Roberts is still required to miss one regular-season game in 2004-05 for taking the expense payment, reported at $900, even though his family repayed the club after Roberts withdrew from the June NBA draft to return to Mississippi State. He will serve the suspension in State's season-opener next Thursday, November 11, when the Bulldogs play Fairfield in the first round of the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic regional in Birmingham, Ala.
It turns out though that Roberts would not have been able to participate in State's lidlifter anyway. The 6-9 power forward was injured in Thursday's practice in Humphrey Coliseum, breaking his nose badly enough to require surgery next week.
"He caught an elbow, just a freak accident," Coach Rick Stansbury told Dawgs' Bite. "It's broken in two places." Stansbury said the operation will take place Tuesday in Columbus. "There's nothing we can do. The only question is when do we get him back."
This is the second time in a week that the defending SEC Player of the Year has been hurt in a routine practice. Last week Roberts took a tumble and landed on his head and neck, requiring an overnight stay in Oktibbeha County Hospital for observation. That incident involved freshman power forward Charles Rhodes.
Thursday's injury came at the end of freshman forward Jerrell Houston's elbow. Stansbury tried to joke about keeping his seniors away from over-anxious rookies in practices, but the loss of State's star player for opening week is no laughing matter. "He could still go to Birmingham," the coach said, "but whether he plays or not is probably a no from what we're told." For that matter Stansbury can't say for sure Roberts will be in condition to play by the next weekend if the Bulldogs advance to the Coaches Vs. Cancer title rounds in New York.
The coaching staff is concerned enough already about the opening-round matchup with the Stags, which feature four starters back from a 19-11 team that finished third in the Metro Atlantic conference at 12-6. Now State has to take on Fairfield with the best player doubly-sidelined. Should the Dogs get to the second night, they would likely meet hometown team Birmingham-Southern, another veteran team that both features sharp outside shooting and former MSU aide Duane Reboul as head coach.
"We've got to get ready without Lawrence," Stansbury said. "We've got plenty of guys that need the opportunity and the experience." But when it comes game-time, the coach said the latter counts more in terms of opening the season. "All you can do is pick your starters based on experience. No way you can start a freshman." Sophomore Piotr Stelmach, last year's #2 power forward, will start against Fairfield. Stansbury said Friday afternoon his starting lineup will be as otherwise expected: soph Gary Ervin at point, seniors Winsome Frazier and Shane Power on the wings, and senior Marcus Campbell in the low post.
And while State is not happy to be without Roberts this weekend, at least the NCAA has finally made a decision on the season-status of MSU's national Player of the Year candidate. "I'm just glad to get it behind us and move on now," Stansbury said. And as to Roberts' health, well… "We'll put a brace on him and see how he performs with it on."