After being one of the more highly-touted recruits of the Stony Brook men’s basketball team, guard Kaine Roberts is looking to make his mark in his upcoming sophomore season.
The skilled guard is a 20-year-old playmaker with speed, quickness and impressive handles. After watching and learning for much of his freshman season, Roberts is primed to play a bigger role for the Seawolves this year. However, he has taken a long road to get to where he is today.
Roberts’ upbringing found him constantly on the move, always having to adapt to his surroundings and find comfort. He was born in Tokyo, Japan, but his time there was short-lived because his father served in the U.S. Navy. Roberts and his family moved to Hawaii when he was an infant, living there throughout his middle school years. They moved back to Japan at the start of Roberts’ high school career and lived there for the next three years.
After making it through his junior year in Japan, Roberts returned to the U.S. in 2019. He enrolled in Santa Margarita High School in California, where he earned his high school diploma in the spring of 2020.
Transitioning between countries and adjusting to the culture is different for everyone, but Roberts had no problem with it. While living in Japan, he lived on a military base and was exposed to American culture. Roberts’ family spoke both Japanese and English in his household, making the transition between cultures easier for him.
“I always traveled so it wasn’t really like a ‘transitioning’ thing,” Roberts said in an interview with The Statesman. “It was always normal to me. Being a military child, we were always moving around and meeting new people, so it wasn’t like any big difference for me.”
On the basketball court, Roberts says that American and Japanese styles of play are different, but that transition has not come as easy.
“Everyone in America is more athletic,” Roberts said. “Stronger and athletically gifted. In Japan it’s more IQ and stuff like that. I’m not going to always have the greatest transition, but you just got to work through it, grind through it, and eventually I’ll find my way.”
Roberts does not necessarily come from a family of athletes. His parents played sports recreationally, but never at a higher level. Roberts himself did not start playing basketball until the seventh grade while still living in Hawaii. He also ran track as a sprinter and played football.
Roberts feels that his time as a football player helped him become a better basketball player, both physically and mentally. Playing wide receiver at a high level helped him become a better athlete, and his coaching staff helped give him a strong mentality to bring to the hardwood.
“There’s a big correlation,” Roberts said. “Obviously, the physical side of it made me a better player. On the basketball court, you’re cutting all the time and doing sharp moves, especially at my position. As a wide receiver, you have to make sure every cut you do is correct and tight. And my football coaches gave me a good mentality that I could take, even off the field.”
Between his high schools in Tokyo and California, Roberts played four years of varsity boy’s basketball. He had a very successful high school career, earning All-League and All-State honors in his junior year. That same year, Roberts was named to the East Asia Elite (EAE) Top Ten Players of the Year list.
“It was great; high school was fun,” Roberts said. “Obviously, to be at this level, you were a big part of your high school team. It was a good experience for me.”
During his high school career, Roberts learned the value of becoming a complete player, as scoring is only one aspect of the sport.
“Everything is not about scoring,” Roberts said. “Especially as you progress in the level of basketball, everything is not about scoring. There’s things like defense and assists and other things you’ve got to worry about.”
During his senior year of high school, Roberts gained an idol to look up to when Rui Hachimura made his NBA debut with the Washington Wizards. Hachimura has a very similar background to Roberts, which gave him a role model to try and emulate.
“He’s a half kid like me: half-black, half-Japanese,” Roberts said. “He put on for my country, so I’m kind of following his footsteps right now, trying to make a name for myself. Coming out of Japan, it is a dream for a lot of kids to go Division I. It’s not something that happens often.”
Though he got a late start to his basketball career, he figured out very early that he wanted to play basketball at the next level.
“It actually started in eighth grade,” Roberts said. “Once I started to see that I was better than my peers … that I could do other things that most people couldn’t do at my age. It was just something that I stuck with.”
Going into his senior year of high school, Roberts participated in the Basketball Without Borders Asia camp, an event hosted by the NBA. He was only one of four total Japanese kids selected for that camp. While there, he made connections on several levels, including the NBA.
“It was a great experience actually,” Roberts said. “I met a lot of cool guys that I still know to this day. There are players on this team that know people that I met at that camp. I met a lot of NBA guys and got coached by some NBA coaches.”
Roberts’ college recruiting was hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, as he was a high school senior during that time frame. He had two Division I offers out of high school, but took a year to play professionally instead. In August of 2020, he went back home again and signed with Earthfriends Tokyo Z, a Japanese B League professional team. He played one season with them and gained quality experience with the team.
“It was a dream honestly,” Roberts said. “I want to also say that I gained an extra step than others in college.”
At just 18, Roberts was the youngest player in the Japanese B League. He was five years younger than the next-closest teammate. Playing with so many experienced professionals, Roberts was taught things that other NCAA players are not privy to.
“They were all like 28, 30, 25 — it’s a pro league,” Roberts said. “They taught me a lot of IQ plays and things to do that I brought with me.”
Despite being the youngest player in a professional league by a wide margin, Roberts was not worried about the age gap. He just played his brand of basketball and did what he knows best.
“At that age, nobody could really tell me anything,” Roberts said. “I was going to do what I was going to do. I didn’t really let me being a pro affect my game, or my age affect my game. I just treated everyone as if they were my same age. I didn’t think much of it.”
Despite his constant travels, Roberts had never been to the East Coast before arriving at Stony Brook. He liked the academic program at the university, giving him an additional reason to join the school.
Roberts did not play much in his first season with the Seawolves, as he sat behind guards Jahlil Jenkins and Juan Felix Rodriguez. However, after Jenkins opted for season-ending surgery and Rodriguez departed midseason after oral surgery, Roberts was thrown into the rotation.
In his 15 games played, Roberts struggled. He shot only 18.2% from the field and 15.4% from three-point range. He played an average of 8.2 minutes per game.
Roberts spent his offseason working on his skill set with trainers in Tokyo. Not only is he trying to improve his handles and jump shot, but he is also looking to be more efficient and physical this season.
“I would like to see myself cut down on turnovers and be more confident with passes — be a true point guard,” Roberts said. “I want to help my team on the defensive side as well. I want to be one of the best guard-defenders on our team.”
With guards Sabry Philip and Dean Noll out for the season with injuries, Roberts will likely see more minutes in the backcourt for Stony Brook. As of now, he is vying to fill the backup point guard role, as Aaron Clarke will likely be the starter once he returns to full health. However, with Clarke’s status up in the air for the team’s opening night game, Roberts may find his way into the starting lineup.
As for the future, Roberts’ goal is to get back into the professional ranks.
“Obviously the big goal is the NBA,” Roberts said. “I don’t really mind going back to my home country and showing what I can do back over there again.”
Off the field, Roberts has built strong bonds with his teammates. He has become good friends with freshman guard Jared Frey, saying that he is like a little brother to him.
“That’s my guy,” Roberts said.
As opening tipoff of the 2022-23 season approaches, Roberts will look to use his past experiences and his talent to his advantage. Already a quick point guard with nice handles, Roberts is a Seawolf to keep an eye out for this year.