Steven M. Sipple: Mulling Roby as a 25-year-old NBA player; Palensky power; and a prediction

May 14, 2019 GMT

Things I know, and things I think I know:

You don’t have to be Hubie Brown to recognize that Isaiah Roby is blessed with the physical tools (size, strength, explosiveness) required to play in the NBA.

In a league of genetic freaks, he would fit in nicely in that regard.

But physical makeup and overall athleticism are just a couple qualities to consider. Mental toughness is another. Watch the NBA playoffs and you’ll quickly understand the vast majority of players are exceptional athletically and tough mentally. To wit: A reserve player, Evan Turner, calmly swished two critical free throws in the final moments Sunday to help the Portland Trail Blazers reach the Western Conference finals for the first time in 19 years.

A 70.8% free throw shooter on the season, Turner faced an inordinate amount of pressure, but still shot the ball as if he were at a family cookout. No trace of nerves. Then there’s Stephen Curry, who hasn’t missed a free throw in the fourth quarter or overtime of a playoff game since 2015. He’s made 76 in a row under those circumstances.


Granted, Curry is a rare breed. But many NBA players possess mental strength that is off the charts.

So, we ask: Is Roby ready to play in the best league in the world?

Nobody asked me, but I don’t think the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Nebraska senior-to-be would be ready to play a meaningful role in the NBA in 2019-20. But he’s only 21. He doesn’t have to be ready. Think about Roby as a 25-year-old player. That’s the key -- projecting his development.

I’m guessing that’s the thinking of many league executives who will size up Roby later this week during the NBA Combine. A total of 66 of the top prospects in the world will be in Chicago for live scrimmages, agility and strength testing, and to give teams a chance to interview potential building blocks of their franchises.

It’s easy to imagine Roby doing very well in the interviews. He’s pleasant and articulate.

It’s easy to imagine Roby excelling in agility and strength testing. I don’t think he needs much development in those areas.

But those who have watched Roby closely during his career at Nebraska might wonder how well he’ll react in live scrimmages if he misses a few shots in a row, or gets dunked on, or is a victim of an awful call by a zebra.

He took over a handful of games for Nebraska -- games the Huskers wouldn’t have won without him. But he disappeared in other games. His coaches wanted his body language to improve, and it did as last season progressed. But sometimes he would let one bad play bleed into the next possession. Or let one bad foul become a second.

If NBA players dwell on various adversities that arise in a typical game, they get devoured.


Somebody surely has talked to Roby about that subject as he continues to go through workouts for NBA teams. His situation this month -- he has until May 29 to decide whether to turn pro or return to Nebraska -- is arguably the most intriguing story at the moment in our neck of the woods.

He told our Chris Basnett last week he’s been working out alongside some of the top collegiate players in the country from this past season, including Carsen Edwards, Bruno Fernando, Ethan Happ, Ty Jerome and Admiral Schofield.

“I think the most surprising thing that I’ve found so far is, at most of these workouts, I feel like I’ve been the most overall skilled, athletic guy in the gym as far as those two things,” Roby told Basnett. “And that’s just something I’m trying to show these teams.”

I’m betting he’ll put forth a strong performance Thursday and Friday in Chicago, and a team will draft him in the second round next month. His potential is enormous. Rare is the Big Ten player who can average 1.9 blocked shots and 1.3 steals, as Roby did this past season.

Although Roby may not be ready for the NBA this minute, the vision of him a few years from now should be intriguing enough for an NBA team to take a chance on him. As they say, all it takes is one team.

OK, I’ll get back in my lane now ...

* You don’t have to be Tony LaRussa to recognize Nebraska sophomore Aaron Palensky’s prowess at the plate. A transfer from Southeast Community College, Palensky is listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds. No way he’s 5-11. More like 5-9. But he has pop in his bat. He leads the Huskers in home runs (four), doubles (11), triples (two), slugging percentage (.492) and on-base percentage (.435).

* Arizona State baseball coach Tracy Smith, who coached for nine years at Indiana, seems qualified to discuss the recruiting challenges faced by Big Ten teams relative to, say, those in the Pac-12.

My takeaway from our brief conversation Saturday: He wasn’t cutting Big Ten programs much slack.

“People don’t know that the rules have changed, they don’t know the parity that’s been put in place,” Smith said. “This isn’t college baseball of 15 years ago. The rules aren’t the same. A lot of rules were instituted to produce parity, and they’ve done that through the APR and all the transfer legislation, all those things.

“I always tell people: Hey, look, other schools are giving scholarships, too. If you look at the CWS, there used to be a few clubs that dominated the scene on a national level. That’s not happening anymore.”

“I think you can recruit well here (at Nebraska), as you can at any other school in the Big Ten,” he added. “But it’s competitive. It’s a very precarious sport.”

* You can say “culture” is a buzzword in sports. But don’t diminish its impact. Exhibit A: The Golden State Warriors.

Steve Kerr’s crew will prevail in six games, the Raptors in seven.

Then get ready for a three-peat.

* I really do need to stay in my lane.