Healthier Roby aims for production, consistency
I watched as Isaiah Roby collected another rebound to add to his career performance Saturday night, and I flashed back to something the Nebraska sophomore wing told me last summer.
Roby’s right leg is a full inch shorter than his left.
Don’t ask why that, of all things, popped into my head as Roby propelled Nebraska to a season-opening 72-68 victory over Eastern Illinois, but it did.
“Every bone in my left leg is a quarter of an inch longer than in my right leg,” Roby said, “which all adds up to one inch.”
Sort of like how 11 points and 13 rebounds adds up to a double-double – the first of Roby’s Nebraska career.
Throw in six blocked shots, and you easily see how the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Roby can stuff a stat sheet.
Actually, that’s not so short of the truth – pun intended.
The shorter leg is something Roby didn’t know until the state-of-the-art Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory detected an issue through standard testing of all basketball players.
“I’m just odd,” Roby joked.
With the help of Nebraska’s athletic training staff, some specific stretches and insoles placed inside his right shoe, Roby has learned how to adapt. For example, he doesn’t hear clicking in his hips – something no 19-year-old should ever hear – with the insoles in place.
Roby thinks back to high school, when he high jumped, and planted on the same spot over and over, and did so with uneven legs. That, he said, could have been the cause of the stress fracture in his pelvis when he arrived to Nebraska as a true freshman.
That injury, which Miles alluded to again Saturday night, sidelined Roby for three months. Coaches eased him into the nonconference last season, but Roby, who later suffered an ankle sprain, was never 100 percent healthy.
Extended rest after last season finally helped Roby recover, and when he was home in Dixon, Illinois, for about a month before summer classes began in Lincoln, Roby did something he couldn’t do the previous summer – he worked out with a basketball trainer.
In fact, Roby drove either to Chicago or to the Quad Cities to conduct his workouts three to four times a week.
“I put a lot of miles on my car when I was home,” he said.
The trips to the Quad Cities, where Roby played AAU ball with the Quad City Elite, were especially enjoyable. The basketball trainer Roby worked with there also happens to train Wisconsin third team All-American Ethan Happ, who enters his junior season on many national player of the year preseason lists.
“It was cool to just talk with him, even watch some of his workouts, learn some stuff from him,” Roby said. “He lives closer to the Quad Cities than I do, so he was there every morning before I was. You can see why he’s as good as he is, and I’m trying to implement that for myself.”
Roby, knowing this Nebraska team has a substantial amount of points to replace from last season, worked over the offseason on becoming more of an offensive threat.
“I don’t try to overcomplicate things,” he said. “I try to get to the rim, shoot open shots, shoot off the catch.”
Fans saw a bit of all of that Saturday night.
Roby scored in transition, drew a foul and converted a three-point play to end a Nebraska scoreless streak of nearly 4 minutes in the first half. Later, he swished an open three-pointer to pull the Huskers within 25-24.
In the final minute before halftime, Roby blocked a shot that helped send the Huskers into transition, resulting in a James Palmer Jr. dunk. By halftime, Roby had seven points, five rebounds and five blocked shots off the bench.
“I told him at the end of the first half, ‘Robes, baby, you saved our bacon,’ Miles said. “I think we had two rebounds as a team before he got in the game. He and Jordy really got in on the boards.”
Jordy Tshimanga, a 6-11, 268-pound sophomore center, grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds. Speaking of Tshimanga, that’s how Roby knows he’s now playing at 225 pounds, not his playing weight of 205 as a true freshman.
“I notice when I guard somebody like Jordy or Duby (Okeke), I just don’t feel as weak,” Roby said of the Husker bigs. “I’ve noticed strength come.”
Roby continued his work on the boards in the second half, and another three-point play, on an assist by Palmer, pushed him into double figure scoring. That gave Nebraska 59-57 lead with 4:25 remaining, and the Huskers never trailed again.
“Whatever he had for breakfast, he’s going to have again,” Miles said when asked whether Roby can be more consistent this season. “I think he’s better because he is physically better. But that’s what you hope out of sophomores, is that consistency will go on. Roby is a guy that we definitely need, and he can really fill up a stat sheet, no doubt.”
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.