Amid conference play during his second season as a backup point guard at Toledo, former Lawrence High standout Justin Roberts began to determine he wanted to try something new.
A few months later, Roberts solidified his plans to transfer from the MAC program and complete his college career elsewhere.
This past week, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound guard found his destination, at Niagara University, in New York.
“I just felt like I didn’t have much opportunity,” Roberts said he realized around late January, while typically playing single-digit minutes off the bench at Toledo. “And I didn’t think anything was gonna change no matter what I did in my career. So I felt like I needed a place to start fresh, just kind of see if I could grow somewhere.”
Roberts played in 32 games for the Rockets (23-11) this past season, averaging 2.0 points and 0.9 assists in 8.9 minutes.
After wrapping up his spring semester at Toledo, Roberts visited Washburn and Division II University of South Carolina-Aiken before venturing to Niagara and deciding the MAAC program was right for him.
It helped that Roberts has known the Purple Eagles’ head coach, Chris Casey, since the point guard was a 7-year-old and Casey was working for his father, Norm Roberts, at St. John’s as an assistant.
“I was comfortable with him,” the new Niagara guard said of Casey, adding his father, now a Kansas assistant, was fired up for him because he loves Casey and trusts Justin will be in good hands. “I loved the program and what they’ve got going. So I’m ready to come in and start playing.”
Of course, Roberts first will have to sit out a full season as a transfer first. But he’ll go through summer workouts with Niagara and begin taking classes in just a couple weeks.
“I think redshirting could be good for me. I could get a chance to just get in better shape and then work on my academics some more, too,” Roberts said. “I’ll be comfortable with the team. I’ll know how we play with each other, so hopefully I’ll be able to come right in (and contribute).”
For now, though, Roberts will remain in Lawrence and stay busy working at KU’s basketball camp. The downtime will be most beneficial for him, as he works out with KU players and plays against them in pickup games. In those instances he typically matches up against either St. Francis Brooklyn guard Glenn Sanabria (also working at KU’s camp), or Jayhawks Marcus Garrett and Charlie Moore.
“I need it,” Roberts said of the repetitions.
By late June, Roberts will find himself at his new N.Y. home, just across the Niagara River from Canada.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I could feel like I really had an impact on the team,” Roberts said. “I just wanted to go somewhere where I was wanted.”