Most kids who grow up with a basketball in their hands have dreams of playing the game at the highest level. On Thursday, Isaiah Roby took a major stride toward making that dream a reality when the Dallas Mavericks, via a trade with the Detroit Pistons, selected the 6-foot-8 forward out of Nebraska with the 45th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
The dream started in Dixon, Illinois—with a population around 15,000—and it turned into a goal in Lincoln, Nebraska, prior to Roby’s breakout sophomore season.
“I would say probably the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college,” Roby told Hail Varsity. “That was when I really started to take a step forward towards that. The way that I wanted to perform that next season, I knew that would lead me to this point and that is what I was working towards from then on, really.”
On Friday, Roby celebrated his accomplishments with his community as Dixon held a parade for its first NBA Draft pick, with people lining the streets to wish Roby well.
“That was insane,” Roby said. “The moment was crazy, it was really crazy.”
On Thursday, however, Roby gathered with his closest friends and family at his girlfriend’s house. Former teammates from his high school and AAU teams, his high school coach and a whole host of family members gathered together to learn Roby’s fate.
“It was a good night, it was a really good night,” Roby said.
Roby was confident that he’d get drafted heading into the night, but there was a brief moment as the draft moved into the 40s where that confidence was shaken.
“I really wasn’t nervous at all,” Roby said. “I actually got a call and I was told that team was going to pick me if I was still available, so I kind of knew where I was going to get picked—I was either going to get picked at this number or even higher, so I wasn’t nervous at all. And then they ended up trading that pick. Then I got really nervous because I was like, ‘Now I don’t know if I’m going to get picked at all.’”
Then, near the mid-point of the second round, his phone rang and his worries were laid to rest.
“My agent asked me, he said, ‘Do you want me to tell you or do you want to see it live?’ I said, ‘No, you need to call me.’ He called me and he said, ‘You’re going to be a Maverick. Congratulations, enjoy it with your family.’ I hung up and then I watched it and celebrated. About five minutes [later], I got the call from the Mavericks and talked to them. They told me they’re excited to get me out there.”
After years of hard work, a lengthy pre-draft process and a long wait on draft night, Roby finally heard his name called.
“It was relief because it was getting to that danger zone,” Roby said. “It was relief and just excitement and joy.”
Roby said the 45th pick was about his floor for where he’d be willing to accept getting drafted. At a certain point late in the second round, some players prefer to go undrafted, which gives those players a chance to choose the best fit for them. Roby said he’s excited about his landing spot, however.
“After I got drafted, Coach [Rick] Carlisle called me,” Roby said. “It was Coach Carlisle, Mark Cuban and the GM [Donnie Nelson], and they were all on the call and they were like ‘We’re ecstatic to have you, we wanted to take you earlier and the fact that you were still there worked out perfectly for us. We’re excited to get you out to Dallas; you’re going to love it here. We’re excited to start this process.’ That’s kind of where they left it at.”
Roby said he didn’t really watch many Dallas games last season; outside of rookie sensation Luka Doncic and franchise legend Dirk Nowitzki—who retired after this past season—Roby said he’s not too familiar with the organization. That will soon change, however.
As Derek Peterson wrote on draft night, more and more second-round picks are getting guaranteed contracts, and that trend played into Roby’s decision to keep his name in the draft rather than returning to Nebraska for his senior year.
“That kind of gave me peace of mind in making the decision,” Roby said. “That was what I was trying to figure out when I went through the process, trying to get that feedback that ‘you’re going to be safe in this zone and you’re going to get drafted in the zone’ because that was the zone that is going to be a guaranteed contract. That was definitely a huge part.”
The history of what Roby has accomplished by being selected in the NBA Draft is not lost on him; he was barely over a year old the last time a Husker heard his name called.
“It’s kind of crazy, first one from Nebraska in 20 years, first one from my hometown to ever get drafted,” Roby said. “It’s surreal. I feel like when I left Dixon I left the sports program better than when I left it; they’ve had a lot of success even after I was gone and I’m thinking Nebraska will be the same way. I hope we have multiple guys drafted in the future as well, and I’m hoping it won’t take 20 years next time, one or two years would be perfect.”
The next step for Roby is to sign a contract with the Mavs, then it’s off to Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League. The League, which includes all 30 teams in addition to national teams from China and Croatia, runs July 5–15 and will be televised on NBA TV and the various ESPN channels.
Vegas Summer League schedule for the first few days (times listed are EST) pic.twitter.com/RVbm39kBcd
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 21, 2019
“That’s my first test in the NBA,” Roby said. “Everybody’s going to be playing, nobody’s going to be sitting out like the combine, so it’s going to be amazing.”
As for the Husker fans who supported him over the last three years, Roby had a message as he embarks on the next phase of his basketball journey.
“I would just say thanks for sticking by me and my teammates through the ups and downs,” Roby said. “I had a rollercoaster career and no matter what the fans were there to support, and I love the fans for that, I love Husker nation for that. I wouldn’t be here without going through that and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I know I didn’t have the success that I wanted to, personally or as a team. I always try to strive for the best, so it’s hard for me to say I’m really satisfied with anything, but I would never trade my experience at Nebraska for anything and I’m looking forward to following them in the future and being a fan.”
Roby still has a lot of work to do in order to carve out a long NBA career for himself, but for the time being, he’s simply living the dream.
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.