After flirting with the NBA, forward Lawrence Roberts returns to power the Bulldogs
All-America power forward Lawrence Roberts will be back as the Bulldogs' star this season -- or at least he should be. Mississippi State has come close to losing Roberts, a 6'9", 235-pound senior, so many times since the end of last season that Bulldogs fans won't believe he's back until they see him in the lineup when SEC play begins.
After a sensational junior season in which he was named conference player of the year, Roberts tested the NBA draft waters but decided to return to school when he received no assurances from NBA coaches and scouts that he would be a high first-round pick. Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury was no doubt relieved, until it came to light that the Portland Trail Blazers had provided Roberts with $900 in flights and hotel accommodations when they brought him in for a private workout last May. That was a violation of NCAA rules, and even though Roberts subsequently reimbursed the Blazers and the Bulldogs reported the infraction to the NCAA, he was suspended for Mississippi State's season-opening victory over Fairfield.
The Bulldogs briefly feared that Roberts might be lost for the season -- not because of the NCAA violation but because of a nasty fall he took during a practice last month. Roberts landed on his back and neck and, as a precaution, was carried off the court on a stretcher. Fortunately he only suffered bumps and bruises. Then on Nov. 4 Roberts broke his nose after getting elbowed in practice and was expected to be sidelined for at least two games.
Roberts will be fine -- he will have to wear a face mask for several weeks until his nose heals -- and thanks to his leadership and tenacity on both ends of the floor, Mississippi State should be too. Roberts is likely to be a leading candidate to repeat as SEC Player of the Year, and if he can show improvement in his perimeter game, his draft status will rise. "I'm not thinking about impressing scouts or anything like that," he says. "But I do want to show them all the ways I can help my team win." -- Phil Taylor