Sydnee Roby trades Centre Court dreams for frontcourt dominance

Courtesy Ryan Ellerbusch

Sydnee Roby, a 6-foot-3 center at Milwaukee's Rufus King International High School, embraces the paint and has a sweet touch around the rim.

When Sydnee Roby was 10 years old, her parents gave her tennis lessons, a racket and, of course, a few new outfits to wear on the court.

Roby loved it all.

"I convinced myself I was going to be the next Serena Williams," she said.

But Roby's dreams of making it to Wimbledon didn't quite take hold. Turns out, Centre Court paled in comparison to the frontcourt.

The 6-foot-3 center for Rufus King International High School (Milwaukee) is the No. 40 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2019 class. She has more than 30 college scholarship offers after averaging 16.9 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.8 blocks and 2.2 assists for a King team that went 25-1 and reached the state semifinals for the first time in five years.

King coach Craig Machut made Roby a starter as soon as she arrived on campus as a freshman. He said he knew Roby was going to be a "special player" from the first time he saw her in seventh grade. Her size was only part of it.

"She moves well, and she moves confidently," Machut said. "Sydnee is built like she's meant to play."

There's probably a reason for that: Roby is the only child of Essie Washington (formerly Haney), a 6-1 center and a former starter at both Grambling State and Howard University, splitting her time between those schools. She also played pro ball for the Virginia Wave in the WABA.

"After too many bounced checks, I hung up my sneakers and put my degree to work," said Washington, an insurance agent who works from home and travels to all of her daughter's tournaments.

Roby's basketball bloodline extends beyond her mother. Roby's cousin is Ericka Haney, a 6-0 wing who was a starter on Notre Dame's 2001 national championship team. But despite the basketball accomplishments of Washington and Haney, Roby said she was once "preoccupied" with other sports such as tennis and volleyball.

"She told me at a young age that she didn't want to play basketball," Washington said. "She was in the sixth grade, and she was already 6 feet tall. Everyone just assumed she would play basketball."

Roby pursued tennis fairly seriously for two years. But in seventh grade, she started to get the basketball bug. "Basketball just clicked," Roby said. "I told my mom, 'I think I want to do this now.' It felt natural."

Washington played it cool. "I was stoic," she said, "but inside, I was doing the happy dance."

Roby's coaches have been similarly thrilled.

Machut compares Roby to Shaquille O'Neal, both in terms of her fun personality and her dominance in the paint. Her AAU coach, Ralph Gesualdo of Midwest Elite, hypes Roby's shooting touch, her ability to use either hand around the rim and her timing to block shots.

"But what sets her apart is that she likes to play in the post," he said. "In today's game, few kids want to play with their back to the basket. They don't want to do the dirty work inside, like blocking out and rebounding. But Syd loves to play physical.

This is a contact sport, but that aspect of the game is being lost.
Sydnee Roby

"She's a gregarious kid. But once she gets on the court, she's ready for battle. She seeks contact. Sometimes, you have to back her off to keep her out of foul trouble."

Roby, a 3.0 student who likes to play piano and sing, said it is normal for her to be double- and triple-teamed. She's fine with that tactic.

"I go out there and have girls hanging on my arms," she said. "It's evident to me that post players today don't like to be touched. I don't understand. This is a contact sport, but that aspect of the game is being lost.

"I guess I'm naturally intimidating, and I use that to my advantage. I try to make my opponents uncomfortable."

Roby has made unofficial visits to four universities so far: Miami, Michigan State, Minnesota and Notre Dame. While she sorts out her college choice, Roby continues to work exceptionally hard at her game. She's a regular in the gym, doing everything from jumping rope to working on her ballhandling skills.

As for her discarded tennis career, Machut said he has no doubt Roby would've been special in that sport, too.

"She has quite a wingspan, and she could probably cover a lot of ground," he said. "If she had the right technique, she'd have a heck of a serve, too. Physics would be on her side."

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