It took only a few steps for him to feel it.
“As soon as I started walking to halfcourt with my plaque I could feel it,” Brian Roberts said. “It’s the love and you feel it. I’ve been gone for years, but I walked out across that court and it brought back memories. There’s just something different about UD Arena.”
Roberts — the smooth-shooting guard who beat the odds to become one of the finest players to wear a University of Dayton basketball uniform and then become an NBA veteran — was inducted Saturday into the UD Athletic Hall of Fame.
So were volleyball standout Faye Barhorst Barlage, soccer star Erin Showalter Justice and beloved hockey player and coach Walt DeAnna, but when the quartet was introduced to the sellout crowd at halftime of the game with St. Bonaventure, no one got a more rousing reception that Roberts.
And that was not just because he is the best-known of the four or that this was the floor where he had so flourished, it was as UD coach Archie Miller would say later:
“It’s just a great story.”
By his own admission, Roberts came out of Toledo St. John High School “under-recruited.” After UD, he was initially snubbed by the NBA and retreated to Europe for three seasons of pro ball in Germany and Israel.
As always he was a study of determination, work ethic and loyalty, both to himself and others. And so, when three of the other four guys who had joined him as part of UD coach Brian Gregory’s first recruiting class left to play for other colleges, he stayed.
And he became a star who won All-Atlantic 10 honors each of his four seasons and ended up scoring 1,962 points, which makes him No. 4 on the all-time UD list behind Roosevelt Chapman, Don May and Henry Finkel.
All that is why the UD Arena crowd stood and applauded heartily when Roberts was introduced.
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Lined up across the floor well beyond the podium where several other Hall of Famers, including basketball players like Dan Sadlier, Ryan Perryman, Frank Case, Keith Waleskowski and Gene Klaus, who seemed to take special delight as Roberts joined their ranks.
At the same time, Chris Wright, who was Roberts’ teammate at UD and now has followed some of the same footsteps through the pros, stood in the players tunnel and held up his smart phone so he could make a video of the moment.
Wright — who’s had short stints in the NBA with Golden State and Milwaukee, played in Poland and Israel and for three NBA Development League teams including the Oklahoma City Blue, where he is now — had made sure he was at the Arena for Roberts’ celebration.
“That’s my big brother still to this day,” he said. “He’s someone that never changed. He always seems to be level-headed and he’s one of the hardest workers I know.
“Being able to watch this is special to me, too.”
Love at first sight
“From the time I started playing basketball I wasn’t the biggest or the most physical guy,” Roberts said following the halftime ceremony.
“I wasn’t the fastest and didn’t have the longest arms, but I just found a way and continued to work and better myself.
“I came to Dayton as a young freshman with braids … and a little chip on my shoulder. I wanted to prove myself and show people I could play at a high level.”
With UD, at least, he thought he had found a place where he might get his due.
While several schools overlooked the slightly-built, 6-foot-2 guard, the Flyers had shown interest. So, interestingly enough, had Georgia, he said.
“My first official visit was Dayton and there was just something about the campus and being with some of the players here. I really liked the energy of Coach Gregory and what he was trying to do. And (his assistant) Coach Mike Jackson was at Toledo when I was growing up and I had a little bit of relationship with him.
“I got here and I felt I was where I needed to be. I told my parents, ‘You know what? This is it.’ I never even went to visit Georgia.”
Archie Miller said he was an assistant at Western Kentucky when he visited his brother Sean, then at Xavier, and saw Roberts in a camp with a prep teammate the Musketeers were looking at:
“Lo and behold Brian ends up at Dayton and had a wonderful career He’s as smooth as a shooter as you’ll find. When the ball leaves his hand, you just think it’s going in.”
Often it did and sometimes those shots were memorable.
He lifted UD to a come-from-behind victory over Miami at Millet Hall, scoring 12 points in the final 64 seconds and hitting a 3-pointer with five seconds left to give Dayton the 63-62 win.
“But no question the game I get the most people talking about is that Pittsburgh game here,” he said with a grin.
Pitt came into UD Arena unbeaten and No. 6 in the country.
“I really don’t remember anything about that game except that we won by 30,” he said. “I do know I was locked in that game because of what it meant not only to me, but to my teammates, the coaches, the city and the community.”
I remember a little more. In front of a sold out Arena and a national TV audience he scored 31 points. After the game I remember Pitt forward Sam Young hugging him and telling him, ‘You’re one helluva player!’ ”
Eventually the NBA figured it out as well.
He got his break in 2012 when the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) signed him and after two seasons with them, he went to Charlotte, Portland and now back to Charlotte.
Wouldn’t settle for ‘no’
Roberts said he comes back around UD some summers just to see what’s going on with the program.
He believes he and his teammates helped lay the foundation for what UD under Miller is doing now:
“Right now Dayton is a national power, there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. It’s a great program. I’m happy to be an alum and I always tell guys, ‘Yeah, I went to Dayton.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, the Flyers. I know them.’ ”
Miller said he wishes Roberts were around even more: “He’s such a true professional. I’d like our young guys, our players to see how he handles himself. You see the classy type person he is. You see what he stands for.”
Roberts said first and foremost: “It’s just been a testament to a guy who’s had a long journey and tough journey and wouldn’t settle for ‘no!’ That’s pretty much my whole story.”
And as Miller said:
“It’s a great story.”