As the Maine Red Claws open up their fifth season Friday night at the Portland Expo, the team and the NBA D-League as a whole once again advertises itself as a doorstep to the NBA.

Some of these players are a phone call away.

Last year, the Red Claws did not expect to keep point guard Shelvin Mack for long and, sure enough, the Atlanta Hawks reached out to him (and Mack is still with Atlanta).

This year the player to watch may be 6-foot-8 forward Romero Osby – as in, watch him soon because who knows when an NBA team will scoop him up.

“He is very close,” Red Claws Coach Mike Taylor said. “If there is a need by an NBA team, I believe he’ll be right on their radar.”

Osby, 23, out of the University of Oklahoma, is the only Maine rookie who was drafted by an NBA team – the Orlando Magic in the second round. He was one of the last players cut.

“He’s a guy who puts in extra work,” Magic Coach Jacque Vaughan told the Orlando Sentinel before the cuts. “He’s a dedicated young man and a lot of people are pulling for him.”

The Magic were not the only team interested in Osby. The Boston Celtics, parent club of the Red Claws, had looked into drafting him, too. So when Orlando cut Osby, the Celtics were among the teams wanting him.

“We did our research on him,” Taylor said. “People at the University of Oklahoma were so high on him about his character and his leadership ability – what he brings to the team as a person, let alone a player.”

Osby was designated for the D-League, where the Fort Wayne Mad Ants held rights to him. Maine made a trade, sending top draft pick Terrance Henry and the rights to former player Xavier Silas to Fort Wayne for Osby.

Osby is scheduled to start Friday night at strong forward. He can also play small forward.

Osby has never really settled on either position going back to his freshman days at Mississippi State.

“I was between a three and a four and they had starters and backup guys ahead of me,” Osby said. “Even though I knew I was talented enough, I didn’t see myself playing until my senior year.”

So Osby left his beloved Mississippi – he was born on a military base in Frankfurt, Germany, but raised in North Lauderdale, Miss. – and transferred to Oklahoma, a school that had heavily recruited him out of high school.

In his senior year at Oklahoma, Osby averaged 16 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. He was the team’s MVP and named first-team All-Big 12 Conference.

Osby is married (Shalonda) with a daughter (Saniya). Both are in Maine.

“I always want them with me,” he said.

He speaks proudly of his family heritage in Mississippi, from the great-grandparents who picked cotton to the grandparents and father who obtained masters degrees. At Oklahoma, Osby received his degree in communications.

One of the five rookies on this Red Claws team, Osby is already a leader. His voice is often heard in practice, whether it be encouragement or good-natured ribbing.

And he scores a few points while he’s at it.

“Excellent talent and a guy with great character and leadership,” Taylor said.

Watch him while you can.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH