Brian Roberts was promised nothing when he joined the New Orleans Hornets last October as a 27-year-old rookie after a four-year pro career overseas.
Coach Monty Williams told Roberts he’d have to prove he deserved meaningful playing time, and the former Dayton star did just that. He averaged 7.1 points and 2.8 assists as the back-up point guard for the youthful Hornets, who finished 27-55.
Roberts shot 38.6 percent on 3-pointers, the second-best mark among all rookies. He also hit 90.9 percent of his foul shots, which would have led the NBA if he had enough attempts to qualify.
“At the beginning of the year, (Williams) met with me and said, ‘I’m going to play you good minutes in the preseason, but after that, I don’t know when we’re going to play you. You have to be ready when your name is called,’ ” Roberts said.
“I thought I’d be thrown in every once in a while. But to be able to say I was a back-up point guard in the NBA, that’s just crazy to think about. I just went out there to fight every night and show what I could do. I didn’t take that title lightly. There’s some great back-up point guards in this league — some of them former starters.”
The 6-foot-1 Toledo native had an 18-assist game in one of his five starts, the most for a rookie in three seasons.
Roberts also had a year to remember off the court. He and his wife, the former Jenna Miller of Dayton, celebrated the birth of their second child, a son named Cole.
Q. Judging from the box scores, you had a lot of outstanding games. How did you feel about your year?
A. To be out there and be able to display what you can do on this stage, which is the paramount of your profession, it just feels good. It was a bit of an up-and-down season not only for me, but for this team and organization. I think we progressed, and we’re moving in the right direction.
Q. Where did you feel you improved?
A. Just having the game slow down for me and being able to read things on the court a little better. I think that only can happen when you’re playing and getting that game-time experience. I was grateful for being able to play as much as I did. There were opportunities, and I made the most of them.
Q. Having 18 assists in one game. Knowing your former Dayton coach, Brian Gregory, he might say, “B-Rob, you never had 18 assists in a whole season.”
A. (Laughing) Everybody joked about that. He actually reached out to me by text after that game and said, ‘Congrats.’ And, ‘What a great game.’ If you would have told me before the year started I’d have 18 assists in a game, I would have been, “Yeah, right.”
That night was kind of crazy. Everything was just opening up for me. Guys were knocking down shots, which makes it easy to get 18 assists. But that was a game I won’t forget for a long time.
Q. Did you have any of those “welcome to the NBA” moments?
A. That kind of happened a few times. In the preseason, the first time we went to Miami and I got on the court with the Big Three (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh). Another time, I was playing against (Clippers all-star) Chris Paul, and he’s just iso-ing me almost every time down the court, going one-on-one with me, and I’m trying to defend him. That was another “welcome to the league” moment.
Another time we played Miami here in New Orleans, and I got to start that game. And we get the jump ball, and I’m bringing it up, and I see LeBron guarding me. I was kind of like, “Wow.” That was something crazy to wrap my head around and start the game off. I said, “OK, I’ve got to bring it a little bit tonight.”
Q. UD didn’t have anyone play in the NBA since 1999 before you, Chris Wright and Chris Johnson all played in the last two years. What do you think that will do for the program?
A. To see players who have come out of there be able to make it to the league, to be able to perform on the biggest stage, that’s good for recruiting. That shows these high school kids you don’t have to go to a big university. You don’t have to go to these BCS schools. You can come to a school like the University of Dayton, you can work hard and get a good education and you can make it. That’s big.
Q. You have a two-year contract with New Orleans. Does that give you some security for next year?
A. It’s a team option for next year. They have to decide to keep me or if they want to waive me. But I felt like I’ve shown them I can be of value to this team moving forward. We’ll see what happens, but I think things will work out, and hopefully I’ll be a Pelican (the club’s new name) next year.
Q. Did Williams gave you any positive feedback as far as keeping you?
A. We talked, and he sees me as part of the young core of this team. He said this is going to be a big summer for me. I have to continue to improve.
He’s been tough not only on me, but he’s been a demanding coach in general. He’s pushed guys and helped us to get better. We’ve had good talks, and he sees me as part of the future here.
Q. You didn’t let your NBA dream die. You went to Germany and Israel and paid your dues.
A. Everybody’s journey is different. Everybody has to go through different things to get to this point. Mine was just a little longer than most. But I got here and now I’ve just got to work on trying to stay here.
Q. Is No. 1 pick Anthony Davis as good as advertised?
A. Yeah, he’s going to be a special one. You kind of forget playing with him that he’s only 19 and that he’s so young. But he has a great mind and a great work ethic. He’s not one of those guys just happy to be here. He works hard and wants to get better. As he progresses and gets more years under his belt and gets stronger, he’s going to a problem (for opponents).
Q. Your wife gave birth to your second child during the season. I know that trumps a lot of things in your life.
A. Yeah, it does. The whole month of March was pretty intense — the last couple months, really, just with everything going on and my son being born on March 8. It’s kind of a similar situation to my senior year at Dayton (when daughter Alana was born, and he had to catch a separate flight to St. Bonaventure).
It was a Friday when he was born, and we had a game in Memphis on Saturday. The whole team flew out on Friday, and I stayed all night in the hospital with Jenna and my son. The team found me a commercial flight early Saturday morning so I could make that game.
It was tiring, but it’s something I’ll never forget. Not only that, the Sunday after the Memphis game, I made my first start against Portland. That whole weekend was almost a blur. I had two games on probably 11 hours of sleep in those three days. That was a crazy situation. But God works everything out for a reason. It was good I was able to be there to see my son born, and it’s a blessing he and my wife are healthy.
Q. How does it feel to have a family of four?
A. It’s good. I’m thinking we should probably keep it at four right now. Four is good with me. We’ll see.