During the 2007-08 basketball season, I got a glimpse of a tall, skinny kid sitting on the Evans High School bench.
Late in a game that season, the player got into the game and I had to ask Evans Coach Kevin Kenny who the player was. After all, it is not every day that you have a 6-foot-8 sophomore in Columbia County.
The player’s name was Jaleel Roberts, and by the time the 2008-09 campaign rolled around he stood 6-10 and had improved immensely. He was getting calls from programs like South Carolina and Wake Forest. While he was still a work in progress with only two years of competitive basketball under his belt, he did manage to garner All-County and All-Region honors.
Roberts seemed poised for a big senior season for the Knights. That, however, never materialized. Instead, he transferred to a prep school in North Carolina. Whether or not this was the right decision is a debate coaches have been having for many years, and will rage on. However, one benefit was clear: Roberts would have an extra year of high school ball to try to add some weight to his paper-thin frame. Rather than being a senior, he would have two years left at his new school, Greensboro Day School.
Roberts played sparingly as a junior, but still was getting some attention from Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference schools. He had a solid senior season, but the big-time offers were not there. Roberts still had dozens of schools offering a full scholarship, however, and in the end he chose to stay in North Carolina, accepting an offer from UNC-Asheville.
That is where the former Evans project continues to hone his skills. The now 7-foot freshman (that is what he is listed at on the roster, but he is probably somewhere between 6-10 and 6-11) is fighting for playing time on a very good team.
UNC-Asheville plays in the Big South Conference and will likely be one of the conference front-runners this season.
Through seven games, they are 3-4, but they have played a tremendously tough schedule. Their losses have come at the hands of North Carolina State, No. 1 ranked North Carolina, defending champion Connecticut, and the College of Charleston.
They even posted a convincing 87-65 victory over Utah.
Roberts has played sparingly, but has made the most of his time on the floor. He is averaging 3 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, and has six blocks and three steals in just 6.9 minutes per game. He is a 10 of 10 from the floor as well.
Most of his damage was done in an outstanding performance in a blowout win over Mars Hill. UNC-Asheville won 126-75, and Roberts scored 12 points on six of six shooting and had seven rebounds and four blocks in just 14 minutes of action. He also had seven points and five boards in 15 minutes in an 89-48 win over Brevard.
Roberts might not be playing in the ACC or SEC, but he has a chance at a professional career. Granted, he still has a long way to go, but you can’t teach his height and wing span. It might seem like we have been using the term “potential” associated with Roberts’ name for a long time, but keep in mind he is still new to the game.
In a day where the top college freshmen have been playing for more than a decade, with many having already played all over the country and around the globe, Roberts is still unmolded clay. He has only played organized ball for four years, and he was on the bench for the most part in two of those seasons.
If he works hard to improve his skills, Jaleel Roberts could be a force one day in the Big South Conference.