The spring semester at the University of Lincoln came to a close on May 5, giving student-athletes a chance to head home for a bit and relax. However, one player in particular took advantage of that break to get in a bit of extra work back home in an effort to make up for lost time.
A year ago, Isaiah Roby was sidelined for several months with a stress reaction in his pelvis. He had to sit out during all the offseason workouts and most of the preseason practices, setting him back even further than the average true freshman. He did return in time for the season but he never quite found a rhythm or a role consistently, as I wrote in my player review.
However, now fully healthy, the 6-foot-8 swingman took advantage of his time back in Illinois to get in the gym and put in some work with skills trainer Brett Love.
After a month at home, players have begun making their way back towards Lincoln for offseason workouts and camps. Roby is going to have to continue to put work in as the Huskers are going to need far more out of him as a sophomore.
Last year, the roster was loaded with forwards and short on guards. That made it tough for Roby to crack the rotation on a consistent basis. However, four forwards transferred out of the program and the Huskers are still waiting to find out whether or not Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland will be eligible immediately or if he’ll have to wait until after the first semester ends. That leaves Nebraska with two centers in Jordy Tshimanga and Winthrop transfer Duby Okeke and two forwards in Jack McVeigh and Roby.
Nebraska has a lot options on the perimeter with Glynn Watson Jr., freshman Thomas Allen, junior transfer James Palmer Jr. and senior Evan Taylor as ball-handling options as well as freshman Nana Akenten and senior Anton Gill on the wing.
However, with Ed Morrow Jr. and Michael Jacobson both transferring away, Nebraska is without a traditional power forward. Jack McVeigh (6-foot-8, 215 pounds) played primarily at the four as a freshman but opened the season as the starting small forward as a sophomore. He bounced between the two forward spots as the season rolled on, and even got benched for Nebraska’s Big Ten opener. McVeigh provides outside shooting when he’s hot but little else, and he shot just under 34 percent from deep for the season.
Roby is a much more versatile option at that spot than McVeigh. At 6-foot-8 and 214 pounds, Roby is a much better rebounder, especially on the offensive end. Roby isn’t the shooter that McVeigh is (he’ll have to improve on his 4-for-20 shooting as a freshman) but he is much better at putting the ball on the deck to make plays for himself or others. On the defensive end, while he made some freshman mistakes from time to time, Roby’s length and anticipation make him a disruptive force as he led the team in blocks per 40 minutes at 2.2 and also grabbed 1.2 steals per 40.
A lot of fans are penciling in Roby to start on the wing, and that could certainly be the case at some point this season. But until Copeland becomes eligible, Nebraska will need him far more at the power forward spot. In order to play the wing, Roby will have to significantly improve his perimeter skills as well. In addition to his shooting woes, he was also fairly turnover prone. Part of that was him struggling to adjust to the speed of the game, but his ball-handling must improve significantly for him to reach his ceiling as a slashing, playmaking wing. If the above video is anything to judge by, Roby is fully aware of that fact.
Once upon a time (two short years ago) the Huskers started a four-out, one-in lineup with Shavon Shields as the nominal power forward. I see Shields-like potential in Roby offensively while the sophomore offers far more defensively as a rim protector than Shields ever did. Roby doesn’t quite have Shields’ scoring touch, but with the influx of perimeter talent, guys like Allen and Palmer and Watson will provide a combination of perimeter shooting and playmaking off the bounce that will provide a nice complement to Roby’s slashing, which will be difficult for teams to match up with.
There are a lot of variables on this team, but perhaps none more important than the kind of a leap Roby is able to make in his second season. If he’s able to be a difference-maker, Nebraska just might surprise some people next season.
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.