Toledo center Zach Garber gets a hug from fellow senior Jonathan Williams (1) after their final home game last week. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
This has not been the senior season that University of Toledo center Zach Garber envisioned when he joined the program.
As the Rockets prepare for their MAC tournament quarterfinal matchup with Ohio on Thursday, Garber will not be on the floor with his team as they continue their postseason journey.
A broken foot suffered on Jan. 3 against Buffalo derailed the final collegiate season for the Vanlue High School graduate. Garber went from key contributor to basically a player-coach encouraging his teammates from the bench.
But Garber has taken it all in stride and for his efforts and his positive attitude, he was rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime moment on Senior Night against Ball State on Feb. 28.
With six seconds left and the Rockets resigned to a loss to their MAC West foe, Garber checked into the game. He limped toward the baseline, where he inbounded the ball. He passed it in to freshman Justin Roberts and then suddenly found himself wide open a few feet inside the 3-point line.
“I passed it in to Justin,” Garber said. “I was laughing because coach [Tod Kowalczyk] was just screaming at Justin to pass me the ball. I was like all right they passed it to me, I might as well shoot it and I somehow made it.”
“We were hoping I would be playing at this point, but [Kowalczyk] kind of sprung it on me. I’m just really grateful that he thinks enough of me to want to do that for me. It was a special moment. My mom was probably crying pretty bad.”
Kowalczyk badly wanted to find a way to honor Garber on Senior Night, but he also did not want to lose the possibility of appealing for a redshirt season if that was an option. So Kowalczyk did his due diligence and checked with the league office to see if there was any shot to win an appeal.
With Garber playing in 14 games before his injury, Kowalczyk was told there would be no chance for an appeal.
“Had there been a chance at an appeal, my plan was that he was going to be in a suit and tie,” Kowalczyk said. “I would’ve just had him stand at the scorer’s table but not check in obviously because he wouldn’t have a uniform on. And then just play with four guys for the last three or four seconds of the game just to recognize him, because he deserves that. With the redshirt not a possibility, it then became ‘let’s check him in and get him a quick shot.’”
The whole plan worked to perfection, especially with Garber sinking the open shot.
“I was proud of Zach,” fellow senior Jonathan Williams said after the game. “He’s been a leader throughout his whole career, and I appreciate everything he has done for this program. To see him go out there was good enough for me, but to score a bucket, I’m even more excited.”
Garber, knowing he might check in against Ball State, said he had jitters the whole night.
“I was almost as nervous as I have been for any game and I didn’t even really play,” Garber said. “After the game I couldn’t even recall really how the play went because I was just so nervous and it all kind of blurred together.”
The moment was something Kowalczyk worked hard to have happen, because he respects what Garber has meant to the program the past four years.
“I wanted him to be recognized,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s been an unbelievable teammate and a great guy to coach. He does all the things to help you win that people don’t recognize. It’s kind of like the left guard in football that doesn’t get any recognition and his picture is never in the paper, but he makes everything happen. That’s what Zach is. He makes everything happen by his talk and his leadership.”
After suffering the foot injury, a fracture of the fifth metatarsal, Garber worked hard to try to make it back this season. He spent three weeks in a cast, unable to do any physical activity. He was then in a walking boot and was able to do some underwater physical therapy with the foot. Ultimately the injury did not cooperate and he will not be able to make it back to game action this season.
Garber said the injury has tested his leadership ability, but he has taken pride in being able to share his experience with young players like redshirt freshman center Luke Knapke.
“I’ve enjoyed my senior year,” Garber said. “It’s been difficult with the injury and whatnot. It’s just made it hard not being able to help my team in the way I wish I could. It’s definitely helped me grow as a leader though, being essentially like a player-coach and having to help out in any way I can. I know the ins and the outs of the league and I just try to help out in any way I can.”
Garber will graduate in May with a degree in business management and hopes to have a sales internship after school ends. Whatever he does, Kowalczyk knows success will find him.
“He’s got that it factor,” Kowalczyk said. “He can communicate with people. There is not a single guy who has come through this program that has had a bad thing to say about Zach Garber. He gets along with everybody and is highly intelligent. He’s going to be very, very successful in life.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.