Mavericks’ draftee Isaiah Roby is from a small town. The population of Dixon, Ill., is about 16,000 – “That’s including the prison,” he said.
That would be the Illinois Department of Corrections facility on the outskirts of the town on the Rock River about 100 miles west of Chicago.
As of now, Roby is officially a big deal in Dixon. A good chunk of the small community showed up the day after the NBA draft last month for a parade in Roby’s honor. He’s the first athlete from Dixon to get drafted by an NBA team. Until then, Dixon had ties to more U.S. presidents (Ronald Reagan spent a few formative years there) than pro basketball players.
That changes starting this week. Roby, who was drafted 45th by Detroit and quickly traded to the Mavericks, has joined the summer-league roster that has been practicing this week and will open play in the MGM Resorts Las Vegas Summer League Friday.
“It’s a dream come true,” Roby said. “I’m the first one from my hometown to do it, the first guy from my school (Nebraska) to do it in 20 years. So it was a moment of realization that I finally made it.”
Roby is 6-8 and bulked up from below 200 pounds in high school to his current 230 pounds. He describes himself as a point-forward and is eager to show that he has the tools that will earn him a spot on the Mavericks’ final roster come October.
That journey starts with summer league.
“I think I can add length on defense, versatility on offense,” the affable Roby said. “Growing up, when I was in the fifth grade, I was playing with the eighth grade team, so I was playing a lot of point guard. At Nebraska, I had to play a lot of five (center) because of injuries and transfers. And we were winning.”
Mike Weinar, one of Rick Carlisle’s assistants who will serve as head coach of the Mavericks’ summer squad, said: “I’ve been really impressed with his work ethic and all the off-the-court things so far. He’s doing all the right things, listening and learning. It’s clear that he was well-coached in college.
“I don’t know if I would pinpoint him as a natural position. He was up and down the floor pretty good, guarding various positions. I think he’s very talented defensively. He’s learning what we want offensively, but I wouldn’t pinpoint him after, whatever, 48 hours here.”
It’s been quite the trip to this point for Roby. But he’s never forgotten his small-town roots.
He grew up in a Habitat for Humanity home and that’s a cause that remains dear to his heart.
“That was awesome for me and my family and my family still lives in that house,” he said. “Habitat for Humanity is something I definitely want to be part of, always.”
Roby has embraced many aspects of helping in the community. He’s involved very strongly with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He was named to the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team twice in his three seasons at Nebraska.
To say that it’s been rewarding for Roby would be an understatement.
“I’d say the coolest thing I did was I got acquainted with this little girl’s family, Avery, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation,” Roby said. “Avery had cancer and she was a huge Nebraska fan and she said I was her favorite player.
“It started out small, just announcing that she got her wish granted – her and her family went on a Disney cruise. So I made a video to announce that. Then some people reached out and I ended up bringing her to Lincoln and she got to go to a game and we shot some baskets together.”
This is a story that ended very happily, he said.
“Me and her mom kept in touch, and Avery actually beat it and became cancer-free. She fought it and she battled it and she won. She’s probably 7 or 8 now. And she’s very strong. That was probably the coolest thing. She’d sleep all day after getting chemo just so she could stay up and watch our games.”
Roby got involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation in his sophomore season at Nebraska. He got to play with a wheelchair basketball team. He said that whenever he can do something like that as a member of the Mavericks, he will.
“When I was growing up, it wasn’t NBA players coming to Dixon to do stuff with me, but it was local police and town leaders in my community who helped me out,” he said. “I’ve always been grateful for that.”
And, of course, his hometown has embraced him, as evidenced by the parade in his honor. It was an event that came together in a matter of hours. Roby’s mother called a member of the city council and asked if they could pull together a parade.
“When they first said it, I wasn’t expecting much,” Roby said. “But the whole town came out. It’s not very big, but from one side of the city to the other side of the city, there were people. It was an awesome moment. My mom. She sacrificed so much for me to be here.”
And while the NBA journey is only just beginning for Roby, he seems well positioned – and well-grounded – to make the most of it.