Isaiah Roby
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Catching up with Former Husker Isaiah Roby

August 01, 2021

Former Husker Isaiah Roby was in Lincoln over the weekend to hold a youth basketball camp. Hail Varsity caught up with the Oklahoma City Thunder forward to discuss his first two season in the NBA and plenty more.

Here’s our full Q&A with Roby.

HV: The 2021 NBA Draft took place on Thursday, and plenty of trades meant players were technically drafted by teams that they aren’t going to play for. You experienced that yourself, getting drafted by Detroit even though your rights were headed to Dallas. What was that experience like for you?

IR: For me, honestly I never talked to Detroit. So from the jump I knew Dallas was picking me. I even had the Dallas hat ready. My agent told me Dallas is taking you and then it came across the screen that Detroit was picking me. But in my head and my heart I already knew Dallas had chosen me and I was happy to get down there. As soon as I got picked I talked to Mark Cuban, talked to Donnie Nelson and it was a great start to my NBA career. I’m thankful for those guys. I talked to Mark a couple weeks ago and I still have a good relationship with some of those guys over in Dallas.

HV: Was it weird though to technically be a Detroit draft pick even though you never played there?

IR: It didn’t matter what team I was going to that night. I just wanted to hear my name get called and the fact that it happened was just amazing. It was a long night, a very long night. Getting picked 45 is a long wait, but it was a great night I’ll never forget.

HV: The Thunder drafted four players on Thursday and have already made two significant trades this offseason. Are you locked into what the Thunder have been doing this offseason, especially with the Draft considering how many picks Oklahoma City has?

IR: I was tuned in right when it started. My family was coming to me like “Who do you think they’re going to take?” I was like “I don’t know if they know.” It was a fun night. I’m excited to play with all the new guys we brought in. The one guy I’ve played against or seen play is [Aaron] Wiggins, so I know his game a little bit. I know he’s athletic and can do a lot on the court. I’m looking forward to getting in the gym with those guys. But definitely draft night is not just for when you’re a rookie. It’s not just nerve-wracking then. Anything can happen, trades can happen. So it’s definitely something I’m tuned into.

Note: The Thunder drafted Australian wing Josh Giddey at No. 6, Florida guard Tre Mann at No.  18, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl at No. 32 and Wiggins, a guard from Maryland, at No. 55. General manager Sam Presti has also traded for Kemba Walker and Derrick Favors.

MORE: Roby Gives Back with Local Youth Camp

HV: Dalano Banton got drafted right around the same spot as you, coming off the board at No. 46 on Thursday to his hometown team, Toronto. If you had the chance to give him some advice, what would it be?

IR: I’m excited for him. To have another Nebraska guy in the NBA, that’s awesome. I get a lot of crap from guys saying that Nebraska’s not a basketball school, it’s not this, it’s not that. We’ve got two guys drafted in the last three years, so a lot of schools can’t say that. That’s encouraging for Nebraska and I’m looking forward to hopefully meeting up with him, seeing him, even out in Vegas I’m looking forward to seeing him play. As far as advice goes, I don’t know him personally, but I think that if he just puts his head down and works he’s got the size, he’s got the skill. Obviously getting picked in the same range I did, teams might have some question marks — whether it’s his jump shot or maybe his competitiveness or whatever it is, he’s got an opportunity now to go out and prove people wrong.

HV: You logged just 11 NBA minutes in three games during a rookie year that saw you struggle with a foot injury all year, spend some time in the G League and get traded midseason from Dallas to Oklahoma City. What was that experience like?

IR: It was tough. I technically played on four different teams, had to learn four different coaching staffs, four different medical staffs, playing with Dallas and Oklahoma City and both their G League squads. But it was great. It was something that helped me. Obviously having an injury, playing through that, it was really tough. Getting traded to Oklahoma City was a blessing for me because they allowed me to get my surgery which allowed me to get very healthy and start a lot of games this year. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was a very tough rookie season and I kind of still felt like a rookie this past season. I tried to even petition to get my stats to count as rookie stats because I only played 11 minutes, but they said once you play one minute you’re done.

HV: You were in and out of the lineup early this past season before establishing yourself as a regular rotation player the rest of the way. How did it feel to finally have a steady role?

IR: It was a lot of fun. When I first got my name called by Coach to start, obviously I had a really good showing my first game and I was able to continue that. I had a lot of good games this year I felt like, especially for coming off an injury. I hadn’t played real basketball consistently in over a year. So I was really pleased with myself. Towards the end of the year I didn’t finish the strongest and us as a team didn’t finish the strongest, but I think that kind of lit a fire under me for this summer to be able to go in the gym and know what I have to work on. Teams didn’t really know what to expect from me at first when they were guarding me and toward the end of the year they kind of figured me out a little bit more. So being able to go back and watch the film and see what I did well, see what I didn’t do well and work on those things, it’s been good.

HV: What was it like playing in the NBA during this past season with the COVID-protocols and limited attendance?

IR: It was tough. This year was really weird in the NBA. There were some good things, some bad things. For instance, some of the guys who are veterans, they liked this year if we played New York we would go to new York for like five, six days and stay there. It was good because we didn’t have to take three flights, but it was bad because we were also in the same hotel room for five days straight. That was the tough part of it, not being able to go to restaurants, not being able to go to the movies, anything like that we weren’t able to do. I’m looking forward to this next year being a little bit more normal.

HV: Are there any moments or games that stand out from your first two years in the league?

IR: Definitely my first time starting against Orlando. I started the first preseason game also, I think, against San Antonio; that was amazing because my starting matchup was against one of my favorite players growing up in LaMarcus Aldridge, so that was really weird for me having to match up against him. We beat Houston when I was a part of the youngest starting lineup in NBA history to win a game, that was another game that was kind of surreal for me. But a lot of moments I just find myself sitting there like “Man, I’m here.” I didn’t really see myself coming here and being at this level, but now that I’m here I’m going to do anything I can to stay here and be even better.

HV: What have you learned about what it takes to play in the NBA?

IR: One thing that I’m still working on myself is not losing sleep over every loss, every bad game, every bad practice because Al Horford actually told me this, he told me you’re going to have a long career in this league and you can’t lose sleep. Me personally, I was in college and we played 30 games. If we lose 20 games, that’s a really terrible season. In the NBA if you lose 20 games, that’s normal, that’s normal for a lot of teams. He was telling me you can’t lose sleep over losing five in a row, four in a row. You’ve got to be able to turn around and win seven in a row now. So that was big for me, just the mental part of the game.

HV: Is there a veteran player that took you under his wing and helped you develop?

IR: Al Horford and Mike Muscala were our veteran guys at the big position and it was great to have those guys around. Al’s a guy who’s a similar height to me, maybe a little bit taller, obviously an All-Star, great player, and just being able to play against him every day and see him in the gym when he was with the team, it did a lot for my game.

HV: Now that you have a full season of games under your belt, what are you focusing on this offseason to help get you ready for year three?

IR: Definitely becoming a more efficient player. This year we had a really young team and our coaches let us play, they gave us a lot of freedom. They gave me a lot of freedom. They see me as a point-center, point-forward so being able to clean up my game, be more secure with the ball, be more consistent with my jump shot, those are things that I’ve proven that I can do and now I have to prove I can do them consistently to help a team win.

HV: Are you excited for the upcoming Nebrasktball season?

IR: For sure. I’m very excited. I even talked to Fred [Hoiberg] a little bit and we had a conversation about the team. He said he’s got a lot of hard-working guys and I know one of the managers really well still with the team, so I’ve been looking for some behind the scenes stuff on the team. I’m excited to watch them this year.

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