BLOOMINGTON – New Indiana men’s assistant basketball coach Mike Roberts learned the game at a Boys and Girls Club at Terre Haute in a gym on Third Street.
“Anybody that was anybody in terms of players played there,” Roberts said.
Roberts and his family left Terre Haute in eighth grade, when his father landed a construction managing job in Eugene, Oregon. But the state of Indiana never left him. The 6-foot-9 Roberts returned to play for the Hoosiers after being recruited out of a New Hampshire prep school by Bob Knight and his staff. From 2001-05, Roberts was part of three IU NCAA Tournament teams, a three-time All-Academic Big Ten selection and a 2005 team captain.
Now, after a 13-year coaching career that’s taken him across the country, Roberts is back at his alma matter, eager to help Indiana return to college basketball’s elite.
“I’m ecstatic for the season to start,” Roberts said. “I think we’ve got a young group and a group with a lot of depth that has a chance to be a lot better in January and February than we are now.”
Roberts and IU head coach Archie Miller first developed a relationship when the two were young assistants in the then Pac-10 conference. Miller was at Arizona State under Herb Sendek from 2006-07, while Roberts was at California under Ben Braun.
From there, the two stayed in touch, as Roberts moved on to become an associate head coach at North Carolina-Greensboro under his former prep school teammate in New Hampshire, UNCG head coach Wes Miller. At UNCG, Roberts handled defensive calls and working with big men and was part of the staff in 2017-18 when the Spartans reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 17 years. But Roberts was more heavily involved on the offensive end in his six years working as an assistant under Braun at California.
“I feel comfortable (coaching) on either side of ball,” Roberts said.
At IU, Roberts has been working with the big men, a deep and talented group that includes junior forward Justin Smith, incoming McDonald’s All-American forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, Butler transfer center Joey Brunk, returning redshirt sophomore forward Race Thompson and returning senior forward De’Ron Davis.
“There’s a lot to work with,” Roberts said. “That’s a really exciting thing, just trying to tighten up some fundamentals and make some adjustments with young guys that this is a new level. Even though some guys are really talented, there’s a big difference between high school and college, and if you don’t have certain habits at this level, they will come back to bite you at this level.
“There’s a lot of depth, so it’s really exciting for the opportunity to work with that group. It’s a really deep group, enthusiastic group, a good group of kids.”
At UNCG, Roberts also handled recruiting overseas, where he developed contacts with basketball coaches and developmental programs throughout Europe.
“Kind of a chance thing,” Roberts said. “My head man at UNCG said, ‘Yeah, you’ve got to go over there and start figuring it out.’ So I started going to European age group championships, six or seven years. Just like anything in recruiting, you work at it, you make contacts, you create trust and it’s not rocket science. It’s just hard work and contacts and follow up on things. …
“I feel really comfortable recruiting internationally and also fairly comfortable recruiting in the Midwest. So, yeah, I think (I’m) kind of pulling myself in with this staff in terms of figuring out exactly what type of players fit Coach Miller the best.”
The memories of growing up in Terre Haute still remain fresh in Roberts’ mind. In middle school, Roberts played on an AAU basketball team with Maynard Lewis, who went on to play point guard at Purdue and is now Terre Haute South’s boys basketball coach. Both his parents grew up in Terre Haute, and his father was involved in several construction projects in town before leaving for Oregon.
Coming back to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, where Roberts played, has brought back memories as well.
“Big wins and big games, as a coach or a player,” Roberts said. “I think I’ve been to pretty much any of the famous college gyms, and I’ll put Assembly Hall against any of them. So obviously (it’s) great to be back.”