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Did Zach McRoberts Make Another “Winning Play” By Turning Down a Scholarship?

Once again, it seems Indiana redshirt senior Zach McRoberts may have defied convention.

Despite being an Indiana All-Star, he quit the game when it didn’t feel right anymore at Vermont.  Despite being a walk-on he ended up starting at Indiana.  Despite only scoring one point, he made the play of the game and caught the eye of the national media.

With the news today that Evan Fitzner has committed to Indiana, the Hoosiers no longer have any available scholarships for the 2018-19 season.

It could turn out that someone transfers or Juwan Morgan pursues professional options.  But we cannot know that right now.  What we know now is that IU has no scholarships remaining, and a guy that started 17 games last year appears destined to be a walk-on again for the 2018-19 season — his senior year.

We suppose it is possible that IU head coach Archie Miller didn’t offer McRoberts the scholarship.  It would certainly be disappointing to learn that.  But we ask you, does this sound like a guy that wasn’t keenly aware of how deserving the Carmel, Indiana native is of a scholarship:

“Zach’s earned his minutes,” Miller said. “Not only in practice, but he’s doing exactly in practice what he does in the game. He’s giving maximum effort, he’s playing extremely hard, he’s getting you a lot of hustle plays and a lot of winning plays.”

That was just one example of dozens of quotes from Miller last season praising McRoberts.  We suspect Miller offered him that scholarship, and we suspect Zach made another “winning play”, and turned it down.

Now of course, some will say that his brother has made millions in the NBA.  The family can afford it.  That’s easy for them to say.  The cost of tuition, room and board at IU is not insignificant.  Not at all.  I’m sure the family could find better uses for their money than to voluntarily turn away a free ride.

The rub here is that, with Fitzner, Indiana is adding someone that McRoberts will have to compete with for minutes.  This 2018-19 IU team will be one of its deepest rosters in years.  McRoberts could easily go from starter to seeing limited playing time.

(Photo: Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Fitzner is a guy that the Hoosiers will primarily want to stretch the defense and knock down 3-pointers.  He has shot better than 40% for his career at St. Mary’s.  Do you know who led Indiana in 3-point shooting last year?  Yep, you guessed it.  McRoberts, the guy that you probably convinced yourself couldn’t shoot, hit better than 39% from distance.  We told you he defies convention.

Sure, he could have taken a scholarship, saved his family some money, and ensured that there was less competition for minutes next year.  Yep, he could have done that.  But that isn’t McRoberts.  He’s a team guy.  Remember, this is what he said his goal was coming into the 2016-17 season:

“Just pushing my teammates. Being able to make them better. Anything I can do to help the team win is kind of what I’ve done throughout my career playing. I’m not worried about stats or playing time. It’s just doing what I can to help the team win.”

For 99.9% of college basketball players, you know they don’t genuinely mean that.  Not McRoberts.  This is a reputation that has followed him for years.

Oh, and why should he be afraid of a little competition now?  That didn’t keep him off the floor during the 2016-17 season under Tom Crean.  It didn’t keep him off the floor under a new coach last year either.  It really doesn’t matter who the coach is.  They all see the same things.  As Miller said, he just plays extremely hard, and hustles, and makes winning plays.

All of that hustle led McRoberts to do something else that defies convention for a walk-on.  He ended up finishing 2nd in Big Ten games in steals this past season.  McRoberts left no doubt about his defensive prowess, often taking on the toughest assignment last year.

There is something else that is not in doubt when it comes to Indiana’s do-everything walk-on — it is Indiana that has gotten the steal.

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