Zach McRoberts was done with basketball, or at least that’s what he thought.
He left Vermont’s program after his freshman year last summer, setting his sights on a return home to Indiana. He wanted to be a Hoosier — albeit a student, not a player. A year later, McRoberts is ready to return to basketball.
The 6-foot-6 forward will walk on to IU’s team this season, coach Tom Crean confirmed to The Herald-Times on Tuesday. McRoberts arrived on campus last fall and spent the full 2015-16 academic year at Indiana. A two-time state champion at Carmel and former Indiana All-Star, McRoberts is eligible immediately.
“We would have been interested when he first got here, but he didn’t have any interest,” Crean said Tuesday. “It has, without question, been an added bonus. He’s fit right in, he works and he’s one of the guys right now.”
McRoberts, the younger brother of Miami Heat forward Josh McRoberts, averaged 5.1 points per game in America East play for the Catamounts in 2015. He missed the first seven games of that season with a knee injury, but came on strong late in the year. McRoberts played in 27 consecutive games and averaged 7.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and shot 57.1 percent from the floor in the 2015 CBI Tournament.
After the season, McRoberts decided he was no longer fully committed to the game and chose to step away.
“It’s been a good year for me, just growing as a person and understanding some aspects of life differently,” McRoberts said. “I’ve gotten a different view and perspective on things other than just being a basketball player, which I had been the previous part of my life. It’s been a good experience. Choosing to play again, I look at every day as a gift and an opportunity to get better.”
McRoberts, a teammate of IU guard James Blackmon Jr. on the 2014 Indiana All-Star team, has been with IU’s program since the middle of May, accepting a walk-on spot after a tryout last month.
“I worked out with James after I finished my finals, just to get a gauge on things and where I was at,” McRoberts said. “From there, we came to a decision mutually that I was going to be a part of the team. I’ve just been working out ever since, getting back in shape and getting stronger. I know I’m going to have to get stronger if I’m going to want to play or help the team, so I’m working on my body a lot and just tightening up my skills and getting back at it.”
McRoberts says he’s already up to 195 pounds with hopes of getting bigger. He played on Carmel’s back-to-back state championship teams in 2012 and 2013 and averaged 14 points per game as a senior.
He was used as a four-man at Vermont, setting screens in the pick-and-pop game. At Indiana, he’s willing to jump back into the sport he once left and earn his place on IU’s defending Big Ten title team.
“It’s very special just being able to walk into this locker room every day,” McRoberts said. “Being in Cook Hall, being able to work out whenever I want, it’s all been very special the past couple months. I’m looking forward to it.”
At the very least, McRoberts gives Indiana a capable practice player. Next season’s team could be one of the deepest, most balanced squads Indiana has produced in some time and the Hoosiers’ frontcourt will also feature sophomores Thomas Bryant, Juwan Morgan and OG Anunoby, senior Collin Hartman, freshman De’Ron Davis and athletic junior college transfer Freddie McSwain.
But with his background and skill set, McRoberts could also become a player to keep an eye on.
Crean has utilized preferred walk-ons in recent seasons, with Ryan Burton seeing meaningful Big Ten minutes during each of his two seasons at Indiana. Former freshman walk-on guard Harrison Niego also saw the floor last season as IU’s backcourt thinned.
Indiana does not have any scholarships available for next season, but that won’t stop McRoberts from trying to finding a niche.
“He’s involved in everything we do,” Crean said.
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