Ten months ago, Josh McRoberts was in a little bit of a rut.
Just 10 weeks earlier, McRoberts had verbally committed to the Blue Devils. The junior was ready to display the skills that had caught the eyes of future head coach Mike Krzyzewski and numerous other coaches across the country. But he suffered stress fractures in his back, forcing him to sit out the first 10 games of the season.
“It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do in basketball,” McRoberts said. “I’d started every game in my career, and one of my goals was to start every game in my career. It was tough coming back mid-season and it was tough on the coaches, too. It was just a bad situation for everyone involved.”
The going didn’t get any easier for McRoberts. He gained 15 pounds of weight during the absence, some muscle, but some fat. Even worse, getting reacquainted to playing with his Carmel (Ind.) High School teammates was difficult after half a season of inactivity.
“He’s the heart and soul of our program right now,” said Carmel basketball coach Mark Galloway. “It was tough trying to adjust to not having him, and when he did come back it was tough trying to get him the ball as much as we needed to.”
Carmel lost in the first round of the playoffs, a major disappointment for McRoberts. Then, recruiting analysts observed that McRoberts had not completely lost the weight he had gained while recovering from his stress fracture. He fell from a top-10 player to outside the top 30 players in the nation.
Fast forward to late May. With the help of conditioning drills forwarded to him by Duke’s coaching staff, McRoberts got himself back into game shape. It’s the opening night of the AAU Tournament of Champions, and McRoberts and his Spiece Indy Heat team are playing. McRoberts fired pinpoint passes into the low post and behind-the-back bounce passes on the perimeter. A few minutes later, he took off flat-footed to come around the other side of the bucket for a reverse jam. In the second half, McRoberts faced up to the basket and used a crossover dribble to shake by his defender for the bucket and a foul.
Spiece Indy Heat bulldozed through the tournament, leaving opponents and coaches alike slack-jawed in its wake. McRoberts might not have been the team’s best player, but McRoberts had re-established himself as one of the nation’s elite.
Later that summer, McRoberts proceeded to turn in dominant performances at the Nike camp and the USA Development Festival, solidifying his position as one of the nation’s best players. After the summer, McRoberts was the consensus No. 3 player in the nation, according to both rivals.com and theinsiders.com’s rankings.
“I don’t really get too worried about that kind of stuff,” McRoberts said, adding that he had not realistically considered forgoing his Duke commitment for the NBA. “It’s an honor that people think so highly of me right now.”
As highly as his skills are regarded, however, his leadership skills may be even more deserving of praise.
“He really communicates well with his teammates,” Galloway said. “He leads by example and he’s very vocal.”
Additionally, McRoberts has managed to maintain humility throughout the summer months despite his accolades and his locker room presence. True to his character, McRoberts is not focused on improving his status as one of the nation’s best.
“Hopefully we’ll just have the best season we can,” McRoberts said when asked about his season goals. “We should have a good record this year, better than we did last year.”
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