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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Indiana forward and former Carmel star Zach McRoberts has filled a void for the Hoosiers, when starters OG Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr. were ailing and missed time.

Thursday, December 01, 2016 10:02 pm

Walk-on lifts Hoosiers with positive jolt

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON – Zach McRoberts was burned out on basketball and decided to quit the sport, no longer feeling the passion for hoops he once did.

He told his mom, Jennifer, and dad, Tim. And he told his brother, Josh, an NBA player.

The family listened, gave support, told him he could start on the next chapter of his life.

Not even two years after finding the courage to quit the game and let go of a Division I scholarship, McRoberts, 21, is now playing some key minutes for 13th-ranked Indiana (5-1).

Eyebrows might have been raised in June when Tom Crean said McRoberts would join the Hoosiers as a walk-on.

Thanks to his incredible energy, the 6-foot-6 forward is still raising eyebrows – and making IU’s coach look wise.

"He’s very valuable to us," Crean said, "and I think he’s starting to see that. It’s not just because I say you belong or it’s not because they do or do not have a scholarship. They have got to feel it. And I think he’s feeling more and more like he can really help this team."

Injuries opened the door.

With OG Anunoby ailing, McRoberts played 15 minutes last week at IPFW. Although the Hoosiers lost 71-68 in overtime and he didn’t score, they were plus-15 with McRoberts on the court.

While James Blackmon Jr. sat out Sunday’s victory over Mississippi Valley State, his replacement in the starting lineup was McRoberts, who went 19 minutes, had three points and posted a plus-28.

"And when Collin Hartman went down (in training camp with a long-term knee injury), a lot of things went through my mind," Crean said.

"But the biggest is that we have to get Zach McRoberts to the point he feels very confident and comfortable on this team.

"And he’s getting there."

McRoberts averaged 4.2 points and 4.4 rebounds for Vermont as a freshman in the 2014-15 season. That summer, McRoberts left the team and transferred to IU, just 90 minutes away from his home north of Indianapolis.

Two semesters as a regular student in Bloomington, back in the very heart of basketball country, and McRoberts felt it.

That itch. The itch to play.

"When you stop, you don’t realize how big a part of your life it is," McRoberts said. "It was important for me to realize something was missing. Being at IU, you realize the culture of basketball. You miss it."

Crean knew of McRoberts from the state’s prep scene, so he was willing to organize a tryout for McRoberts in May.

A graduate of Carmel High School, McRoberts helped the Greyhounds to back-to-back state titles, was an Indiana All-Star and averaged 14.1 points and 7.1 rebounds as a senior.

In hindsight, playing for a premier prep program helped prepare him for the glare of the spotlight on a Big Ten team.

"I remember a whole gym chanting, ‘We hate Carmel,’ so it was fun feeding off that energy, whether it’s negative or positive," McRoberts said.

The Hoosiers, who face SIU-Edwardsville (4-3) today, are feeding off McRoberts’ positive energy in the form of innumerable hustle plays.

"Zach brings so much, just doing the dirty work," center Thomas Bryant said. "A guy like that, I cherish, and he’s all in for the team."

Note: Anunoby will be out indefinitely after injuring his ankle late in Wednesday’s victory over No. 3 North Carolina. He is averaging 12.5 points and 6 rebounds.