High ceiling: Athletic forward Roberson to make official visit to Syracuse on Friday
It was a full-court, five-on-five game of basketball, but there was only one matchup to watch.
Utah Jazz guard Randy Foye was doing a number against a squad made up of players on the NJ Roadrunners. But so was his opponent, Tyler Roberson, a high school senior who will have his choice of elite college basketball programs this fall.
Foye, being the superior talent on the court, went about with his business as usual — trying to trick Roberson with his tight handle and flashy dribbling. Roberson wasn’t having it, though.
For one play at least, the high schooler and the NBA veteran were equals.
“He really didn’t go for it,” Foye said in an email to The Daily Orange through the Utah Jazz. “That’s when I said to myself, ‘You know, I think he is ready.’ He is really long and athletic. One thing that stood out at me is his defense, his attention to detail. I am telling you, he is going to be a good one.”
That’s one of the perks of training with Sandy Pyonin. The legendary trainer and Amateur Athletic Union coach has trained or coached 33 eventual NBA players, including Foye.
Roberson could be next. The highly touted recruit — No. 47, according to Scout.com — will make an official visit to Syracuse on Friday. The 6-foot-8-inch forward from Union, N.J., visited Southern Methodist on Sept. 28, and will visit Kansas on Oct. 19 and Kentucky on Nov. 2.
He recently cut his list down to six schools, with Villanova and nearby Rutgers rounding out the list.
Pyonin not only expects Roberson to reach the NBA, but he also thinks the forward could be the No. 1 overall pick, like another former Roadrunner Kyrie Irving.
“I’ve had 33 NBA players, so I would consider myself the No. 1 trainer in the world,” Pyonin said. “So if anyone knows, I know.”
Roberson hears that praise and feeds off it. No one doubts his ability, but plenty of players across the country are considered more talented than Roberson.
So he takes Pyonin’s prediction as a challenge.
“It’s a big compliment,” Roberson said. “It just makes me want to just get in the gym every day and just work because with an expectation like that you have to. … It’s almost like a goal, like I have to strive to be that good, so hopefully I can reach my full potential and do that one day.”
Even now, Pyonin said it’s hard to see the difference between Roberson and the NBA talent he plays with when they’re on the court together.
“Let’s just say Tyler does his thing,” Pyonin said. “He can hold his own with most players, even if they’re NBA players, at this stage.”
In addition to playing against Foye, Roberson also talks with Irving any time he’s back in his hometown.
“He is really long and athletic. One thing that stood out at me is his defense, his attention to detail. I am telling you, he is going to be a good one.”
Randy Foye, Utah Jazz guard
Roberson said that the NJ Roadrunner alums tell him to stay in the gym and to continue working hard.
“If I keep doing that then I should get to where I want to go,” Roberson said.
These words of wisdom aren’t given to just anyone. Pyonin said his alumni trust his word of who has the chance to be successful and then reserve their advice for these select few.
He’s met some NBA players in passing through Pyonin. Roberson has had the opportunity to train with others, like Foye. Either way, the experience of meeting former NBA players alone is meaningful for Roberson.
“That’s a great experience because you get to play against top-notch talent,” Pyonin said. “But you also get to hear what they have to say that makes you a better person and a better basketball player.”
As good of advice as he gets from the former pros, Pyonin’s advice has steered his career.
Few high school-level coaches in the country prepare their players as well as Pyonin does, and the way he’s prepared Roberson has made him a coveted recruit for the Orange program. The Roadrunners frequently utilize a matchup zone that Pyonin has learned is very similar to Jim Boeheim’s through conversations with the SU coach.
With his lanky physique and 7-foot-1-inch wingspan, Roberson seems an ideal fit in Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.
Roberson has been even more versatile defensively playing for Roselle Catholic (N.J.) High School. With the Lions, Roberson has played atop a 1-3-1 zone, a diamond-and-one press and on both wings of a 2-3 zone, as well as down low to showcase his shot-blocking ability.
“We’re a switching, multiple defense-type of team,” Roselle Catholic head coach Dave Boff said. “He’s comfortable with the zone and because of his length and quickness, he’s really, really good in the zone.”
Normally, Boeheim’s presence is an inherent advantage for the Orange in recruiting. But Boeheim may not even be the most important SU coach in the equation for Roberson.
Assistant coach Mike Hopkins, who is also Syracuse’s coach-in-waiting, serves as Roberson’s primary contact.
And like most other Syracuse recruits, Roberson feels Hopkins’ personality is just as much of an appeal as his coaching.
“When he talks to me about the game, he talks to me about how he thinks I could fit in with the way that Syracuse plays and how he thinks I’ll be successful here,” Roberson said. “And as a person, he’s just a good person to talk to. I enjoy talking to him.”
If Pyonin’s past judgments are any indication, it shouldn’t be hard for the SU coaching staff to make Roberson successful. Not every freshman has worked with a world-class trainer, NBA players and No. 1 picks.
Roberson knows that, and he relishes every opportunity he gets to play with the elite competition.
“It lets me know what it takes to play at that level,” Roberson said. “How hard it is, how difficult it is. It’s a good experience.”
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