Justin Roberts has lost count of the number of occasions he’s shot baskets in Allen Fieldhouse.
“Probably a couple thousand times, honestly,” Roberts, the all-time leading scorer at Lawrence High and son of Kansas basketball assistant coach Norm Roberts, said Sunday in a phone conversation from Toledo, Ohio, where he is a sophomore point guard for the University of Toledo.
“I know the code to get in the gym. I could get in there pretty much whenever I wanted, pretty much every day. If I wasn’t at Lawrence High working out, I was at Kansas working out,” added Roberts, who scored 1,549 points for the Lions during 2012-16.
Roberts will be a willing tour guide for his Toledo teammates during an early-week trip to Lawrence for a nonconference clash against the Jayhawks at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.
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He knows his way around KU’s tradition-rich building, that is for sure.
“I’d say I’ve played pick-up (in Allen, where brother Niko played for the Jayhawks during 2010-14) maybe eight or nine times in my life, not a whole lot,” Justin Roberts said. “I’d get to play if they didn’t have enough people, if they needed somebody to play with them.
“I’d try to get in and play as much as I could. Being a young kid in high school — my freshman and sophomore year — I didn’t play up there a lot. I had some catching up to do in the weight room. Once I got older, my senior year especially, I played with them a little more. It was good for me,” added Roberts, a 5-10, 175-pound sophomore who scored three points while playing eight minutes in the 3-2 Rockets’ last game, Friday’s 80-77 loss at Cornell.
He drew a season-high 17 minutes against Ohio Northern, dishing out two assists and grabbing two rebounds while failing to score in a 72-62 victory on Nov. 14 in Toledo.
Justin is obviously looking forward to getting to play at Allen Fieldhouse in an actual college game — one that counts in the record books.
“It’s something I’ve been looking forward to. It’s on my bucket list,” Roberts said. “I can finally check that off after Tuesday. It’s going to be something, that’s for sure. I don’t really know what to expect right now. I never had to play against my dad before. I definitely look forward to the opportunity because it’s a great place to play and they have a great team. The fact my dad is going to be there makes it all the more special.”
Norm Roberts — who is in the sixth season of his second go-round as a member of Bill Self’s staff at KU; he worked at KU in 2003-04 before leading St. John’s for six seasons — is happy Justin will be getting a chance to play in front of a packed house at Allen.
“Oh yeah, he loved shooting in there. We’d go in and work out all the time,” Norm Roberts reflected on Sunday. “I also told him it’s going to be a little different now.
“It’s one thing to have 16,000 cheering for you to start the game off after they see you. After that, they are all Jayhawks,” Norm added of the fans.
“It will be fun to see him in the beginning, then it’s a game we’ve got to go play. I am proud of him. I hope he plays well, plays hard, does what the coach asks. I hope he enjoys coming back home. I just don’t hope he wins.”
Dad and son have only discussed Tuesday’s game in general terms.
“We’ve talked about it, made jokes about it, talked the occasional trash to each other. We haven’t really talked much about it,” Justin said of no mention of Xs and Os, matchups and the like.
Justin’s mom, Pascale, and Niko, who works for the NCAA in Indianapolis, will also attend, as will several of Justin’s friends from high school.
“I went to pretty much every single home game my brother played,” said Justin Roberts, who moved to Lawrence with the rest of the family prior to Niko’s junior year at KU in 2012-13. “Whenever he got in, it was great to watch him play, that’s for sure.”
Justin never really considered becoming a Jayhawk as a walk-on because it was apparent in high school he was a certain Division I scholarship athlete. He chose Toledo over Drake and UMKC.
“I mean if I had a scholarship offer (at KU), that would have been great,” Justin Roberts said. “But I’m here at Toledo. I love it here. I know I made a good choice.”
He has scored three points on 1-of-3 shooting while logging 7.5 minutes per game in four of the Rockets’ five games this season. He scored 37 points with 31 assists against 12 turnovers his freshman season — one in which he averaged 9.0 minutes a game in 30 games.
“Right now I’m doing whatever I can to help the team, whether I play five minutes or 15 to 20 minutes it doesn’t matter how much I’m playing,” Roberts said. “I’m trying to do all the little things — defend as hard as I can and be the best point guard I can be. It’s not really about filling up the stat sheets right now, but doing what I can to help the team win.
“I’m more a selfless person than selfish person. I go more based on wins than anything else.”
He likes this Toledo team, which has defeated Saint Joseph (98-87), Ohio Northern (72-62) and Oakland (87-74) and lost to Syracuse (72-64) and Cornell (80-77).
“I think we are talented,” Roberts said. “We have a good senior in Tre’Shaun Fletcher (a 6-7 senior who averages 19.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game). We have a good freshman class here. We’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot the ball. I like the way we look.”
His teammates have been asking him about the Jayhawks.
“I mean they want to know about personnel because they know I’ve been around (KU’s) players. I tell them as much as I know. You really don’t know what someone will do until you get in the game,” Roberts said.
He is more than happy to tell them about his hometown of Lawrence.
“Lawrence is a great place. I loved everyone at the high school, the teachers, the students. Coach Lewis (Mike Lewis at Lawrence High) is a great guy, one I’ll never forget,” Roberts said. “Every single time I get to go home I love it. The atmosphere … it’s a college town. It’s just got this feeling about it that makes me happy. So any time I can get back, I love going there.
“I’m definitely looking forward to coming back, looking forward to the game. We can’t treat it like anything crazy. Otherwise that wouldn’t be good for us. I can definitely hold in my emotions and play like it’s any game in a great environment.”
After the game, he’ll probably spend a bit longer than usual in the handshake line visiting with his proud papa and KU coach Self.
“My dad and coach Self are great people. My dad is everything to me, and coach Self has been really close since I was born because my dad’s been coaching with him so long,” Roberts said. “The Selfs have always been around my family. I’m sure they will be for many years to come. I love ‘em,” he concluded.