Call it wishful thinking.
Back in May when it was announced that Evan Fitzner would transfer to Indiana, we speculated, no, we hoped that the final scholarship claimed by the St. Mary’s forward was available because walk-on Zach McRoberts had turned it down.
There is no doubt that McRoberts deserved it.
The Carmel, Indiana native started the last 17 games of the 2017-18 season and shot a team-high 39.4 percent from 3-point range. Best known for his defensive prowess, McRoberts was among the Big Ten leaders in steals with 1.4 overall, and 1.7 in Big Ten play.
McRoberts was also Academic All-Big Ten. If there was an Attitude All-Big Ten, he would have won that in a landslide.
Despite what we had hoped to be the case, McRoberts wasn’t offered that final scholarship. We were able to confirm that through a source very close to him that would know back in May.
Concerned that the lack of a scholarship offer might be a sensitive subject at the time, and highlighting it wouldn’t necessarily add much to the dialogue, we sat on it.
And then this past week at the Big Ten media day, we heard IU head coach Archie Miller say this in reference to a question about McRoberts being named a team captain of the 2018-19 Hoosiers.
“Very few guys that you will have that you have the ability to coach or play with that you know gives everything he has. You know what I mean? I really mean that. You know when he’s done with a workout, a practice or a game, there isn’t anybody in the locker room, regardless of a trainer, doctor, strength coach, assistant coach, player, that looks at him and says, That guy did everything he possibly could today for us.
When you’re like that, there’s a respect level that comes with it. I think there’s an admiration, he’s admired for what he does. The guy never complains. I think just in the off-season, in talking to him, watching him work, he wants to get better. He’s definitely one of the most, if not the most, trusted guy. When you’re out there on the floor, everyone knows what you’re going to get. He’s going to have the team in mind all the time.
It didn’t surprise me at all that he was voted by the players as one of the captains.”
Does it sound like Miller is describing a player that is bitter about not being offered a scholarship? Nope. And that’s when it hit us — the story does need to be told. Mr. Winning Plays, or McFloorBurn if you prefer, strikes again. Better yet, you can just call him Captain.
Whatever esteem you already held McRoberts in, and surely it was high, has to now go up a notch or two. “That guy did everything he possibly could today for us.” And every other day. Being bitter apparently doesn’t even enter his thinking. Or if it does, the team still comes first. He just grinds away every day at the game he learned to love again.
And before you even think it — no, this isn’t about his brother’s NBA money. Division one athletics scholarships aren’t about financial need, and again, no one asked Zach if he needed it anyway. No, a scholarship at this level is 100 percent about merit, and again, there is no question whether McRoberts deserves it.
It may seem wrong to some of you that McRoberts wasn’t offered that scholarship. When you start 17 games and are voted captain by your teammates, there is really no debating whether it is merited. It certainly would have been the “right” thing to do, and it certainly would have been the feel good story of the year in Indiana basketball circles.
Archie Miller isn’t paid millions of dollars for feel good stories.
No, the second year leader of the Hoosiers gets paid that kind of money to win basketball games. He gets paid that kind of money to recognize and utilize the unique talents of a guy like McRoberts. And he gets paid that money to figure out how to keep him going — despite not getting a scholarship, although that was probably the easy part.
Miller also gets paid that kind of money to go out and find diamonds in the rough like Fitzner — a guy that looked like an afterthought in May — and now appears to be on track to play a big role on this team. With a unique ability to stretch the floor at 6-foot-10, he might even make a push to start.
If Fitzner does start, guess who that would mean he is likely bumping out of the starting lineup? Let’s just say, if Fitzner ends up starting over McRoberts, one thing is for sure — he earned it.
If Fitzner ends up playing any kind of meaningful role on this team, Archie Miller earned it.
And that final scholarship?
There is no doubt that Zach McRoberts earned it.
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