Kansas University freshman walk-on guard Niko Roberts, who lived in New York the past six years, hopes to play walking tour guide for his teammates during the Jayhawks’ Sunday-Tuesday stay in the Big Apple.
“If you are into sites, you go to Times Square,” said Roberts, son of former KU assistant basketball coach Norm Roberts. Norm spent six seasons as head coach of St. John’s University before being replaced by Steve Lavin last spring.
“If you want to go shopping, go to Fashion Avenue. (But) you better bring your wallet if you go there. There’s a lot of things in New York people don’t know about, besides the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building. There are more interesting places. Just find ’em,” Roberts added with a smile.
Niko said he, his dad, mom, Pascale, and younger brother, Justin, lived a simple life during Norm’s tenure at St. John’s — a school that plays many of its home games at Madison Square Garden, site of Tuesday’s 6 p.m. nonconference clash between KU and Memphis.
“We don’t do that,” Niko said of his family dining at the fancier, wallet-emptying places. “We’re from Queens. We are not into going to a 5-star restaurant. We eat Applebee’s or Chili’s like everybody else and get a burger.”
Niko, who doesn’t figure to play in the Jimmy V. Classic contest between the No. 4-ranked Jayhawks (7-0) and No. 14 Tigers (7-0) unless it’s a blowout either way, nonetheless is thrilled to be back home, especially during the holiday season. The Jayhawks departed for the Big Apple on Sunday afternoon and are to return after the game late Tuesday.
There’s nothing quite like viewing the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center or skating laps around the ice rink there.
“I’ll enjoy it so much. It’ll be good to be back home and see familiar sites and my family and friends. It’ll be so much fun,” Roberts said.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder was named to the senior all-star team of the Long Island Catholic League last season after averaging 16.0 points and 5.0 assists a game at Saint Anthony High School.
He fine-tuned his game last spring after his dad left St. John’s.
“Actually, my dad didn’t become my coach-coach until my senior year when he moved on from St. John’s. Before that, he was as busy as any coach. He was on the road a lot,” said Niko Roberts, a physical-therapy major who chose KU over VCU and East Carolina.
“When he was home, he’d try to help me, but he wasn’t home as much as he and I would like. He helped shape my game tremendously (in just a few months before Niko reported to KU).”
The two worked out at Niko’s high school.
“It’s walking distance from our house,” Niko said. “He put me through drills that would benefit me more during the college game as I got older. He may have the same drills as a lot of other trainers, but he’d tweak them in ways to benefit me more in the college game.
“You have to adjust to the speed of the game. I think I’ve adjusted. Once you become used to the speed of the game, everything comes easier. It’s still difficult because this is Kansas, but I definitely think I can hold my own.”
Norm Roberts definitely enjoyed the father/son bonding.
“We worked out a ton,” Norm said, “just from an individual-workout standpoint. I can’t get him ready for the physical play at KU, but individual workouts let him understand, ‘This is what’s going to happen.’ He is still growing. He’s got to get a lot stronger, but this is a great opportunity. Every day to wake up and be a Jayhawk is awesome.”
Roberts — he’s working in TV this year with hopes of becoming a head coach again — admits the demands of coaching can put a strain on family relationships.
“I was always close to him (Niko). The tough thing is, when you are in this business, you are away quite a bit. You are spending a lot of time with other people’s kids,” Norm said. “This situation I’m involved in now (with TV broadcasting) gives me the opportunity to be around both my sons quite a bit. My wife is quite happy with that, as I am.
“He is an eighth-grader,” Norm added of younger son, Justin. “He probably wants me to leave him alone now. I’m around him all the time.”
Niko — he has one basket in two attempts and a rebound thus far as a Jayhawk — already has contributed as a solid practice player.
“Niko can shoot,” said KU senior Tyrel Reed, who like Niko plans on a career as a physical therapist. “Him being a coach’s son ... he understands the game. He may not have the physical attributes many Div. I players have right now. He’s not very tall or maybe not as quick, but he knows how to play. I think it’ll help him at this level. He can definitely step in and hit a shot.”
And help team chemistry.
“Niko’s the nicest kid ever, the best teammate. He works hard and does things right,” Reed said.