Lakers’ Josh McRoberts is becoming a household name

He’s Josh McRambis

Instead of the thick glasses, he wears the high socks. Instead of tight shorts, he wears a crew cut. But the tough rebounds and smart passes and old-school unselfishness are the same.

“I want to make the kind of plays where people in the locker room say, ‘I want that guy on my team,’ ” he says.

He’s Josh McFly


He reportedly has the Lakers’ highest vertical leap, he once finished second in a national All-Star high school dunk contest, and his first basket in his first exhibition game here was at the business end of an ally-oop.

You can close your mouth now.

“I know, I know,” he says. “When you talk about dunking, people look at me like, yeah, right.”

He’s Josh McHoosier.

He grew up swallowing wood chips that landed in his mouth from his splintered driveway backboard. His other childhood gym was a goal hammered to the side of his grandmother’s barn.

He was the nation’s top-ranked player as a senior at an Indianapolis-area high school where, during the recent NBA lockout, he served as an assistant coach.

And, oh yeah, he can’t stand to watch the movie “Hoosiers” anymore because, basically, he lived it. With his Indiana twang, he even sounds like it.

“Where I came from, all I’ve been through, that’s made me who I am,” he says. “Hoosiers is about right.”

He is Josh McRoberts. You know his name now, but he went largely unrecognized when he showed up at the opening of Lakers camp last month after being hurriedly swept off the streets.

He was taking Lamar Odom’s spot, yet the security guard thought he played for the Lakers’ D-league team. He was immediately put in the opening-day starting lineup because of Andrew Bynum’s suspension, yet some folks thought he was a big ballboy.

“Watching me, people are taken aback sometimes,” he says. “I understand.”

Oh, but you must watch him. Although he has sat out the last couple of games because of a toe injury, his early impact portends great things for the Lakers McBench. With averages of 5.7 points and 5. 7 rebounds, McRoberts has done the sort of things that make the Lakers better while leaving the sometimes glamour-weary Lakers fans inspired.

The extra pick that frees Kobe Bryant for the jump shot? That’s him. That extra pass that leads to a Bynum dunk? Him again.

“I like his effort, I like how hard he plays, but boy, does he need some glasses and somebody to hem his shorts,” Kurt Rambis says, laughing.

Rambis, who is doing TV work, quickly returns my call asking about his potential successor, and it’s obvious fans aren’t the only ones excited by the new guy.

“Laker fans don’t know it, but McRoberts is also a pretty good shooter,” Rambis says, still chuckling. “Of course, the Lakers won’t let him shoot either.”

Shooting has been the least of McRoberts’ concerns since he arrived here about a month ago after signing a free-agent contract worth $6.1 million for two seasons.

First, there was housing. Because he was signed so hastily and given only three hours notice before his flight from Indianapolis to Los Angeles, he didn’t have a chance to find an apartment until this week, so he has been living in a hotel next to the team’s El Segundo training complex.

Second, there was driving. He spent his first few weeks in L.A. with no car, which required him to walk to practices and travel to the games in an airport-style shuttle van. When he finally had time to get wheels, he borrowed a friend’s Prius. Only a couple of days ago did he finally rent something.

“This whole thing has been surreal,” he says. “I still pinch myself like, am I really here?”

The surreal part actually occurred during the journey before he arrived, from high school star to Duke disillusionment to a second-round draft pick on what he calls “the worst day of my life.”

He left Duke after two seasons with thoughts of NBA stardom in his head, but he wasn’t selected until the second round — the 37th overall pick — in the 2007 draft. He was so crushed that he was walking alone on an Indianapolis street when a friend who was holding his phone came outside to tell him he had been drafted by Portland.

“A lot of what has happened has humbled me,” he says. “Nothing in my career has gone according to plan, and I think that’s actually made me a better person and player.”

The Trail Blazers demoted him to their Idaho D-League team for a bit, then he wound up back in Indiana with the Pacers, where finally he logged some consistent minutes last season before suddenly being whisked away to Hollywood.

“I don’t know about being in Hollywood,” he says. “I pretty much just keep my head down.”

Call him what you want, but perhaps the best way to understand Josh McRoberts’ acquisition by the Lakers is to understand how he became so attached to those old-fashioned high socks.

“It was last year, I needed a pair at the last minute, James Posey was sitting in the next locker, he threw them to me, I tried them on, they fit, they felt good, it worked,” he says.

He fit. He feels good. He works.