Imagine a 16-year-old high school freshman. Imagine he's 7-foot-7, taller than any current NBA player. Imagine that he barely needs to get off the ground to throw down a slam dunk. Imagine he can also shoot 3-pointers.
It sounds like a basketball urban legend, but Robert Bobroczky is very real. You might recognize the young Romanian giant from YouTube, where his highlight videos have racked up millions of views:
YouTube is exactly where Bobby Bossman discovered Bobroczky. Two years ago, Bossman, the Executive Director of Basketball at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio, came across a video of a 14-year-old Bobroczky. He marveled not only at his size, but also his unique skill set.
"I saw a video online that was going viral. At the time, [Bobroczky] was 14 years old, 7-foot-4, very thin but very skilled," Bossman says. "His ability to shoot the basketball—you could just tell he had a great IQ and he understood the game."
Bossman eventually connected with Bobroczky via Facebook, where he got to know him and his family. Bossman expressed interest in having Bobroczky attend SPIRE, believing that their top-flight resources and competitive schedule could spur his development. After all, 11 players from the SPIRE team signed with D-1 programs last year.
After Bobroczky and his father came over for a visit, they were sold. Bobroczky enrolled at SPIRE this fall, and he's been preparing for his American debut ever since. STACK talked to Bossman about what it's like to coach one of the tallest athletes on the planet and how he envisions Bobroczky's career moving forward.
STACK: What was your first priority when Robert arrived at SPIRE?
Bobby Bossman: We haven't had him practice or play in any games to date. The number one priority is his health. We started by having him go to the Cleveland Clinic, and they ran every sort of test and assessment you can imagine. The Cleveland Clinic has been tremendous, and they've given us the go-ahead so he's going to start playing in games in middle to late January.
He's not yet playing at full speed, but is he training?
Until a couple of weeks ago we were—I don't want to say hands-off—but he was going through the motions, doing a lot of stretching and working with our physical therapist. Now he's full go at our SPIRE Performance Training Center. He's up there four days a week working on strength, speed and agility. He's been in the pool three days a week, which has been tremendous for him and his overall strength. He's been running in the water, doing light plyos and even doing light stretches in the water. Obviously he's not pounding on the floor. Pool workouts are going to be extremely important for him.
He's working with our physical therapist three days a week. He works with our sports psychologist three days a week. From a nutritional side, we're in the infancy stages of building his ideal diet. That's going to be always changing for Robert, with our sports nutritionists and working hand in hand with our food service and our performance center. Everyone's hands are on deck, and we're trying to give Robert the best resources available. So far, I think it's been going extremely well.
How is Robert's flexibility? I imagine that could be an issue for someone his size.
A guy his size, his hips are extremely tight. His mobility isn't bad, it's just his hips are so tight. So he's doing a lot of things focusing on his hip flexors and trying to loosen them up. Over the last two or three weeks, his growth in overall flexibility has been tremendous. It's exciting to see such quick changes. I can only imagine what's going to happen over a four-year career here.
Will Robert be able to play at SPIRE for four years although he's already 16?
We're not a part of any organization or league. We play a national schedule. We can play high schools, prep schools, junior colleges, NAIA colleges. We just had a team in from Australia we played. We're playing anybody and everybody. There are no rules. We start practicing as soon as our kids get here. Open gyms begin in September and we go all the way to the middle of April. It's very different from the OHSAA [Ohio High School Athletic Association].
When you were able to watch Robert on the court in person, did his performance confirm his highlights?
He actually showed me more in person. We've been doing light workouts since he's gotten here, but he's showed an ability to really shoot the basketball. If we're just doing spot shooting, he's knocking down 15-footers eight or nine out of 10. He's shooting uncontested high school 3's five or six out of 10. We eventually moved him back and he's knocking down NBA 3's. I don't want to be the crazy coach telling our 7-foot-7 guy to shoot 3's, especially at the high school level, but [he can]. He's got very good footwork and he's really good at catching the ball in the post and turning to face the hoop. With his length, it's very difficult for someone to be able to contest his shots. We'll probably start using the broom in practice soon. We've done it before. We have a 6-foot-10 kid who we use the broom on a little bit.
Does Robert have basketball in his family?
His father played for the Romanian national basketball team. He's 7-foot-1 and his mother is 6-foot. His dad is also a coach, so Robert's been around the game his whole life.
Is Robert practicing with the team every day?
Giving Robert game experience prior to the middle of January is going to be huge. He practices with our guys three days a week right now, which has been great. We're just slowly getting him in, getting his body acclimated to training every day. It's going to be interesting once he starts competing on a daily basis with the guys to see what he can do.
You mentioned his nutrition is a work in progress. What's his diet like currently?
He's eating three meals a day. He's eating [a lot of] eggs, grilled chicken, fish. A lot of protein right now. But also, the Europeans eat so much healthier than Americans, so vegetables—he loves vegetables. But he's also 16, so you better believe he'll eat the fries and chicken tenders when they're available. Our big thing is getting him at least one protein shake a day, at least one meal replacement shake a day, and he also gets amino acids to help him restore his body. We're supplying him with the proper nutrition, but it's definitely in the infancy stages right now. We're determining exactly how many calories he needs and where we should go from here.
How has Robert's work ethic been so far?
The kid's work ethic—I'm not just saying this because I'm talking to you about him—he's hands down the hardest worker we have in our program. And we have some kids who work hard. The thing with Robert is that if you tell him to do something, he's not going to question you, he's just going to do it. When you look at the kid, he's got a 4.0 GPA and speaks four languages [English, Italian, Romanian and Hungarian] fluently. That just shows his discipline. At 16, if you're disciplined in the classroom, then your discipline will usually carry over to the rest of your life. From his work ethic on the court, in the weight room, in the pool, he's doing everything he needs to do to get to the level he needs to get to. But aside from all of that, he's truly an incredible young man. Quiet at first, but he'll say something that will have you rolling on the floor laughing because you just didn't expect it. Just a good heart.
What are your expectations for Robert this season?
I just had this conversation with him last week. I said I don't care if you score a point, I don't care if you grab a rebound. I want you to get comfortable and have fun. Everything else will take care of itself. The big thing with him is just adjusting to the American game. The speed of the game, the physicality of the game. Everything's going to fall into place, I'm not worried about his performance. Because it's going to come. He's only 16, he's going to be just fine. I think with his size and with him coming from across the world, he's putting so much pressure on himself. From a coaching perspective, I'm telling him he has no pressure. I want him to have fun, that's all he has to worry about. The rest will take care of itself.
Does Robert have a favorite NBA player or team?
He loves Dirk Nowitzki. I believe he likes the Los Angeles Clippers. He doesn't really have a good reason why. But he says he likes the Clippers so I roll with it.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock