August isn't a glamorous month on the NBA calendar. While most Torontonians spend the dog days jumping on the Blue Jays bandwagon, in NBA circles the focus turns to guys on the bleeding edge of NBA rosters, players just looking to make the team and start to prove themselves at the highest level.
In his second year out of Saint Joseph's, Ronald Roberts knows this part of the calendar well. Last year, after going undrafted, he played Summer League for the Philadelphia 76ers, but failed to make the pro team during training camp. He toiled with the Delaware 87ers in the D-League instead, averaging 15.8 points and 11.6 rebounds in 14 games to earn a brief call-up in December that didn't end in any playing time. More time in the D-League and a trip overseas to play in the Philippines rounded out his 2014-15 season.
Toronto, meanwhile, wanted a second look at Roberts after a 2014 pre-draft workout. With another impressive showing in Summer League, he's earned a partially-guaranteed contract and he's back trying to realize his NBA dream.
The Raptors are almost certainly hoping that one of Roberts, Axel Toupane, or Michale Kyser can answer one of the roster's remaining question marks. Patrick Patterson is the assumed starting power forward, but Luis Scola is an aging backup, and the team may need a more youthful option off the bench if the situation calls for it.
Roberts has spent his summer working out with other Summer League players in preparation for camp. I caught up with him in Los Angeles by phone to discuss all this, along with his athleticism, his experience with Dwane Casey and the Summer League roster, and whether he really likes Drake or not.
First off, you’re already got one of the best YouTube resumes in Raptors history. I know several people have been floored when I've shown them your TFB dunk reel – when you get videos like that put together, do you know they’re going to get you noticed?
I mean, I hope it does because the guy that runs Flight Brothers, who did the dunk reel you’re talking about, I met him in my senior year when I did a NCAA dunk contest and I just got really cool with him. He’s a good guy and what he does with a YouTube channel is just put pretty good dunks up there.
He asked if I wanted to do it and I said ‘sure’ and… I didn't know it would blow up the way it did, but I figured it would get some kind of recognition.
Do you feel like you can win the Slam Dunk title if given the chance?
Yeah, for sure. Hopefully I'm given the opportunity to be in the dunk contest. Obviously if I did it here in Toronto, that’d be really cool – and I feel like I’d do really well in the dunk contest. I would definitely give the other guys a run for their money, for sure.
And you know Toronto has that pedigree too, with Vince Carter and more recently, DeRozan and Ross. You could kind of follow that line.
Yeah, those guys can fly. DeRozan and Ross - obviously Ross won one time and DeRozan is a freak athlete too – yeah, it would be pretty cool, especially in games if we can have a couple highlights.
How else has that athleticism benefited your game?
I use my athleticism to rebound, to play with energy, use my motor, play defense, and just play harder than anybody else. I feel like I can actually do some things athletically that a lot of players can’t so I just try to use that to my advantage.
That kind of working hard, that blue collar attitude, this offseason for the Raptors has been about bringing a lot of those guys in. Players like DeMarre Carroll, Corey Joseph, Bismack Biyombo, do you feel like you can fit in with that blue collar type of game?
Yeah, all those guys you just named are gritty type players, they are all defense-first and do whatever the coach asks of them. A lot of them aren't going to score a lot of points besides maybe Carroll, but they bring a lot of other stuff to the game – defense, will to win, and just grit. I feel like I fit in perfectly with that.
What do you know about Toronto and what attracts you to playing for the Raptors?
I went [to Toronto] for a pre-draft workout last year and I did really well. Obviously it didn't work out, probably for a number of reasons, it probably just wasn't the right fit at the right time. But when I went there, I really liked the city. I went out with the coaches during pre-draft, the city was really nice, it was just different. People in Toronto and Canada in general are really nice and welcoming.
It just felt like a good vibe – you’re in a different country but it feels the same because everyone speaks the same language and everyone’s really nice. The vibe with the coaches, I was really comfortable as well, that also attracted me to Toronto.
Behind Patrick Patterson, there’s still some question marks at the power forward position. Do you see yourself fitting in with this roster at that position?
I definitely do, I feel like I'm an NBA player and I'm excited to show it. I feel like I'm going to open a lot of eyes, I've been working really hard this summer in the weight room getting stronger and working on my mid-range shot, along with the things that I've been doing, sharpening that up. I really feel like I can play this year. It’s too early to call anything, but I'm really confident going into training camp and I'm excited to just work hard and do whatever’s asked of me from Coach Casey.
Obviously, going into camp you’ll be competing with a couple guys for the 15th spot on the roster. What’s the mindset like when you’re trying to get one of those final spots on an NBA team?
Well, I was in a similar situation last year with the Sixers. It’s going to be all hard work, all day every day, giving everything I've got, coming back after practice, still putting in work. Basically, I have to play like my life is on my line – literally like my life is on the line. If I do that, have that mindset every day, come in, work hard, be professional, and try to out-work everybody, I think I’ll be fine.
Like I said, though, my life is on the line, this is what I do for a living and if I don’t go out there and perform and work hard, then it could easily go down the drain. I'm not trying to let that happen.
You have a bit of an edge with playing on the Summer League team. What was that like for you, being with different Raptors players?
It was really fun, like I said before the coaches were really nice and they’re really good at what they do. From their personalities, all the basketball stuff, we just fit really well, I felt really comfortable.
As for playing with the other guys, we meshed really well. We started off well, then a couple guys got injured, and we kind of fell because of that. We all meshed pretty well, we all had fun, and we all had good chemistry. We've been working out together all summer too and that’s going to help a lot.
You don’t usually see that with Summer League teams, usually it’s a lot of "me first" basketball. It really looked like you guys came together as a team really quickly.
Yeah, for sure.
Anyone in particular that you gelled with on the team?
First of all, all those guys are really good guys. No egos, they work hard – we kind of all, in a way, had the same personality as far as coming in and working hard, not complaining or anything like that. Obviously everyone’s a little bit different but they were all really respectful.
Basically, the starting five and [Michale] Kyser, Axel Toupane, we’ve all been working out together all summer so we definitely gelled great with each other.
I have to ask, on behalf of all the fans with high expectations, what did you think of Bruno Caboclo?
I actually watched him last year in the Summer League. Obviously, he was 18, he was young, they said he wasn't going to be ready for a couple years, but I think this past year he played really good and he could surprise a lot of people.
His arms… I’ve never seen nobody’s arms that long before, it’s crazy to see. He puts them to good use too, he was getting steals and blocks and stuff like that. Yeah, when you have those physical tools and can put them together like he’s doing now, it’s kind of scary. He’s only 19 years old, too.
I know you've been around Coach Casey a bit in Summer League and elsewhere. What have his conversations been with you and what are his expectations?
He basically just wants me to do the things that I've been doing – rebounding and playing hard, playing with energy. Paying attention to detail, like no middle stance, and paying attention to pick and roll defense and how we’re going to play that. I think if I can do those things, I’ll be good. But he’s been encouraging me to keep doing what I've been doing, play hard, play good defense, and I’ll be in good standing.
I know a few Raptors fans are curious about Jesse Murmuys, since he’s coaching Raptors 905 in its first season. What was he like to play for at Summer League?
From what I know, he was doing everything Coach Casey implemented and has been doing this whole time so it’s pretty much the same style. What we did in Summer League was the same as Coach Casey’s style too because he was out there with us and helping out.
So, that Summer League was another step for you – you’re undrafted, you've played for quite a few teams in the D-League, in the Philippines. What’s it like to bounce around, trying to realize that NBA dream?
It’s a good learning experience. I believe that if something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, and it’s just the way that God has it mapped out for me. Some players they get in, get drafted in the first round, and it’s all good, they play a long career. Some players, they bounce around a couple teams, and get cut from the same team over and over. I think I'm one of those guys that had a different path, and now I'm on the right track and just trying to seize the upcoming opportunity.
I feel like I'm in a good spot right now. It was definitely fun, the experiences I had in my short stint in the NBA - being around NBA coaches, players and being around the D-League and learning a lot. I've only been out here for one year, and in that short time I've seen the NBA, D-League, and overseas, so I've pretty much seen a lot and it opens my eyes to different things and shows me what I have to do to be in the NBA.
How is the basketball different over there in the Philippines?
The language, most of the guys didn't know English, so that was tough. Some of the guys did, some of the coaches did, and you had different guys translating for me. Then you had the Filipino-American who I was coached with, showing me everything.
As far as the game, basketball is the number one sport. Manny Pacquiao has a team over there so they really love basketball, they fill up arenas. The style over there, they’re really physical. Definitely a physical league and those guys play really, really hard. The main thing I took away from the Philippines was that physicality, they would try to beat you up. So if you’re not tough, I don’t think you can play in that league.
Finally, I have to ask – you’re a Saint Joe’s guy, you played for Philadelphia’s D-League team, but you’re coming to Toronto. Drake or Meek Mill?
Drake and I'm gonna go on about this… Drake is my favorite artist, he’s been my favorite artist since I was with the Sixers. There was even an article about how I would tweet about Drake all the time while I was with the Sixers. Yeah, it was crazy – it’s not even close, people talk about this and I don’t even know why. Like, Drake is the best artist right now and has the respect of the music industry – he’s just greatness and that’s how I feel about it.