Colorado’s Andre Roberson Is The Best Wing Player You’ve Never Heard Of

*This feature was originally published in Dime #72. To see the piece in its entirety, check out your local newsstands now.*

Colorado’s Andre Roberson is one of the best rebounders in the nation for his size, but even after a breakout sophomore season he’s enjoying another leap in 2013.

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Despite being more than a mile high, Colorado’s Boulder campus has never been a place where soaring expectations call home. The elite skiing teams, yes, but not for Chauncey Billups‘ former program.

So when the Buffaloes were picked to finish dead last in the 2011-12 Pac-12 preseason poll it wasn’t surprising. That the Buffs shocked the conference by staying near the top all season before winning the inaugural Pac-12 tournament and parlaying that into an unexpected NCAA Tournament win over UNLV tells a story of one large leap. Even in a league that saw its national reputation take a beating — regular-season champ Washington didn’t make the NCAA Tournament — many took notice of Tad Boyle’s team.

“It’s about the heart,” says Andre Roberson, Colorado’s most important player and the best all-around wing you’ve never heard of.

From San Antonio, Roberson was Boyle’s first recruit. In high school he terrorized Wagner High’s opponents on the glass, something Pac-12 coaches are now familiar with. In the time since the 6-7, 210-pound wing arrived on campus, Roberson’s rebounded like no other Buffalo in history. Lots of tweeners have hops and a jump shot, but Roberson’s consistency in delivering 20 double-doubles last year also came with a .750 winning percentage.

Roberson insists his pride isn’t from the poster dunks or the numbers, but from the wins. Along with former top recruit Spencer Dinwiddie, Roberson and the Buffaloes are, as of press time, 20-2 at the Coors Events Center since the start of the 2011 season.

“Growing up I was a pretty good scorer and I was better than everyone and then I had a little slump and I stopped growing for a minute,” Roberson says. “[My dad] told me scoring’s not always the thing. I kind of took that upon myself and to get better I added to my game.”

His father, John Roberson, played 12 seasons overseas after a college career at New Mexico State. He knew the antidote to a scoring slump was fundamentals. He and his wife, Lisa, a former NMSU volleyball player, then taught them to their children: three of Roberson’s five sisters have played collegiate sports and his younger brother, Anthony, is a rising San Antonio prep hooper. Calling themselves the “rebounding Robersons” John Roberson told The Denver Post he would play Dennis Rodman tapes so his kids could watch how he got the boards. Opponents are now studying tape on his son, to little avail: He’s shooting nearly 50 percent and averaging 10.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. In back-to-back road games against Kansas and Fresno State, he combined for 25 points and 31 rebounds.

“We sat down with [Boyle] before he got hired and we both had a little conversation about how to turn this organization around,” Andre Roberson says. “That’s one of the things we do work for. We’ve definitely raised the program level. We stick to our motto and that’s defending and rebounding.”

The motto might as well be Roberson’s after he snapped CU’s 58-year-old single-season rebound record and set a per-game standard with 11.1, the third-highest total in Division I last season. Basketball data wizard Ken Pomeroy calculated Roberson had the second-highest defensive rebounding percentage at nearly 30 percent, trailing only former Kansas star Thomas Robinson. What confounds defenses is how to guard him: By putting a guard on Roberson, teams know he will dominate smaller players for rebounds. But, he’s just as comfortable slipping a larger player’s defense by stepping back for three (at least 34 percent in all three seasons with Colorado).

Taking a short break between summer training stops in San Antonio, Boulder and Los Angeles, Roberson said his 51 percent from the floor and 38 percent shooting from three as a sophomore never let a defender feel comfortable sagging off, and yet his quickness and understanding of angles allowed him to slip past a closer man for the carom. At one point in the 2012 Pac-12 Tournament he made 11 straight shots, a stretch beginning in the quarterfinals and ending in a title-game win over Arizona.

Boyle and Roberson discussed his improvement this offseason in their exit interview last spring, but the player already knows what will dog him in the draft process: he has to prove he won’t just take the open shot but can create as well. Still, you’d better believe thoughts about the NBA are inevitable for the wing. Most draft experts think he’ll be taken in the mid-30s in the 2013 NBA Draft, and he’s ranked the 10th-best junior by DraftExpress. The Buffs should brace for his early entry.

“That’s kind of like wait and see and you can’t hide from reality,” Roberson says, and you can almost hear a smile on the end of the phone line. “Me and Coach Boyle definitely talked about it.”

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