Two guys with family ties to Kansas University have joined the Jayhawk basketball team as walk-ons.
They are: Justin Wesley, a 6-foot-8, 205-pound sophomore transfer from Lamar University who is the brother of former KU standout Keith Langford; and Niko Roberts, a 5-10, 175-pound freshman guard out of St. Anthony’s High in Long Island, N.Y., the son of former KU assistant coach Norm Roberts.
“When Keith was here, I always used to come to the games. I can’t even tell you how many, but I went to a lot,” Fort Worth, Texas, native Wesley said Sunday at Bill Self’s basketball camp. “I used to love coming here. Once Keith graduated and time went on, I started to miss it. Being here is awesome — a great feeling.”
Langford, KU’s seventh-leading scorer of all-time, last played for the Jayhawks in 2004-05. He’s currently playing professionally in Russia.
“When Keith played in the Final Four against Syracuse, I was there,” Wesley said of 2003 in New Orleans.
“When he played in the Final Four against Maryland, I was there,” he added of 2002 in Atlanta.
“At Lamar, I still kept up with their games. I watched them play to make sure they were still doing OK.”
Wesley said, “Lamar was OK,” but he felt a desire to attend school in Lawrence, and he let Keith know of his interest. Langford has remained close with KU’s Bill Self, who said Wesley would be welcome as a walk-on.
“Keith said he’s very happy for me. He said he’s very proud of me, coming here to his alma mater,” Wesley said. “He said he can’t wait to get up here and see how I fit in.
“It’s some pretty big shoes to fill. I’ve always looked up to him. When I was young, he was the father-figure in the house. To play at the same school he did ... it’s an honor.”
Wesley, who shoots right handed — Keith is a lefty — averaged 1.2 points and 1.3 rebounds a game while playing in 23 games (two starts) at Lamar. He hit six of 24 shots, including one of five three-pointers. He averaged 9.0 points and 6.6 rebounds a game his senior year at North Crowley High in Texas. He hit 53.5 percent of his shots his senior year and earned district defensive-player-of-the-year honors while receiving recruiting interest from Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulane.
“Justin played at Lamar last year. We’ve known Justin a long time because he’s Keith’s brother,” Self said. “Keith was one of the school’s all-time greats. Justin is a really good athlete, has a lot of bounce. Keith and his mother have allowed him to live out his dream by playing here at Kansas.”
One of Self’s best buddies is Norm Roberts, who assisted Self at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and Self’s first year at KU. He was Self’s associate head coach his last two seasons before leaving in 2005 to become the head coach at Saint John’s. St. John’s fired him after this past season.
“I have known Niko for almost all his life. Cindy (Self’s wife) and I have known Norm and Pascale (Niko’s mom) for the past 16 years or so,” Self said. “We’re excited about having Niko. He had a good high school career. He loved KU when they lived here before.”
Niko, who averaged 15.0 points and 5.0 assists last season at St. Anthony’s, never has forgotten his one year in Lawrence, when he attended Langston Hughes Elementary.
“I’m extremely excited. I’m anxious to get started and a little nervous,” Niko Roberts said Sunday before boarding a flight from New York to Lawrence.
Whe did he fall in love with KU?
“Pretty much from the day my dad got there,” he said. “I was in town one day and loved it. I told my parents it’s a place I’d love to go to school one day.
“It’s a huge honor to go to KU. My goal is to help the team any way I can, work as hard as I can in practice and give 100 percent every day.”
Norm Roberts said in a phone interview that his son often hung around KU’s players during his year in Lawrence.
“He was part of everything going on,” Norm said. “And he’s been around coach Self for a long time. My wife and I are really proud of him. He’s going to KU for physical therapy. Obviously, Kansas is one of the best schools in the nation in that particular field. He considered VCU and East Carolina. He was accepted at a number of places. He’s really strong academically. With the opportunity to attend one of the best schools for physical therapy and the opportunity to play at KU, I don’t think it was a tough decision. He’s really excited about the opportunity.”
Niko will room with incoming KU freshman Royce Woolridge, while Wesley will be a roommate of fellow Texan Chase Buford. KU now has six walk-ons on the roster: They are: Wesley, Roberts, Buford, Jordan Juenemann, C.J. Henry and Conner Teahan.
Norm Roberts said he plans to do some TV work next season.
“I had some opportunities in coaching,” Norm said, “but they didn’t fit right now. I’m hoping to do some TV work and consider possible coaching opportunities in the future.”