Former Husker and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Isaiah Roby returned to Lincoln over the weekend to realize a dream born during his college days.
Together with local skills trainer and former pro Thomas Viglianco, Roby hosted a youth basketball camp at Speedway Village in Lincoln on Saturday and Sunday. Roby began working out with Viglianco while he was at Nebraska and the two have remained close since.
“Long story short, about four years ago right over here on court eight, we started working out together and I said ‘Hey, some day we should be doing camps together,’” Viglianco told Hail Varsity. “Over the years we went from trainer-basketball player to now it’s become mentor/life coach/trainer. Last year we were going to do it, then all things COVID happened. Then I was like ‘Hey, let’s do it this summer. I think we can do it,’ and it went from 30 kids the first day to 230 within a month.”
Roby is from Dixon, Illinois, but his three years in Lincoln left a lasting impression on him, and giving back to the community became a priority for him even before he signed his NBA contract.
“Having it here in Lincoln is awesome and it was important to me because obviously I came to school here,” Roby said. “Without coming to Nebraska, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today and I have a great relationship not only with the community but with Thomas who has been able to help me out a lot. He put a lot of this together. He knows a lot of these kids, I think he works with maybe half these kids consistently already, so they have a familiar face in him and in me also.”
Roby said he hopes to hold a similar camp in Dixon at some point down the road as well. There weren’t any professional basketball players hosting camps in his hometown while he was growing up. In fact, Roby is the first person from Dixon to get drafted in the NBA, and he hopes to fill that void.
The Lincoln camp was for boys and girls with fourth through sixth grade campers going from 10 a.m. to noon and seventh through ninth grade players 12:30 to 2:30. More than 200 kids showed up for the camp.
“It’s amazing,” Roby said. “I think it’s just a testament to the fanbase here, the loyalty of the fanbase here and the amount that they love the Huskers. Nebraska is a special place when it comes to former Huskers.”
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) July 31, 2021
The turnout made for a hectic, yet rewarding, day for Viglianco on Saturday.
“It was intense for me because I’m a perfectionist, I’m trying to make everything run right,” Viglianco said. “At camps like this, I usually have everything very strict, but with this kids just want to have more fun and meet Isaiah and all the players. It’s wild. The first half, it was 130-plus kids, eight courts going, intense. The second half was 80-something kids and it wasn’t as bad, they’re all older and a lot of them work with me. Overall, it was just a great experience and overwhelming in a good way that that many people would come to our camp for the first time ever.”
To lessen the burden on himself and Roby, Viglianco recruited players of all ages that he works with to serve as counselors. Among them were Fremont and Omaha alumnus Mitch Hahn, Lincoln North Star and South Dakota grad Triston Simpson, new Lincoln East grad and Nebraska Wesleyan freshman Carter Glenn, Lincoln Pius X senior Jared Bohrer and others.
“It’s, I guess, a testament to Viglianco Hoops that players like Triston Simpson and Mitch Hahn and Morgan Maly and these people that I’ve trained for three, four, seven years are coming here on a Saturday and a Sunday to help,” Viglianco said. “It just comes full circle. They’ve gotten to know Isaiah over the years too with playing pick-up with him a little bit here with me and doing workouts. I always wanted a family-type feel to V Hoops and it just keeps happening more and more as guys and girls keep getting older and being successful on and off the court.”
Glynn Watson Jr. (Roby’s teammate at Nebraska) and current Husker Trey McGowens were there as well, and a few other Huskers have swung through the gym as well.
“It’s been dope,” Roby said. “I know Glynn’s back here, he’s training hoping to go back overseas. He’s got a few jobs lined up and he’s kind of deciphering what he wants to do … Having guys like Trey, we have Kobe [Webster] come in, Lat [Mayen] came in, C.J. [Wilcher] came in also. I don’t have a close relationship with those guys, but I know Thomas works with them and they’re good guys. They came in and helped me out and I appreciate that a lot.”
Players sponsoring camps isn’t rare, but Roby did more than just put his name on the thing. He was there helping run stations for the entire two-day camp, he took the time to answer plenty of questions for the campers and then at the end of the sessions he signed autographs for all the kids that wanted them.
“Some people asked initially ‘Is Isaiah going to be there?’” Viglianco said. “‘Yeah, he’s going to be there the whole time.’ ‘Oh my gosh.’ I’ve seen it around the county where guys will have their name on a camp and they won’t even be there or they’ll show up for 20 minutes. Isaiah is here the whole time and shaking hands and telling the kids stories. It just shows the kind of genuine person that is and how much easier it is to root for somebody like him. It’s just pretty special.”
Roby and Viglianco finally fulfilled a dream they’ve been talking about for years this weekend, but that was only the beginning. They have big plans for the future.
“I keep telling people, when two good people come together, like-minded and have good hearts, good things will happen,” Viglianco said. “It’s been pretty cool. I think one of the guys were telling us the Husker camps usually have less than this, and this is our first ever camp. We want to have these for the next 10, 20 years; this isn’t a one-time thing. My vision is to have it where more NBA guys will show up and we’ll do some other stuff too with Isaiah.”
However, in the short term, Roby has a season to prepare for. After an injury-plagued rookie season, he established himself as a legitimate NBA player this past season and is looking to build on what he accomplished heading into year three with the Thunder.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.