Watch I Am the Prospect: Isaiah Roby in full in the video player above. A five-part series, I Am the Prospect follows top basketball prospects in their journey to the 2019 NBA Draft.
One hundred miles west of Chicago sits Dixon, Illinois, a small city of around 15,000 not at all known for producing star basketball players.
But for Nebraska forward and potential NBA Draft pick Isaiah Roby, it's home.
"Small town kid, it's something that's always been a part of my identity," Roby told NBC Sports Washington for I Am the Prospect. "I have that underdog mentality and a chip on my shoulder of being from a small town. I have a lot of pride in that."
"I think I'm one of only two or three guys to play Division I basketball out of my town, and that's something I'm really proud of."
Roby's struggle against small town obscurity began at a young age, back when he was playing AAU ball.
"It took a lot to get to this point for me, especially coming from a small town with not a lot of opportunities so it takes a lot of time and dedication, countless miles," he said. "I would drive 90 minutes roundtrip, or both ways, just for practice, AAU practice."
And in Roby's case, he wasn't the only one making those long trips and dedicating countless hours to furthering his basketball career. Roby credits his mother, Danielle, as a big reason why he's where he is now.
"She sacrificed a lot for me to be in the place I am today and she's my biggest motivator," he said. "She's the reason that I was able to play AAU basketball because those things aren't cheap. You know, traveling, paying for team fees, paying for hotel fees.
"My mom picked up multiple jobs at a time for me to be in those positions and in order for me to be where I am today."
Roby began to gain recognition in Dixon because of his skills on the basketball floor. So much so, his "stardom" affected his job.
"Growing up, I worked at a restaurant in Dixon, 'world's tallest host' they were saying," Roby recalled. "First I was a host, and as I got better in basketball, people started to recognize me more. They had to move me to the back because it took too long for me to sit people at tables."
However, outside of his hometown, Roby was still relatively unknown. He only received one scholarship offer from a Divison I school, Nebraska, which like Dixon had little basketball history.
But it was that chance to make some history which sold Roby on becoming a Cornhusker.
"Probably the biggest reason I ended up at Nebraska is because of the coaching staff and the facilities they have there," he said. "Coaches sold me on being a part of something new, trying to start something new at a university. Nebraska is not known for basketball, but they kind of sold me on being a special time in Nebraska basketball history, so that was something that I definitely wanted to be a part of."
During his sophomore and junior seasons in Lincoln, Roby helped the Cornhuskers earn back-to-back berths in the NIT, Nebraska's first postseason appearances since making the NCAA Tournament in 2014.
In fact, Roby led Nebraska to its first postseason win since 2008, scoring a career-high 28 points in the Cornhuskers' 80-76 victory over Butler in the 2019 NIT first round.
Now, he has his sights set on the NBA. Roby projects as a low first-round or second-round pick, NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig ranking Roby No. 41 on his latest 2019 NBA Draft Big Board.
And after beating the odds to play for a Division I program, Roby believes he can do the same at the next level.
"In every gym I go into I feel like I'm the best player, so I'm just trying to prove that to all these NBA teams," Roby said. "And at the end of the day, if I get a chance, I'm the type of player that's gonna work hard."
"I know I need to work on parts of my game and develop further, but I think down the line I'm going to be a starter in this league and a player that sticks around for multiple years."
Roby has aspirations to do good work off the court as well, remembering how others helped him and his family in times of need.
"I grew up in a Habitat for Humanity home. My family did things like shop with a cop on Christmas. The local police department would come and give my family a turkey for Thanksgiving."
"I've had all these opportunities for people to help me and my family out, so that's something I definitely want to be involved [with] in the NBA," he said. "Being a positive role model for kids in the community, these are all things I'm looking forward to doing for an NBA team."
And as potentially the first native of Dixon to make the NBA, Roby's journey can provide inspiration to anyone with dreams that may seem impossible.
"I'm living proof that it's possible to come out of anywhere no matter what the situation," Roby said. "If you really, truly care about it enough, anything is possible."
I AM THE PROSPECT
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