A swagger and a smile: J’Wan Roberts is Houston’s heartbeat

Roberts is the breakout star of the 2022-23 team

As Houston fans know, Kelvin Sampson’s teams improve throughout the season. New players step up while older players emerge, and in this record-setting year, it is no different. Jarace Walker is progressing, Emmanuel Sharp has become an essential part of the rotation, and J’Wan Roberts has blossomed into this team’s heartbeat.

It takes time for guys to find out where they best fit into a unit once the bright lights come on, but there’s no doubt J’Wan has found his. He has become the emotional leader this group needs, a fact that has stood out in the last two games.

“It’s always good playing with a lot of emotion,” J’Wan Roberts said Thursday. “Get your teammates involved, everybody involved, and have a fun time. That’s how you want to play.

“Just go all out and have fun with your teammates.”

His fun extends to doing the dirty work under the boards and getting tough buckets. He energizes the fans by punching opponents’ shots into the third row or ripping the rim out of the glass on a nasty dunk. But none of that is new. What is new is that his teammates are responding in kind and feeding off his energy.

Within every team, there are different kinds of leaders. Usually, one or two guys set the tone off the court. On the court, the leader is typically the guy running the show, like Jamal Shead or your top-scoring threat (Marcus Sasser). Sometimes one of those guys is the emotional leader, such as DeJon Jarreau. But for this team, that role has been filled by J’Wan Roberts.

“If I continue playing my best at a high rate, my teammates will follow me,” Roberts said. “And it’s going to be hard to beat us.”

J’Wan knows how to have fun // Photo by Mario Puente

At times this season, these Cougars have seemed to be waiting for someone to step up to make a bucket or impact the game. There would be long stretches when UH is listless and looking for a spark, a natural lull for an inexperienced team. But someone had to step up, and heading into March, that guy has been J’Wan Roberts.

There might be dry spells on offense and missed assignments on the defensive end, but the constant is the intensity you get from a UH team. The last two opponents, Memphis and Tulane, were tied for second in the AAC standings to start the week. But against those teams, the Coogs have brought the intensity from the first buzzer to the last, never letting up. J’Wan Roberts dominated in those games, combining for 46 points and 19 rebounds.

He’s undersized for the center position, but that has not mattered. What does matter is that he loves what he is doing on the floor, and he’s gotten very good at it, leading his teammates to respond.

“The connection and the chemistry we have…my teammates have confidence in me that when they throw me the ball in the post, that even if I don’t score, I’ll make the right play,” Roberts said recently. “And that’s how we’ve been as a team all year long.”

For UH basketball to live up to its standard, there must be that emotional lift, and J’Wan’s personality and game are the perfect fit. His energy and toughness are unmatched, and he brings it every night with a swagger and a smile.

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