Gopher Student-Athletes in Good Hands

Feb. 4, 2008

When most people talk about Linda Roberts in conjunction with the University of Minnesota, they probably talk about her phenomenal basketball playing days from the late 70’s into the early 80’s.  This stands to reason, since she was a three-time team MVP, earned All-America honors in 1981 and has her jersey hanging from the rafters inside Williams Arena. 

Although Roberts is very proud and appreciative of these accolades, her full identity can be seen easier in her off-the-court actions.  Everything she embodies is deserving of recognition as one of two Golden Gophers featured as part of the Big Ten’s celebration of Black History Month.

As a child growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, Roberts was privileged in having opportunities to become athletically involved.  Initially she expressed interest in volleyball but switched gears to basketball, much to the chagrin of her future opponents.  She would frequent a nearby recreation center which produced such professional athletes as Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield.  It was here that the young Minnesota native would develop her talents and open a world of opportunity.

During her high school days, Roberts brought home St. Paul Central’s first Minnesota girls’ basketball state championship.  She would later be inducted into the Minuteman Hall of Fame, named one of Central’s top 100 greatest athletes and placed in the Minnesota State High School League of Fame. 

At the University of Minnesota, Roberts would continue her success as a starting center.  In her first year, she quickly aided the Gophers program by producing 24 total wins, up from 15 the previous season, while also leading the team in rebounding with 387 boards.  In her next three years, the St. Paul talent would pace the team in scoring and rebounding.  She was also a two-time Wade trophy finalist, which is awarded annually to the nation’s top female collegiate basketball player, and would leave Minnesota with 17 school records, including the all-time mark in points and rebounds.  To this day, Roberts is one of only three Gopher players to average a career double-double, recording 14.4 points and 11 rebounds per outing.  She has also tallied more rebounds than any women’s basketball player ever to compete in the Big Ten with 1,413 caroms.   

Today, Roberts tries to expose aspiring youth to similar opportunities she had as a child.  As the Director of Special Events and Outreach for Minnesota Athletics, Roberts has the responsibility of connecting the community with Gopher athletics, mainly in dealing with the younger generation.  She brings in children from throughout the community and allows them to obtain a first-hand account of what goes on in the world of collegiate athletics. 

“I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time with children and help expose them to their interests,” said Roberts.  “The most important part of these visits is the educational value it brings.”

Roberts also tries to educate kids throughout her many speaking engagements in which she consistently highlights her views, one of them being her “PDL” motto.

“P stands for perseverance, D stands for determination and L stands for loyalty,” said Roberts. “All three of these characteristics are needed to be successful in life.” 

Roberts has definitely achieved success and on Jan. 15, 2006, Minnesota honored her by retiring her No. 21 jersey.  Although her number was hung from the rafters alone that night, Roberts was not.  Eight of her former teammates joined her on the court for the honor.

“I truly say that if it wasn’t for them passing me the ball, or getting the rebound and passing it to them, I wouldn’t be having my jersey retired,” said Roberts.  “I didn’t do it all by myself.  Minnesota is great at honoring its past, and they let me have the ceremony my way.”

Little did Roberts know that some 25 years after her playing days, her cousin, Ashley Ellis-Milan, would be donning the same No. 21 Minnesota jersey. 

“To be honest, I didn’t even realize she wore the No. 21 until I got to Minnesota, said Ellis-Milan. “ I chose 21 because I was born on the 21st day of March and it has always been my favorite number.”

Ellis-Milan is currently a sophomore and starting at center for the Gophers.  Much like her cousin, she led the team in rebounding in her debut season. 

It is athletes such as Ellis-Milan in which Roberts focuses her efforts now.  Under Roberts’ direction, Minnesota athletics has recently started a new mentoring program titled the African-American Mentor Support Group.  Currently, the program deals with only black student-athletes, but Roberts has hopes of broadening the agenda.

“Eventually the goal is to provide each student-athlete at the university with a mentor that can stay with them all four years of college,” said Roberts.  “Sometimes when 18-year olds get out of their comfort zone they become uneasy.  We want them to feel welcomed and connected to the university.  The mentor will be there as a friend to provide guidance and support to the student-athlete.”

You can even find Roberts mentoring her own family at times.  One day when Roberts was babysitting her nephew, Shawn, she was giving him a few pointers on how to play basketball.  At one point in the lesson, Shawn looked up at his aunt and said, “Girls can’t show boys how to play basketball.”

Then at the Minnesota Hall of Fame induction ceremony, clips were being shown of Roberts’s accomplishments.  After viewing these highlights, Shawn turned to his aunt and said “I guess you were alright.”

This situation is a prime example of how Robert’s advises youth.

“You can give advice to someone today and they might not fully comprehend it, but someday they will,” said Roberts.

It is plain to see that Roberts truly cares for the welfare of today’s youth.  She continues to counsel students of all ages day after day.  Her constant support and attention to less fortunate children provides welcome opportunities to grow and develop.  However, Roberts’ direction does not stop at young adults, she also opines to the parents.

“Parents must find out what interests their children at an early age,” said Roberts.  “Children deal with difficult choices in today’s society, and they need parental guidance.”

Guidance should not be a worry for the parents of Minnesota student-athletes, because with Roberts at the helm, they are in good hands.