MSU'S Roberts Has Crash Landing

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The big news here during Thursday's last of two Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Days in the Sheraton Hotel came from Starkville, Miss.

Mississippi State senior forward Lawrence Roberts, a consensus first-team All-America pick and serious National Player of the Year candidate, took a tough tumble on his back during the Bulldogs' Wednesday workout.

Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said Roberts went up for an offensive rebound during the practice's "last 30 seconds" and landed awkwardly on Charles Rhodes.

"He came over that guy and rolled over," Stansbury said. "That's just part of the game. It's a tough, physical game. Naturally, you don't want to get anybody hurt. Definitely don't want to get a player like him hurt.

"I felt like he was fine all the time. We were pretty precautious in checking him out to make sure of the cause, where he fell at.

"We carried him off the floor - but don't make this your article. He's fine. Trust me, he's fine. Hope he's waiting on me at practice when I get back.

"It was a caution thing. We carried him off on a board - that was my mistake because we happened to have a student organization that had just come into our gym and by the time we got to the hospital it was on the Internet: 'Broken neck. Neck's hanging off the board.'

"That's how it got just totally out of whack."

A 6-foot-9, 240-pound transfer from Baylor, Roberts averaged 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds for the Bulldogs last season.

Roberts declared for the 2004 NBA Draft, but did not sign with an agent, deciding instead to return to school.

The Portland Trailblazers flew him in for a workout. Roberts reimbursed the team for the flights and meals, but the NCAA still is circling Starkville. Speculation has been that Roberts may be suspended for three games.

"It's not an NCAA problem, it's an amateur situation," Stansbury said. "He hasn't done anything - and I'll get to a point and I'm not going to comment, I'm going to answer one question on that -but, No. 1, he hasn't done anything that wasn't allowed to be done that every other player hasn't done.

"(NCAA representatives are) coming back and saying, 'New rule. It's questionable right now.' We haven't heard anything from 'em. Hopefully, we will soon so we know where it stands.

"We feel good about the situation being cleared up. He totally paid everything back - just like he was supposed to - in July. And the NCAA's always allowed that in the past."

Stansbury shot down the possibility of a three-game suspension.

"I don't know where that's coming from. No," he said. "Never heard it. That's how rumors get started. I've heard people say it, but I don't know where it comes from."

Told seldom-before used MSU sophomore point guard Gary Ervin had commented to a reporter that he'd have to "conserve his energy" as a starter this season, Stansbury shook his head.

"We don't conserve no energy," Stansbury said. "That's my point: Sophomore mentality.

"You save any energy, you're going to come on over (to the bench) and watch."

Bud Walton Arena attendance came nowhere close to the heydays of the mid-1990s last season, but the average attendance of 14,792 was good for 13th nationally.

However, the Hogs won just 10 of 16 games (4-4 in the SEC) there.

Asked by an out-of-Arkansas reporter about support, junior swingman Jonathan Modica's eyes lit up.

"I think the fans have really been supportive and have really been there for us," he said. "We just need the team to do well because this year we'll show how much we appreciate their support."

Six-foot-6, 225-pound freshman Marcus Monk is busy starting as a go-to receiver for Arkansas' football team, but the word is he's even better at basketball.

Arkansas basketball coach Stan Heath finds that really intriguing, but he's in no rush to work Monk in after football season concludes.

"The pressure isn't on him as much as maybe it was with (senior quarterback) Matt Jones (who played forward last season), 'Hey, you've got to come out here. We need you.'

"I don't necessarily want to go into the season saying, 'Hey, when December comes or January comes, Marcus Monk is doing this.' Marcus Monk will get what he earns. And that's the way all our players are.

"And Marcus is up to the challenge. He'll like it that way. He'll respect it that way.

Monk averaged 20.8 points, 16.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 3.8 blocked shots and 2.5 steals while leading East Poinsett County High to the Class AAA title game. A first team all-state selection, Monk was named the Class AAA Tournament MVP and rated him the country's No. 37 wingman.

"He has a good feel for the game, setting his teammates up with passes," Heath said. "I think as time goes on, if he really works hard on his shooting, and if he can get his basketball legs back from football, then he can be a very, very valuable player for our team for this year and our future."

Told by a joking reporter his Hogs were picked to win the SEC West, Heath cracked back.

"We've got to do a drug test on you guys," he said.

In one of the least-attended media days in recent memory, just 18 reporters voted on the media's All-SEC teams.

MSU's Roberts, Florida point guard Anthony Roberson, Alabama forward Kennedy Winston, Kentucky forward Chuck Hayes and Tennessee guard Scooter McFadgon were named first-teamers with Roberts and Roberson tying for preseason Player of the Year.

Arkansas sophomore guard Ronnie Brewer was the Hogs' lone representative on the second team.

Kentucky received a 9-8 nod over Mississippi State for the overall SEC title and the Wildcats, of course, were an overwhelming choice to win the SEC East.

MSU was a big favorite to win the West, followed by Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Auburn.

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