In the summer of 2012, Ronald Roberts Jr. headed to Lexington to join John Calipari and the Dominican Republic national basketball team. They practiced at the University of Kentucky's facilities despite not appearing in the Olympics in London. Roberts and several other college and high schoolers with Dominican eligibility served as extra bodies in drills and brief scrimmaging along the NBA guys that led the national team. There was Al Horford running the show and Francisco Garcia acting as the clear vocal leader.
To this day, Roberts remembers the advice the two NBA veterans gave him.
"Pick your spots on the court. If you have an open shot and you're confident, step up and knock down the shot," Roberts told Liberty Ballers before the 2014 NBA Draft. "You can't overpass your opportunities. Obviously, you want to pass the ball, but you also have to be aggressive to make an impact and get noticed."
His high-energy play has certainly gotten him noticed during the Philadelphia 76ers' first two games in the Orlando Summer League. He's started both games and is averaging 12 points and 7.5 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. He's shot 9-12 from the floor and made all six of his free throw attempts.
In the first quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, Roberts chased down a loose ball in the corner, raced back into the paint, and rose above every defender to tip out a missed Casper Ware three. He completed the terrific sequence all in about 6 seconds.
"I'm just getting more comfortable with the plays, around the guys with the coaching staff and I'm playing more and more, so I feel good out there," Roberts said. "I'm happy that I'm playing with the Sixers in Orlando. I think I fit well and the coaches believe in me. I'm just soaking it all in and I'm just trying to do the best I can when I step on the floor."
Roberts has been an energy guy his entire life. When the Toronto Raptors tested his max-vertical during a pre-Draft workout, it was too-high to measure, meaning it was over 46 inches. He's been flying past other players on the glass in Orlando. That ridiculous leaping ability has helped him around the rim thus far.
"We've talked about it the whole time: he's all energy," Sixers assistant coach Lloyd Pierce said. "He had a monster dunk again tonight. That's who he is, a great athlete who plays with intensity, plays hard on every possession and that really helps everything that we do. That helps us get out and run because he's a big that's converging the defense when he runs to the rim and then defensively gives you everything he's got."
He's still very raw — there's a reason he wasn't drafted. Defensively, he has a lot to learn about post positioning, weak-side rotations and the pick and roll. His jump shot is still awkward. But the effort is there. When you combine his relentless motor, a knack for offensive rebounding and world class athleticism, there should be a spot for him in the Sixers' training camp and maybe opening day roster. It would be hard for one to argue Brandon Davies is more valuable to this team than Ronald Roberts.
"Effort and energy has to be your starting point," Pierce said. "We hope to develop all of our guys. What we he have now is a starting to point to develop into something that's better and then in October we'll take a step from there as well. But it has to start with energy, effort and then we'll work with them on all the development.
With three Summer League games left to play and Nerlens Noel potentially missing another second game of a back-to-back on Wednesday, Roberts has plenty of opportunity to prove his worth to Sixers brass.