Sky-High Potential

Ronald Roberts Jr can fly.

He took off when he dunked all over Dayton’s Kyle Davis. He went airborne as he hurdled Creighton’s 6-0 Antoine Young. He defied gravity when he slammed a one-handed put back over Dayton’s Khari Price.

When he worked out for the Toronto Raptors last week, he touched the top of the vertical jump measurement device—12 feet—and the coaching staff couldn’t move the scale any higher, even though he hadn’t maxed out quite yet.

But the 6-8, 225-pound former St. Joe’s forward says his most memorable dunk won’t be immortalized on a poster any time soon.

“When we played VCU in the Atlantic 10 championship game, I was kind of ahead of the pack a little bit and then I dunked and that put us up a couple points late in the game,” Roberts says. “It was real memorable because right when I did that, everybody knew we were going to win the championship. It was kind of like a seal-the-deal type thing, it wasn’t a crazy dunk, but I was just really happy that my teammates were happy.

“I just put a statement on the game. Just seeing everybody happy made that my favorite.”

It’s a true testament to Roberts’ team-first, blue-collar attitude. After all, he was named St. Joes’ Most Improved Player in his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons, along with team MVP that junior season. His constant year-to-year improvement is something head coach Phil Martelli called, “unheard of.”

“He is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful human being, he represented his family name to the highest degree, represented this program, he was everything you want in a college basketball player,” Martelli says. “If somebody told me I could have a team full of Ron Robertses, I’d coach until they had to wheel me out on a chair.”

Roberts averaged 14.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game this season, helping lead the Hawks to the A-10 tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. He then scored 15 points and added 10 rebounds in the 10-seeded St. Joe’s 89-81 overtime loss to a certain UConn team. The Hawks were even leading 70-67 with 43 seconds left.

“We had a core group of seniors and we wanted it really bad,” Roberts says. “But winning the Atlantic-10 tournament, that was just a great way to end my college career.”

Roberts arrived on St. Joe’s campus with fellow seniors Langston Galloway, Halil Kanacevic and Daryus Quarles back in the fall of 2010. The season prior, the Hawks finished just 11-20. Their freshman season, St. Joe’s dropped two more games, finishing the season at 11-22, but the Class of 2014 sought to change that. St. Joe’s went on to win 20 games in 2011-12, 18 in ’12-13 and 24 this past season.

With each season, Roberts matured within Martelli’s program. His scoring average improved from 6.4 in his freshman season to 14.4, good for second on the team, his senior campaign. He boosted his blocks incrementally from 0.6 per night to 1.3 per night by the time he graduated.

Roberts can’t even imagine counting how much time he spent refining his game with assistant coach Dave Duda.

“They spent hours watching tape,” Martelli says. “Ron was willing to listen to the criticism, to accept it as coaching and not to see it as a personal attack—which is rare among today’s players—and then he was willing to put in hour, upon hour, upon hour working, whether it be through film or on the court taking baby steps so he could sprint now and be considered a professional prospect.”

Duda and Roberts keyed in on his main weaknesses from day one on City Avenue.

“He was not a very good passer, he had to dramatically improve his foul-shooting ability and he had to be willing to run on every single play,” Martelli said. “By the end of his time and in his NBA workouts, people will tell you that he’s just outworking everybody he plays against.”

The explosive big man showed off his motor and hustle during this year’s Portsmouth Invitational. En route to earning All-Tournament team honors, he averaged 13.8 points on 51.1 percent shooting, 10.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 26.8 minutes per game over four contests.

“I have a really high motor and I never really stop playing,” Roberts says. “I’m just always constantly moving and I’m always working hard on the court, moving around. I just use my motor to outwork players and make my teammates better.”

Most of his points came on one-on-one post-up situations and offensive rebounding during his college career. As an undersized power forward, Roberts will have to prove he can constantly knock down a 15-foot jumper to make an NBA roster, let alone get playing time. But just like he did at St. Joe’s, he’s recognized what areas of his game need improvement and is seeing those kinks get worked out in the gym.

“I’m working on my jumper every day, that’s like the main thing I’ve been working on, that’s where I need the most improvement,” Roberts says. “I’m working every day to trying to get it automatic so I can open up the floor some more.”

And true to Martelli’s word, he’s been a bull in pre-Draft workouts. He finished a monster dunk and ripped down 6 rebounds at the Los Angeles Clippers mini-combine. When he worked out for the Philadelphia 76ers alongside five other players last week, a source told SLAM that the Sixers’ staff came away the most impressed with Roberts’ energy and athleticism.

He knows what role he’ll have to assume at the next level and he’s ready for that challenge.

“A lot of teams have franchise, and superstar and all-star players, I’m not trying to be that,” Roberts says. “I’m just going to come in and work really hard, play defense, get on loose balls, rebound and block shots.”

Two years ago, during the summer of 2012, Roberts, who was born in the Dominican Republic, ventured to the University of Kentucky to train with the country’s national team that was working out with then-head coach John Calipari. Roberts was chosen as one of the young, up-and-coming Dominican players to serve as a scout team against the squad that featured Al Horford, Francisco Garcia and Charlie Villanueva.

Roberts lives every day by the advice Garcia gave him during his three-day stint at Rupp Arena.

“Francisco was telling me, to keep working hard whenever I’m in the gym,” Roberts says. “To be in the NBA, you have to dedicate your life and sometimes you have to be a little selfish to get where you have to go. Al Horford was just telling me the same things: work really hard and stay in the gym.”

Wait, be selfish? That’s not the consummate team player we’ve come know Roberts as.

“He just meant pick your spots on the court. If you have an open shot and you’re confident, step up and knock down the shot,” Roberts explains. “You can’t overpass your opportunities. Obviously, you want to pass the ball, but you also have to be aggressive to make an impact and get noticed.”

With his word-class athleticism, teams have certainly taken notice of him. That’s nothing new for Roberts; he first dunked as a 5-8 seventh grader just messing around in gym class. But he’s ready for a new beginning, the next step in his basketball career where he’s determined to be more than just a big-time dunker.

Ronald Roberts Jr is a prospect you need to know.