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Here to Play

MIT’s Inman on His Basketball Beginnings and College Choice

By Susan Buchman


Although Zachary J. Inman ’01 downplays his basketball awards as “random little things” and is more likely to talk about his sister’s accomplishments than his own, there’s no concealing what Inman has done for the men’s basketball team since becoming an Engineer.

As a sophomore, Inman was selected as NEWMAC player of the week for two consecutive weeks, and was named a NEWMAC All-Star. Inman was the leading scorer and rebounder for the men’s basketball team with 18.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, and he was the NEWMAC’s second leading scorer and rebounder. Going into his junior season, Swish, the New England college basketball quarterly, named Inman to its pre-season Division III “Dream Team.”

The Tech: When and where did you get interested in basketball?

Inman: My dad played when he was in college; I started playing when I was in third or fourth grade, I started watching it when I was younger than that. My dad would be watching it on TV: I didn’t know what was going on or anything but I’d watch it. I saw my neighborhood kids who were a little older than me, they were playing, and I started playing with them. They always beat me but they were three or four years older than me. I was six, they were ten, big difference there. I started playing in a league in fourth grade for the first time. I was terrible -- to be blatantly honest -- I was terrible. That’s when I first started playing basketball.

Tech: And then how did you develop through middle school and high school?

Inman: First time [I played on] a school team was seventh grade, and I made the team. I was tall -- I was taller than everybody except my best friend. We were the same height from seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth, all the way through twelfth. I made each team from seventh through twelfth grade, made varsity as a sophomore.

Through middle school I had these ridiculous growth spurts -- like 4 inches -- seventh and eighth and ninth grade. So I went up from 5’8” to 6’4” from seventh to ninth grade and needless to say I was pretty awkward on the court for the first six months of it. Then I stopped growing and I grew into my body and developed different aspects of my game. I wasn’t even really a good shooter until probably junior year in high school.

Tech: What was your high school program like? Especially in comparison to MIT.

Inman: In high school, my coach had a lot different points of view than the coach here. He was much more in favor of the guards. Coach Anderson is not so much in favor of the big men, but he expects the guards to get the ball to the big men so it’s a much more balanced offense as opposed to high school which was just guards go shoot it and big men get the rebound. There’s one difference there.

There’s the obvious difference -- in high school I had roughly 2,000 to 2,500 people watching me every night and here I have twenty to twenty-five people watching me every night. There’s that difference. It was weird, I have to admit, the first few times, but now if I see 150 come out and cheer for me I go nuts. I don’t even remember how it is to play in front of 2,000 people. I have a great time when people here come to watch me.

Then there’s the biggest difference -- the coach. I didn’t like my high school coach, now I like the coach. It’s that simple.

I would never want anyone to think that the success I have at this school is solely due to me. In high school, I didn’t have very goo d guards; here, I have great guards. In high school I had a good center, and I have one here, but that’s not new to me. Without them, honestly, my success would not have been what it’s been. I owe a lot to them; an awful lot.

Tech: Were you ever considering a bigger-name basketball school?

Inman: I was recruited by some small division one schools. I’ve always known that I wasn’t good enough to play for money: ever. I’ll never get paid to do this -- it’s something I like to do. So there were two things that went into my choice of schools.

First there was grades, academics, which is what’s going to make me for life. I only applied to schools that were very good schools academically. That narrowed it down right there. Then it came down to the really good academic schools that were division one: I couldn’t play for them. Like Duke: I couldn’t play for Duke.

Then, there’s the second thing. I liked basketball so much, I wanted to play. So I wanted to go to a school that I would play at. Other great division three schools, like Washington University -- they were probably 4th in the country when I was recruiting. I could have gone there but probably wouldn’t have played much my freshman year at all, maybe not even my sophomore year. I came here, played as a freshmen, I’ve been starting since sophomore year -- playing is what matters to me.

Tech: The college choice of your sister [Inman’s sister plays basketball for Purdue University, the 1999 NCAA champions] really interested me because that’s the opposite family dynamic that I’m used to. In yours, it’s the sister who went off to the big-name school with televised games and the brother who went to college just to play. How is that at home?

Inman: She’ll joke around. She won a state title when I was in high school and I didn’t. I was a senior, she was a sophomore and she won the state title, and I was her biggest fan. I only missed two of her games while I was in high school, and those were the two when I had games that night, so there’s not much I could do about it. I went to every single one of her games and I’m proud to say I did.