BY JUSTIN RUSSELL – Ronald Roberts Jr.’s biggest individual achievement this year was being named to the third team all-Atlantic 10. When you try to find the roster for this team online, well, I’ll spare you the Google, you can’t. South Jersey’s own big man with a 42″ vertical has played out of the national spotlight his entire collegiate career, but Sixers fans are starting to take notice of the man with the pogo sticks in his legs.
At 6′ 8″, the Saint Joe’s forward averaged 14.4 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Hawks his senior year. He was the center piece for a team that went on to win the Atlantic 10 Championship. In addition he participated in the NCAA Dunk Contest, and racked up three ESPN Top 10 Plays over his career.
At The Barclay’s Center two weeks ago, Roberts, who was projected by many as a late second-round pick, did not hear his name called. He then decided that the best move for his career would be to accept his summer league invitations from both the Sixers and the
reigning champion Heat. In his first game with the Sixers in Orlando, Roberts dropped 12 points, grabbed nine rebounds and, just for good measure, blocked a shot. It was enough to earn him a starting spot the next day against the Thunder. In game 2, he did not disappoint. He put up another 12 and added six boards.
Of the Sixers’ laundry list of needs, power forward probably tops the list (assuming Nerlens Noel spends his days at center). And given the nature of his uptempo offense, Brett Brown also needs guys who have skills in rebounding and running the floor, and Roberts has shown he can do
both. He sets himself apart from the pack with his athleticism and style. He’s a hard-nosed player who has previously looked good working inside against top teams like the NCAA-champion UConn Huskies. He’s also looked good working inside against the summer league rosters of Orlando, OKC, and Houston. He’s displayed an ability to knock down the mid-range jumper, as he went 9-12 from the field. Plus, Roberts did not miss a free throw in these two games, which was his kryptonite at SJU (junior year was his best season in that category, when he went just 67% from the line).
Tyler Tynes of the Philadelphia Daily News recently noted that Roberts’ most important assets can’t be read on a stat-sheet. In an interview with Tynes, Saint Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli said, “The first thing he’s going to bring is an impeccable character. And in a league that I believe has put heavy emphasis on the people that get to call themselves ‘NBA players,’ you aren’t going to find a better human being than Ronald Roberts.”
Ronaldmania has swept the Philly sports media. Jake Fischer and Mike Levine of Liberty Ballers both tweeted about Roberts, unabashedly declaring their fan-hood. Here’s what Fischer had to say:
Unfortunately, we here at the Philly Moose can’t be all rainbows and puppies (as our savior Chip Kelly would say, “We’re from Philadelphia and we find a way to complain about everything.”) While Roberts does have tremendous athleticism a work ethic that, according to his coach, is “second to none,” his downside is pretty horrifyingly worrisome and worryingly horrifying. Roberts averaged only 1.3 blocks his senior year, which does not bode well if he looks to make Hinkie’s violence-bringing squad. He also has trouble handling the ball and makes questionable decisions at times.
However, Roberts has little to fear in Brown’s system. He has time to improve his weaknesses in front of a Sixers staff that is actively trying to cultivate talented players with high ceilings. Brown and his assistants know the team’s not going anywhere soon, so they’ve got time to build up their youngins. There’s so much to love about this guy. He has a dominating presence underneath, a ton of raw athleticism and energy, and a willingness to learn.
Roberts is another person us Philadelphians can see ourselves in – if we’re given this opportunity. He’s trying to make the most of his opportunity, and he won’t stop until he’s on an NBA roster. He will never give in (or die, get it? no? ok. #THWND) The Roberts Train is coming, and it can’t be stopped.