to finish in transition with contact and also find open cutters.

In Chicago, he talked with representatives with Houston, Miami, Phoenix, Toronto and Golden State, and has scheduled workouts upcoming with the Warriors and Sacramento, and that the Suns hope to have him in as well.

“I think I fit the NBA perfectly,” Roby said. “The way it’s going to versatile guys, long guys. I think I can bring size, defense, rebounding and playmaking to a team.”

Which team that is could be determined on June 20 — if Roby doesn’t pull out by May 29.

He said he’s seen mock drafts put him as high as No. 25 and believes he’ll be a top-40 pick.

“I don’t really put too much stock into those things, but the feedback I’ve gotten from teams is positive,” Roby said of the mock drafts. “I’ve worked out for a lot of teams with picks in the 20s and 30s.”

Although some Huskers fans might cringe to hear it, it sounds like Roby’s information-gathering trip has paid off.

“I’ve been looking forward to this week for a long time, especially to play in these games,” Roby said. “This whole summer, NBA workouts or just training in general. I’m going into every gym thinking I’m the best player. I’m just trying to prove that to teams.”

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