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Sports

Roberts out to impress

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

In the business of professional basketball, timing is of the essence. San Miguel Beer tried to bring Arinze Onuaku over as its import in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup but with several NBA teams expressing interest, the former Syracuse University forward opted to wait for a call-up. Next, San Miguel turned to Eric Griffin who came close to signing a contract until he, too, decided to wait for an NBA offer.

Then, Ronald Roberts became providentially available. Last summer, he inked a contract to play for Chalon in the French league but never left because of an escape clause that allowed his withdrawal if an invitation came from the NBA. Roberts joined the Philadelphia 76ers but was cut before the season began. He proceeded to hook up with the 76ers’ NBA D-League affiliate Delaware 87ers and after posting impressive figures, got another call from the Sixers. Roberts never got to play a game with Philadelphia but a video showing a dunk during a warmup went viral as he scooped the ball with his left hand to go behind the back and slammed it with the right hand in an amazing mid-air sequence.

From the Sixers, Roberts went back to the D-League, this time with the Santa Cruz Warriors. He averaged 29.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in two games with the Warriors before a call came from San Miguel. Roberts was ready to take the plunge overseas and his San Francisco agent Adam Pensack facilitated the deal. Last weekend, Roberts arrived in Manila. He makes his PBA debut with San Miguel against 7-2 3/4 mastadon Peter John Ramos and Kia at the Smart Araneta Coliseum today.

San Miguel’s call came at the right time. Roberts had to be frustrated wearing a Sixers uniform, riding the bench and not playing a single game in the NBA. In the D-League, there was little left to prove. He averaged 15.8 points and 11.6 boards in 14 games with the 87ers before joining Philadelphia. A return stint in the D-League with Santa Cruz was impressive but for Roberts, an overseas assignment seemed to be a more appealing career option.

Roberts’ parents were both basketball imports. His father Ronald Sr. played at Oklahoma and was an import for 10 years in Spain, Portugal, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. His mother Dania was also an import in Portugal and a former Dominican Republic national player. So Roberts was warm to the idea of playing abroad. Last year, he had a taste of international competition playing with the Dominican Republic national squad at the FIBA CentroBasket tournament in Mexico. Qualifying as a local because of his mother’s lineage, Roberts averaged four points and five rebounds in six games. He would’ve gone on to play at the FIBA World Cup in Spain if not for the chance to perform in the NBA summer league instead.

Roberts played five games with Philadelphia in the Orlando summer league and four games with Miami in another tournament in Las Vegas. He averaged 10.2 points and 7.4 rebounds with the Sixers and seven points and 3.8 rebounds with the Magic. In the NBA preseason, Roberts averaged two points and one rebound in three outings with the Sixers.

One of six children, Roberts is close to his parents. When the invitation came to play for the Sixers, the first thing that Roberts did was to announce the good news to his parents by phone. “I’m kind of lucky and blessed that I have mentors like that always in my ear,” said Roberts quoted by Derek Bodner. “They’re probably a little harder on me (because they played) but they don’t really try to overwhelm me with stuff. They’ll just tell me little things. I listen to them a lot.”

San Miguel team manager Gee Abanilla is upbeat on Roberts. “He arrived Saturday night and practiced right away the following day,” said Abanilla. “I think he’ll be a good fit. He’s long, athletic, a great defender and in very good shape. He’s very nice to talk to and has good manners.” What’s remarkable about Roberts is his incredible length with a wingspan of 84 1/2 inches and a standing reach of 105 1/2 inches.

Pensack said Roberts will be “the most athletic import ever in the Philippines.” The Pensack Sports Management Group was formed in 1999 and also represents Alaska import D. J. Covington and Globalport guard Stanley Pringle. Pensack is an NBA licensed agent.

Evident in Roberts’ basketball history is his constant improvement. As a high school junior, he averaged 17.4 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocked shots in leading St. Peter’s Prep to a 23-3 record. In his senior season, he averaged 19.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots as St. Peter’s Prep went to 24-5. Roberts initially chose to enrol at St. John’s University but when coach Norm Roberts was sacked, he shifted to St. Joseph’s University, Norman Black’s alma mater, under coach Phil Martelli. Again, it was a timing issue.

For three straight years at St. Joseph’s, Roberts received the Most Improved Player award. He raised his scoring clip from 6.4 in 19.5 minutes a game as a freshman to 10.9 in 25 as a sophomore to 11.2 in 30.7 as a junior and to 14.4 in 33.3 as a senior. Roberts climaxed his varsity career by leading St. Joseph’s to the NCAA Tournament. “It’s every college player’s dream to make it to the Tournament and I’m glad that we got to do it for my senior year,” he said. “That’s something that I’ll never forget.” Roberts had 15 points and five rebounds in his farewell game with St. Joseph’s, losing to Connecticut in overtime. Even in the D-League, he bumped up his stats from Delaware to Santa Cruz.

A power forward, Roberts is expected to complement San Miguel center JuneMar Fajardo and wingman Arwind Santos, creating a lethal trio for coach Leo Austria.

D-LEAGUE

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

LEAGUE

NBA

POINTS

ROBERTS

SAN

SAN MIGUEL

SANTA CRUZ

ST. JOSEPH

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