LINCOLN — Let’s get ahead of the question before it comes. This is a story about Isaiah Roby, so you know it’s coming.
Roby knows it’s coming, too.
He’s heard it and read it a million times — so often, that he basically counts down the seconds in his interviews until the phrase comes. His response is usually something to the tune of flattery and timidness.
But the answer is yes. Roby does know how good he is. He does. Everyone can stop asking.
“I think it’s a cool thing, I guess, if they see potential in me,” Roby said of pundits and fans on Twitter who often wonder if Roby knows he could be a first-round NBA draft pick or All-Big Ten player. “I see potential in myself, too.”
Roby thinks the reason why so many ask if he realized his talent is because he isn’t a volume scorer. But that’s what will get him paid one day, and what will help Nebraska this year as a utility forward.
Last year, Roby averaged 8.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, two blocks and 1.7 assists per game, up from his freshman year, when he averaged 3.1 points, 2.9 rebounds. As a sophomore, Roby shot 40 percent from 3-point range and 56 percent from the floor, taking 5.3 shots per game.
“I’m not gonna be the guy who is gonna go out and take 25 shots or something like that,” Roby said. “I’m gonna be an all-around guy.”
Roby will be key in Nebraska’s season, which tips off with an exhibition against Wayne State on Nov. 1. With no true back-to-the basket center, Roby will likely fill most of the duties at the 5-spot for Nebraska. That will create problems for teams, with Roby’s ability to stretch the floor on the wing while still being able to defend bigger Big Ten centers.
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said at Big Ten media day when Roby goes to the 5, he’s not sure how any team will guard him. Northwestern coach Chris Collins called Nebraska a matchup nightmare.
The main question that remains with Roby, though, is his health. The junior has been dealing with ankle and foot issues this offseason. He has been practicing, but had to sit out some drills. Coach Tim Miles said Roby has been dealing with plantar fasciitis, but Roby isn’t convinced that is what it is. His pain, he said, is in his heel.
“Whenever I take a step, I feel pressure,” he said. “Like deep in my foot. It’s weird.”
Which means, Roby can shoot fine, he can do most offensive drills with no issues. But when it comes to full-speed drills, he can’t go up and down the floor. Because the pain hits when he puts on the brakes and tries to slow down.
“I would be shooting on the sideline during practice and like I could go up and dunk easy and (someone would) be like, ‘So you can dunk but you can’t play?’ And I’m like, there’s no way I can stop if I’m sprinting. And I can’t stop right now.”
Roby said coaches aren’t pressuring him to get on the floor. He’s getting some itches, though, because he can see how much potential this team has.
He’s found himself at practice yelling like a coach, nit-picking his teammates on footwork and play calls.
“I just wanna get out there and start playing,” Roby said.
Roby said right now, health-wise, he’s probably good to play. But skill wise, he’s not entirely back.
When he is back to full health, though, expect the hype around Roby to grow. He may not be the scorer James Palmer is, and may not stand out on court the way Isaac Copeland does. But Roby does things, Miles said, that only NBA players do.
“The sky’s the limit for Isaiah,” Miles said. “As he plays outside of his personality and starts competing at a higher level, that will only help him. I think we’ll see him change what he can do (this year).”
There’s already buzz around Roby leaving for the NBA after this year. The junior doesn’t seem set on leaving. This summer, Miles said he talked with Roby for 30 minutes one day about the draft. They went through the entire process.
A few days later, Roby overheard Miles talking to the director of operations about a trip for Italy next summer.
“And he’s like, ‘Oh, that’ll be great,’ ” Miles said. “The guy he sees in the mirror is a guy that’s going to be on the squad next year, not somebody who is going to be in the green room.”
Miles said he’ll cross the NBA bridge with Roby when they come to it. But that won’t stop the buzz that will follow Roby this season. Some projections have him as one of the top prospects in the 2018 draft class.
None of that is on Roby’s mind now. What he wants is an NCAA tournament win. It’s what he came to Nebraska for, he said.
“I’m 0 for 2 right now. I’ve got 2 more chances,” Roby said. “We’re not a powerhouse school obviously, we don’t have that good of history, but I’m trying to start something new here. I’m trying to spark something here for Nebraska and that’s something we all want to do.”