Josh Roberts' shooting big part of new-look Jaspers

Senior guard transfer student comfortable in new role with challenged Manhattan College


Josh Roberts may not be a household name in college basketball. There are hundreds of players in his shoes making up the 352 Division I teams. Very few get their moment in the sun against those types of odds. However, Roberts has carved out a niche with his efficiency shooting the ball.

Two years ago, Roberts, a fifth year player, left St. John’s in search of a new opportunity and a place where he could contribute in an extended role. Manhattan College checked off both of those boxes for him, with the third being the chance to continue his career in New York City.

Roberts’ family has roots in New York with one parent from Manhattan and the other from Poughkeepsie. The family moved down to Alabama when Roberts was young to care for his grandmother, yet he never forgot about New York and its allure. Coming to play in New York was always a dream, and it’s a challenge he embraces.

“St. John’s fans and fans in New York City are tough,” Roberts said. “If you don’t have a good year, they’re going to be tough.”

He may have left Queens for the Bronx, but his passion to improve his craft never left him.

“He does a great job of showing up and doing his work everyday,” former Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello once said of the 6-foot-9 forward.

What no one probably expected was for Roberts to develop into a player with the second best field-goal percentage in the country. He currently shoots 70 percent from the field, only behind Creighton star Ryan Kalkbrenner by less than a half percentage point.

“He’s been great all season,” Fairfield University head coach Jay Young said. “He blocks shots and alters them.”

Roberts knows his rare field-goal percentage is a big deal. That doesn’t mean it should occupy his head space though.

“While I’m playing I try not to think about it,” Roberts said. “I just try to let it come naturally.”

While flying under the radar last year in his first season at Manhattan, Roberts fell a couple percentage points shy of 70 percent. This season, however, his minutes have increased to 31 per game, up from 21.

A gentle giant grounded in humility, he points to his teammates for helping him get the job done around the rim. Draddy Gymnasium has turned into Lob City with Roberts on the court.

“I owe everything to my teammates,” Roberts said. “A lot of the points I’m getting are from lobs and dishes from Ant (Nelson) and Samir (Stewart) and other guards so I’m thankful for them.”

Roberts’ high expectations for himself date back to his days at St. John’s, where he played three seasons. He played for two coaches at the well-known hoops school, but the real turning point came on March 1st, 2020 when Roberts suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in a game against Creighton.

The rehab and recovery didn’t go quite according to plan, and Roberts fell out of the rotation his junior season, all the while playing amidst the pandemic.

“There was a lot going on and it was stressful,” Roberts said.

He took the leap of entering the transfer portal and putting his name out there again for coaches, just like he did when he was a rising prospect at Montverde Academy in Florida. There were about a handful of suitors with serious mutual interest before Roberts eventually chose Manhattan. Throughout, Roberts leaned on his Aunt Geri and former AAU coaches for counsel.

“I came here to regain my confidence and to see how much I can help this team out,” Roberts said of his world colliding with the Jaspers program.

That hard-working motor ran overtime this past offseason when Roberts and former teammate Warren Williams would practice against each other every day. The friendly rivalry was on display front and center at Draddy Gym for passersby, and almost always was one on one with the ball the only thing separating them.

Already a lot has been accomplished since those sweltering days inside Draddy. Williams has made an impact at Hofstra and will have a chance to play in his first NCAA Tournament if the Pride can ride out their 11-game winning streak and win the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament.

“We went at each other to make each other better,” Roberts said. “Playing against Warren every day definitely made me a lot better.”

With his impressive body of work this season that also includes leading the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with 9.7 rebounds per game, Roberts has shown he is cut out to the Manhattan front court. The next best field-goal percentage shooter in the league is more than 10 percentage points behind Roberts, which perhaps best underscores the season he is having.

Without Williams anymore, Roberts has simply let his game do the talking while putting to rest any questions about whether he could lead a team.

“During the St. Peter’s game I went 1 for 8 so I couldn’t let it get in my head,” Roberts said of not letting individual statistics get in the way of team goals. “I just need to do what it takes to win.”

After all, Roberts wanted to remain part of the team after losing his head coach Masiello two weeks before the season. No one thought the Jaspers would come anywhere close to what they were expected to be after interim head coach RaShawn Stores had to assume duties under adverse circumstances. Even after losing three starters and their head coach, Manhattan is 9-9 in league play and still has a chance at getting a bye.

“The focus is to key in and strengthen our weaknesses because we definitely have a shot to win the championship if we all buy in and lock in,” Roberts said.

The focus for now is on the season, but Roberts has thought about what will come next for his basketball career. It would be a dream to be able to play in the NBA, or even the G-League, Roberts says. If not, he likely won’t think twice about taking his talents overseas, preferably to a top league somewhere.

“I feel like I have a shot at the highest level,” Roberts said.

Iona head coach Rick Pitino is a fan of Roberts’ game too, and analyzed his game deeper after Iona beat Manhattan, 71-60, at the Hynes Center on Feb. 17, Pitino says “the player movement” overseas would be “good” for Roberts, as opposed to feeling like he needs to put all his chips in the G-League for his development. Roberts is “terrific,” Pitino says,  but thinks he could take his game to another level by adding a 14 to 16 foot jump shot to his arsenal.

“One thing I would tell Josh if I was advising him, which I’m not, is to go overseas to make big money,” Pitino said. “The G-League sometimes is not the best scenario for a player. It is for some players, but not all players… go overseas and learn player movement which would be good for him.”

The journey has been rewarding since Roberts first began playing organized basketball at 14. His experience playing in high school at Montverde was unique in that he was treated like a pro at a young age. Roberts says Montverde was something “he never experienced before” from a basketball standpoint, with practices sometimes twice a day.

And it’s the reason why he gave up football talents to pursue a basketball career.  Roberts believes it’s just the beginning.

“I love proving people wrong.”

Josh Roberts, Manhattan College, Jaspers, mens basketball, Marist, Jay Young, Fairfield University, Rick Pitino