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." --P.T.
2003--2004 Record: 26--4 (14--2, 1st in SEC West)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Xavier in 2nd round
Ervin is an emerging speed demon; Frazier uses his quickness to hound the lanes on defense.
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
"Lawrence Roberts is so strong and plays extremely hard. He gets a lot of his points and rebounds because of his low-post positioning and strength inside.... I like Marcus Campbell. He has really improved, and I was shocked when I saw him over the summer at how well he was running the floor and how aggressive he was.... Winsome Frazier is a very strong athlete who can score from the outside.... The glue to last season's team was point guard Timmy Bowers. He had tremendous leadership qualities, and they're going to miss him. Now they will rely on Gary Ervin to run the offense."
SHOW OF FORCE
Roberts is coming off a breakout season in which he averaged 16.9 points and was SEC Player of the Year.