By Bill Porter - (Appeared in the Cape Cod Times)
CAMBRIDGE - The suspense was killing him, but Tim Roberts held his ground.
The 6-foot-5 forward on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology men's basketball team and environmental engineering major was sitting in his Multiscale Characterization of Materials class recently when the vibrating phone in his pocket let him know that someone was trying to reach him.
The junior from Oak Bluffs had a pretty good idea what the message was about, but since there were only four people in the class he couldn't sneak even a quick look without everyone noticing.
So Roberts anxiously waited, and when the class was over he learned via text from his father that he'd been named a second-team Academic All-American.
He knew beforehand he'd been nominated and that the selections would be announced that day, and he was glad the waiting was over.
"It's a great honor," he said in a recent interview on campus.
Roberts, the only player to start all 31 of the Engineers' games this past season, has excelled in all aspects at MIT.
The 2017-18 team stands as one of MIT's best ever, having won the New England Women's & Men's Athletic Conference, or NEWMAC, tournament to qualify for the D3 NCAA Tournament. The Engineers advanced to the Elite Eight for only the second time in the program's history. The 2011-12 team, which played in the Final Four, was the only one to go further.
Roberts recorded double-doubles for scoring and rebounding in all four of the Engineers' NCAA tournament games, including a 79-76 Sweet 16 victory over Middlebury in which he scored 13 points and grabbed a college-high 17 rebounds.
Fiercely competitive and durable even against the bigger and stronger players he sometimes encounters in the paint, Roberts is a true team player who can take charge without taking over, according to MIT coach Larry Anderson.
"He was a big factor in so many ways," Anderson said. "We don't get there without him doing his thing."
Roberts, whose impressive numbers include a 4.9 grade-point average on MIT's 5.0 scale, shot a conference-best 68 percent in NEWMAC games. His 64.6 percent overall ranked 12th in D3 nationwide.
"I think it's a lot just being in the right place at the right time," he said. "We have some great guys on the team that can drive the ball and get into the lane and just give me great passes. It's not a whole lot that I do."
MIT led D3 in 3-point shooting for most of the season, which helped open things up underneath.
"They draw the defense, and I kind of hide and get the ball and hopefully make it," Roberts said.
The Engineers were confident that he would make those shots.
"He's extremely efficient," said junior guard AJ Jurko, a mechanical engineering major from Weston, Florida. "If he's shooting it, it's going in."
Roberts is no less productive on the boards.
"He has a talent for knowing where the ball is going to land," Jurko said. "His hustle is what it comes down to. He'll do whatever it takes to get the rebound. We love having him on the team because he gives us a lot of second-chance opportunities."
He also gives opponents fits. Brandon Eckles, a 6-7 senior forward for Springfield College, which defeated MIT in two conference games and played its way into the Final Four this year, said he respected Roberts for his work ethic and skill.
"He's one of their few blue-collar big men, crashes the boards really hard, sets good screens and gets his teammates open," Eckles said. "He's an unsung guy for MIT, does the dirty work."
Roberts has a sense of humor too, coming through with a crisp one-liner as deftly as he delivers an outlet pass. He also can laugh at himself. Occasionally, when the lane is as clogged as Route 6 is on a Friday night, Roberts might stumble and fall.
"I have a knack for losing my balance sometimes," he said. "Usually, I do get up quickly."
One pal told Roberts that he should make a video compilation of his spills. "I'll have to go through a lot of film, but I want to do it for him," Roberts said. "Falling highlights." He corrects himself: "Lowlights."
Born in Oak Bluffs, Roberts graduated from Martha's Vineyard High in 2015. Older brother Jack is a senior baseball player at Williams College, and sister Kat, a senior at MV, is headed for Hamilton College, where she'll play tennis.
The Vineyard basketball teams made the playoffs every year with Tim Roberts. When Tim was a sophomore and Jack was senior captain, the Vineyarders made it to the Division 3 state semifinals at TD Garden, losing to Danvers, 50-47.
"It was a great season," said Tim, who also played baseball and soccer.
He earned straight A's in high school and was the class salutatorian.
"It would've been great to be valedictorian, but I can't complain," he said. "Got into MIT. It worked out."
Roberts wanted to play college basketball and study engineering. His choices of school and major were no-brainers.
"Growing up in the Vineyard, I obviously saw the effects of climate change and all the erosion, and people there are pretty passionate about mitigating the effects of climate change," he said.
Roberts read a TIME magazine article about climate change in fourth grade. "It just scared me," he said. "That opened my eyes, and since then I've had a passion for saving the environment."
Roberts, who speaks Spanish and minors in Chinese at MIT (he and a couple of teammates have been known to chat in Mandarin on trips to games), is aiming to score an internship with a company focusing on renewable energy this summer, hopefully somewhere in the Northeast.
The last two summers he had internships on the Vineyard with an engineering and design firm specializing in efficient building methods.
Meanwhile, he's already looking forward to next season. MIT had no seniors on its roster this year, and Roberts said the team's goal of winning a national championship in 2018-19 is not unrealistic.
"We have a great shot at doing it," he said. "But we can't get complacent and assume that we're just going to walk in there and beat every team just because we were successful this year."
Spoken like a true blue-collar player.