Rumors Abound About Roberts

FAYETTEVILLE -- How important is Lawrence Roberts to the success of Mississippi State this season?

Just check the rumor mills.

Roberts, the reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year for the defending SEC champions, took a nasty spill last week in practice and was taken off the court on a neckboard just as some students were coming into Humphrey Coliseum for a "Rick's Rowdys" meeting.

Before coach Rick Stansbury and Roberts got to the hospital, it was already all over the Internet that Roberts had a broken neck or that his "neck was hanging off the board," as Stansbury put it.

Roberts, of course, turned out to be fine after just being shaken up on a play when he went for a pump fake, got undercut and flipped over on his head.

"It's amazing how things get so disproportionate to what happened," Stansbury said. "He had a fall, but he's fine."

Then there's the matter of Roberts' eligibility.

Roberts put his name in the NBA Draft after his junior season and accepted travel expenses from the Portland Trailblazers. Roberts withdrew his name and repaid the expenses, but speculation persists that Roberts will have to miss some games this year.

The figure has been tossed around anywhere from three to 10 games, but Stansbury doesn't believe that has any substance.

"We haven't heard anything from (the NCAA)," Stansbury said. "We feel good about the situation getting cleared up. He paid everything back like he was supposed to -- in July -- and the NCAA has always allowed that in the past.

"I don't know where (talk of a suspension) is coming from. Never heard of it. Again, those rumors get started. I hear people say it, but I don't know where it comes from."

It's certainly not a rumor that Mississippi State will again be favored to capture the Western Division title and be among the teams with a chance at capturing the league title as well.

Roberts, a preseason All-American by nearly every publication, averaged 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds in his first year after transferring from Baylor and the outrageous scandal involving former coach Dave Bliss and the murder of Roberts' former teammate Patrick Denehey.

"There's no substitute for experience and maturity," Stansbury said. "I think just being back makes him better -- the experience and maybe what he went through and what the (NBA) people told him he needs to do. You've got to get better in the perimeter up, you've got to pick your energy up defensively.

"Those areas are better for him."

The Bulldogs lost two big pieces of their 26-4 team in point guard Timmy Bowers and forward Brandon Vincent.

Bowers averaged 15 points and nearly 5 assists per game and Vincent was the second-leading rebounder, averaging 7.6 per game.

The two were also the heart and soul of the team providing valuable leadership and countless clutch plays to help Mississippi State go 8-0 on the road in the SEC.

The Bulldogs have won three straight West crowns with experienced point guards Derrick Zimmerman and Bowers.

Now that role falls to sophomore Gary Ervin, who averaged 18.8 minutes and 5.4 points as a backup and will be the first sophomore to start for Stansbury since Marcus Bullard on the 1996 Final Four team.

"That's going to be a big key to our season -- how our point guard develops," Stansbury said. "I've had a very mature point guard for the last three championship teams. This is the first time I've had a young guy going into his sophomore year and do all those little things we like done."

Shane Power and Winsome Frazier were key contributors on last year's team and are returning starters on the perimeter.

Stansbury also hopes for a boost from the return of small forward Ontario Harper, who missed all of last year after suffering a season-ending knee injury last September.

Roberts should get some help inside from 7-foot senior center Marcus Campbell and 7-2 junior center Wesley Morgan.

Campbell has been inconsistent at best and Stansbury will probably go more to Morgan to work the high-low game with Roberts.

Stansbury said he "wasn't too smart" about how he played Morgan last year.

Morgan was 12 of 12 from the field in just 47 minutes of action.

"He has that kind of ability," Stansbury said. "He's going to execute, do the little things right and he's big. He's holding his weight at 245 and I think him and Lawrence really can play well together."

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