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Thunder: Isaiah Roby a natural fit in Oklahoma City

Isaiah Roby entered the NBA without a wardrobe to match the fashion-forward league.

The rookie endured a few jabs from veteran teammates before Kristaps Porzingis gave Roby a not-so-subtle hint to go shopping.

“He came to the next game with some gift cards for me,” Roby said. “It was kind of a backhanded gift, but I’ll take it.”

Roby was at Suitsupply in Uptown Dallas, using one of those gift cards, when he received a text from his agent.

“Call me ASAP,” it said.

“That can’t be good,” Roby thought.

Roby was traded from the Mavericks to the Thunder on Jan. 24 for center Justin Patton, who was subsequently waived by Dallas. The move created roster space for the Mavericks while lowering the Thunder’s luxury tax bill.

Roby, who turned 22 on Monday, never played for the Mavericks after being selected 45th overall in the 2019 draft. The day before the trade, Roby was in Oklahoma City playing in a G League game.

“That’s why it was kind of weird,” Roby said. “Like, ‘Oh, I was just here yesterday.’”

There was the understandable shock of being dealt before his NBA career began, but Roby wasn’t surprised when he learned Oklahoma City was his destination.

Roby participated in a pre-draft workout for the Thunder and had dinner with general manager Sam Presti. OKC, with its affinity for defensive-minded wings, was a natural fit for Roby, a 6-foot-8 forward known more for defense than offense in his three years at Nebraska.

“They were a team that I thought on draft night might make a trade for me,” Roby said Monday in his first meeting with local media. “I think they only had one pick. Once that pick went I was like, ‘Maybe they’ll trade for me.’”

Roby made his Thunder and NBA debut last week at Sacramento. It was the latest step in Roby’s basketball journey from small-town Illinois to the University of Nebraska — neither of which boasts much of an NBA lineage.

Dixon, Illinois, known for being one of the boyhood homes of Ronald Reagan, has only produced two Division-I basketball players. The first was Matt Ross, who played at Chicago State from 2012-14. The second was Roby, who played for the Cornhuskers from 2016-19.

Roby was a late bloomer at Nebraska. He started four games as a freshman and 13 as a sophomore before becoming a full-time starter in his junior season.

Roby was Nebraska’s fourth-leading scorer last season at 11.8 points per game. He shot 33% from 3-point range and led the team with 6.9 rebounds per game.

Roby declared for the NBA Draft after his junior season. He became the first Cornhusker drafted since Venson Hamilton in 1999.

“Some guys you talk about more as a player because the person side doesn’t shine,” Jim Molinari said. “This is the opposite.”

Before joining Lon Kruger’s OU basketball staff last April, Molinari spent five seasons as an assistant coach at Nebraska. He was Roby’s primary recruiter.

“Isaiah can really get to the rim,” Molinari said. “He has skills and mobility that most people 6-foot-8 don’t have. And he plays bigger because of his length. He’s a smart defender.”

But Molinari said Roby is still developing.

“In college he really had all the tools,” Molinari said. “But I think to really make it, there’s a few things that have to develop. No. 1, there’s a time that potential is not a compliment. I think it has to go from potential to production, from competitive to consistency. I believe in my heart Isaiah can get there with the right tutelage.”

Chris Paul is taking care of that.

The Thunder point guard, recently named to his 10th All-Star game, has put Roby through a crash course.

“He’s almost like quizzing me on the bench,” Roby said. “There was a play last game where he was talking to somebody on the court and he was like, ‘What do you think I told them?’”

Paul smiled.

“I don’t know if he thought it was weird that I was talking to him or whatnot,” Paul said, “but just always trying to spread that knowledge.”

Roby is still going through an onboarding process, Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. There are meetings to attend and concepts to catch up on.

And a new address to learn.

“My suits are actually still getting shipped," Roby said. “I gotta figure out a way to get those here.”

Related Photos
<strong>Nebraska's Isaiah Roby, right, blocks a shot by Maryland's Darryl Morsell during the Big Ten Conference Tournament last March. Roby was a recent Thunder acquisition from the Dallas Mavericks. [AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh]</strong>

Nebraska's Isaiah Roby, right, blocks a shot by Maryland's Darryl Morsell during the Big Ten Conference Tournament last March. Roby was a recent Thunder acquisition from the Dallas Mavericks. [AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c9d3f49ee9aaedbd33366ecf4bea3696.jpg" alt="Photo - Nebraska's Isaiah Roby, right, blocks a shot by Maryland's Darryl Morsell during the Big Ten Conference Tournament last March. Roby was a recent Thunder acquisition from the Dallas Mavericks. [AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh] " title=" Nebraska's Isaiah Roby, right, blocks a shot by Maryland's Darryl Morsell during the Big Ten Conference Tournament last March. Roby was a recent Thunder acquisition from the Dallas Mavericks. [AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh] "><figcaption> Nebraska's Isaiah Roby, right, blocks a shot by Maryland's Darryl Morsell during the Big Ten Conference Tournament last March. Roby was a recent Thunder acquisition from the Dallas Mavericks. [AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6f04cf90306e10d096f60528ceea88e3.jpg" alt="Photo - Dallas Mavericks forward Isaiah Roby poses during NBA team's media day in Dallas. [AP Photo/Jim Cowsert] " title=" Dallas Mavericks forward Isaiah Roby poses during NBA team's media day in Dallas. [AP Photo/Jim Cowsert] "><figcaption> Dallas Mavericks forward Isaiah Roby poses during NBA team's media day in Dallas. [AP Photo/Jim Cowsert] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-293d6c9868f95fe359d1c26331a3b83b.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort, right, shoots as Dallas Mavericks forward Isaiah Roby defends at American Airlines Center. [Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports] " title=" Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort, right, shoots as Dallas Mavericks forward Isaiah Roby defends at American Airlines Center. [Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort, right, shoots as Dallas Mavericks forward Isaiah Roby defends at American Airlines Center. [Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports] </figcaption></figure>
Joe Mussatto

Joe Mussatto joined The Oklahoman in August 2018 to cover OU football, men’s basketball and softball. He previously covered University of Kentucky football and basketball for SEC Country. Mussatto is from Oklahoma City and lives in Norman. Read more ›

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