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B10 Nebraska Maryland Basketball

Nebraska's Isaiah Roby blocks a shot by Maryland's Darryl Morsell during the first half of a Big Ten Tournament game March 14 in Chicago.

Dedrick Mills is in the Nebraska fold, but please wish Isaiah Roby a fond farewell.

Mills, a running back from Garden City (Kansas) Community College, becoming academically eligible to play for Nebraska in 2019 arguably was the most important sports story in our state this month. Husker coaches anticipate that the former Georgia Tech standout will be a key cog immediately. The team badly needed a hard-charging veteran at the position, and now has one.

As for Roby, his decision Wednesday to keep his name in the NBA Draft ranks right behind Mills on the list of the most compelling stories in May. After all, Nebraska hasn't had an NBA Draft pick since 1999, when the Houston Rockets selected 6-foot-10 forward Venson Hamilton in the second round, the 50th choice overall.

Roby sounds confident he'll be drafted somewhere between Nos. 25 and 45.

Three quick thoughts on his decision:

1. Roby told our Chris Basnett it was a difficult choice to make. I believe it.

I'm guessing the 6-8, 215-pound Roby will have to land in the right situation and fight hard to get even minimal playing time as a rookie. Keita Bates-Diop, a 6-9, 229-pound forward, comes to mind. The Minnesota Timberwolves drafted him 48th overall last year out of Ohio State, where Bates-Diop as a senior averaged 19.8 points and 8.7 rebounds. 

As an NBA rookie this season, Bates-Diop appeared in 30 games, averaging 5.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 16.8 minutes per game. He spent much of the season in the G-League. Keep in mind, Bates-Diop is a full two years older than Roby. Even so, Bates-Diop had to scratch and claw to play a small part in the Timberwolves' rotation. What's more, Bates-Diop's scoring and rebounding averages at Ohio State were far better than Roby's numbers last season (11.8 points and 6.9 rebounds). It's just something to think about.

Former Creighton guard Khyri Thomas, the 38th overall pick last summer, played in 26 games this season for the Detroit Pistons, averaging 2.3 points while shooting only 31.9% from the field.

Former Michigan forward Mo Wagner, the 25th pick last summer (by the Lakers), averaged 4.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in 10.4 minutes per game for a mess of a franchise.

I wonder if Roby contemplated the possibility that he'll have to be patient as he awaits an opportunity to be a starter or anything close to it. I'm guessing he's received good advice in that regard.

Thing is, he can get rich as he develops his game.

I've said it before: I don't think Roby will 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.

2. Roby is a unique talent — tantalizingly versatile on both ends of the floor.

But will he get all he can out of that talent?

He was the only player in the Big Ten this past season to rank in the top 10 in the league in both blocks and steals. He flat-out took over a few games — home contests against Penn State, Northwestern and Butler come to mind — but he disappeared in other games. His coaches wanted his body language to improve, and it did as the 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.

Roby said he received excellent feedback from teams during his pre-draft workouts. That was predictable. I've seen it for years in football: Coaches and front-office types often go gaga over a player's physical makeup. But it's difficult to measure how well an athlete will compete day in and day out. The NBA regular season is 82 games. It becomes a physical, mental and emotional grind.

Most NBA players possess mental toughness that is off the charts. Veterans will test Roby in that regard. Some veterans will view him as a threat to their livelihood and react accordingly.

Welcome to the real world, kiddo. 

3. It seems that trying to determine who will make it big in the NBA and who won't often is tricky.

You don't have to look far for examples.

Rich King, a 7-2 center at Nebraska from 1987-91, was the 14th overall pick by the Seattle SuperSonics. But he appeared in only 72 games over four seasons, averaging 1.9 points, before his career was cut short by injuries.

Erick Strickland, a 6-3 guard, was undrafted in 1996 but spent nearly a decade in the NBA and became one of the league's best defenders — strong enough to guard Tim Duncan or even a young LeBron James but quick enough to keep up with Michael Jordan or Reggie Miller. Strickland understood the importance of leverage and flat-out effort.

As the kids like to say nowadays, Strickland was a "dog."

Let's just say Roby's teeth could use some sharpening.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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