Here's a story that explains why I became a great admirer of Roy. Roy committed to Gtown university just before his sophomore high school basketball season began. He was of course very tall even back then and like many big men the word “potential” was mentioned whenever his name was brought up back then. But so was the word “raw”. In fact “very raw” is more accurate. He had his share of critics who thought he was too stiff, too slow, too big, too uncoordinated. Even his supporters conceded that he had a LONG way to go before being someone capable of dominating even a high school game.
The first time I would get the chance to see Hibbert live and in person came during the summer between his junior and senior year in high school (Georgetown Prep). The event was the annual Jabbo Kenner League and Roy was playing for the Tombs. A little background information is needed. The Kenner League is the one NCAA sanctioned summer league tournament in the DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia region. With a few exceptions it has been played on the campus of Georgetown University every year of its nearly 30 year existence. Sometimes its very organized and very strict on who can participate. Sometimes its more loose and disorganized and allows pros such as Gilbert Arenas, Sam Cassell, Brendan Haywood, Jerome Williams, etc to participate in the main tournament games (which start after a month of “regular” season games are played to determine seeding. You also have had great DC street legends suit up and play too though they have tended to play in the KL tourney games for the pros. But the main interest that has drawn fans for decades is when the college players or soon-to-be college players hoop for their respective summer league teams.
Skip ahead to the following summer. Hibbert had just come off a successful senior season campaign. I headed to Gtown for the beginning of the 2004 Kenner League games eager to see what improvements he had made without getting my hopes up too high. Catching a few of Hibbert’s games that summer I had noticed that there was a tremendous amount of improvement from the previous summer. Every game he would do something that I didn’t think he was capable of. He was also finishing better, showing more confident moves and playing better defense. He was competing hard not only against top college players but pros such as the Wizards’ Haywood. In other words I saw for the first time the potential in Roy to be a true contributor and a very good player.
But a lot of his glaring flaws were still evident. He was awful at running the floor, he played too soft around the rim too often, he was still awkward. He had some good games but he still had some bad games too. Compared to teammate and fellow college freshman-to-be, Jeff Green, Roy looked like the project that he was. Worst of all, as during the previous summer, he had to deal with the awful truth that summer league crowds could be unforgivably cruel. People were laughing at him. People were criticizing him from the stands and then talking to themselves about how he could not play. Not even playing in the on-campus gym of his selected college buffered him from all the snickering and groans. The worst part was that from my view I could even see his future college teammates (the returning upperclassmen players on the Georgetown team) who were sitting in the stands chuckling openly over Roy’s awkwardness.
Roy responded to this in a way that defined his character. He showed up. He showed up for every game despite the fact he was often the butt of jokes and the target of laughter from the crowd. Maybe this does not sound like such a big deal to some folks but you must understand the context. All summer leagues deal with no-shows and guys who arrive late. Its part of the fabric of the events. Guys who had proven everything in the world as well as guys who were supposed to be trying to better themselves as basketball players would decide at the last minute they had better things to do. So who would blame Roy for having enough with being tease (which is especially detrimental to shy teenagers) and deciding to stay home and miss a game or two? I wouldn’t have blamed him for skipping a couple of games or more and going out with friends to the mall (you must realize most KL games are played on the weekends). I would have probably too sensitive to the teasing or two angry to keep subjecting myself to such verbal abuse. But that’s me; that isn’t Roy. No, Roy kept coming back and playing because his being teased was a small price to pay to further improve his education on the hardcourt. He had supposedly never skipped out on the KL games that previous summer either when I first saw Roy. Like man he blocked it out and just worried about balling. That summer he helped the Tombs win the Kenner League title.
The following summer he made that quantum leap and played for Clyde’s in the Kenner League. He ended up being the best player on the best team in the league itself. And in the championship game his team beat the Tombs, led again by now Big East Rookie of the Year Jeff Green, for the title. The next year, during the summer of 2006, he once again led his Clyde’s team to the title. During both of his summers playing for Clyde’s he led the league in scoring, rebounding and blocks. And his Clyde’s team went undefeated through league play throughout that two year run. If he had played in the league during 2007 before his senior year (he was a way playing in the Pan Am games), the feeling is that his team would have won again. That’s how dominant his two summers run with Clyde’s was. In the history of Kenner League Hibbert had a stretch run of performances and results that’s right up there or close with some of the very best that the league has ever seen. Talk about a Hollywood-like success story. Maybe that guy yelling that encouragement to Roy during the KL games in 2004 was right all along.
Sure it was just summer league. But the character traits that define Roy such as the appreciation of hard work, the desire to improve, reliability and the drive to prove the doubters wrong first became evident to me after seeing him grow so much from one sumer to the next. These are elements of his personality that remain with him to this day. Its why I am a fan and why I think Pacer fans will enbrace him too. Its why I think he will be a wonderful pro too.