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Former Husker Isaiah Roby returns to Nebraska for his second basketball camp

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LINCOLN — Before Isaiah Roby chose basketball, he wanted to play quarterback.

Roby, the former Husker forward and current San Antonio Spur, played football until 10th grade. “I was a little bit (like) Cam Newton,” he said — tall, fast, big arm — and he attended camps hosted by Bears defensive end Alex Brown.

Roby still remembers winning quarterback of the camp in eighth grade. He still “messes with” the rivals turned friends he played against during those camps. And he still remembers the inspiration he drew from Brown growing up.

This weekend, Roby is assuming Brown’s role for young basketball players at Speedway Village. The second annual Isaiah Roby Camp, which Roby hosts with trainer Thomas Viglianco, runs Saturday and Sunday for players aged fourth through 10th grade. Roby deemed it “a blessing” to be hosting.

“I feel like I have a responsibility to give back in certain ways,” Roby told The World-Herald this week. “I'm not the guy who has tons of money, but I can donate my time and my enthusiasm to kids. I can help them with my expertise with basketball.”

That expertise flashed last season, the best of Roby’s 3-year NBA career. The former Husker posted career highs in points (10.1 per game), field goal percentage (51.4%) and 3-point percentage (44.4%) in 45 games with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Roby

Former Husker Isaiah Roby explains why the Oklahoma City Thunder waived him, tells wacky G-League stories and explains his football background ahead of this weekend's Isaiah Roby Camp in Lincoln. 

So Roby was surprised when Thunder GM Sam Presti called him last month. The Thunder were waiving him hours before his contract became guaranteed.

“It's not indicative of your talent,” Presti told Roby. “It's a numbers crunch.”

Roby knew the Thunder had a crowded roster, but OKC told him it would either trade him or keep him this summer. The circumstance reminds him of advice he heard from Thunder teammate Mike Muscala, who once played for three teams in one season.

“You’re never really safe.”

Roby knows the feeling from toggling between the NBA and G-League during his career.

The NBA lifestyle includes five-star dining, luxury lodging and private planes. The G-League grind lacks the same glamor.

Roby recalls a road trip through Texas during his first season with the OKC Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, in 2020. Roby’s team, coached by former Creighton guard Grant Gibbs (“I gave him crap about the investigation stuff,” Roby said.), stopped at an outdoor basketball while bussing from a road game against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Rockets’ G-League affiliate) to a road game against the Austin Spurs (Spurs’ G-league affiliate).

Roby guessed that the court spread about 40 feet wide. He eyeballed the bent double rims at seven feet tall. One had no net.

“We’re running full layup drills on (that court),” Roby said. “There’s a quinceanera going on at the park, and kids are running on the court, too.”

Another time, the Blue confronted a blizzard while flying to play the Sioux Falls SkyForce, the Miami Heat’s G-League team. So the team flew to Minnesota and finished the trip via bus. The blizzard extended a three-hour trip to six hours. The Blue arrived at 5 a.m.

“And we played that same day,” Roby said. “You don’t get that in the NBA. That’s only stuff you can experience in the G-League.”

Roby hopes those experiences are behind him now. He says opponents scouted him harder last season, “and I was still able to perform well.” The Spurs picked him up off waivers two days after OKC let him go.

But with one year left on his contract, he still hears Muscala’s words in his head — can’t feel safe.

“But also, you can’t feel scared,” Roby said. “If you go day-to-day feeling scared, it’s gonna hinder your game.”

Confidence will be a point of emphasis at this weekend’s camp, too. As Roby’s professional profile grows, so does his urge to reciprocate support he felt in Lincoln.

He said last year’s campers brought great energy. He expects the same this weekend. And he hopes that, by weekend’s end, he’ll have sparked the same competitive spirit Brown helped him foster years ago.

“You get to see the guy,” Roby said of pro athletes’ value at youth camps. “You can see the hard work he’s put in. You go back to your team and for me, it was motivation.

“It's cool to see on YouTube and TV. But to be able to see it in person and interact with somebody that you’re watching on TV, it's a special thing.”

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