Lawrence Roberts: More Than His Share of Obstacles

Lawrence Roberts has made a habit of marking off days on his calendar.

First this summer, Roberts had a deadline to face concerning his possible early entry to the National Basketball Association.

After he pulled his name out of the NBA Draft, Roberts was anxiously awaiting the beginning of his senior season at Mississippi State.

But via a broken nose and a one-game NCAA suspension, Roberts endured more counting down, this time surrounding his return to the basketball floor.

And now, after playing four games with a protective mask, Roberts has a couple of more dates mentally circled on his agenda during the early season.

Those vital dates, or games, deal with the glorious moment when Roberts can shed his mask once and for all.

"I really haven't sat down and talked about when exactly the mask will come off for good," said Roberts. "But when it does, a lot of confidence will come back, being able to move around and be more aggressive. Once that day comes, I'm definitely looking forward to it.

"I don't know what they (coaches) are saying but I'm hoping just one more game."

Whether the mask is thrown for good on Dec. 5 (against Arizona in John Wooden Classic) or possibly Dec. 11 (home game versus Arkansas Little-Rock), it won't happen any time too soon for the Bulldog All-American forward.

"I'm really just getting used to it irritating me," said Roberts. "I'm dealing with the fact it's going to be sweaty and uncomfortable. But the vision is bad. At times, you know, I make it extremely tight so it won't move up and down, but that hurts my face. If I make it loose, as soon as I jump, it slides down. So you have to do it one way or the other. But either way, it's bad."

And Roberts' broken nose is just one of many obstacles the former Baylor transfer has faced already this season.

The 6-foot-9, 240-pound Houston, Texas, native has dealt with off-the-court issues, such as the recent passing of his grandfather.

And along with his on-court battles with the mask, Roberts and the Bulldogs have witnessed their fair share of zone defenses.

Despite being the focus of attention, Roberts has maintained his same frame of mind through it all.

"You still have to go out there every night, fight and be a leader," said Roberts. "You have to deal with things off the court and do what your team needs on the court. Teams are prepared to double and triple-team me and you have to be ready for the zones. I just have to stay level-headed and keep playing hard."

During his initial campaign in Starkville, Roberts was just adjusting to a new team, new conference and new surroundings. But one year later, he has made the smooth transition to becoming a leader.

And the underclassmen on the Bulldogs' roster have already taken heed to Roberts' valuable advice and direction.

"Learning from Lawrence is real big," said true freshman forward Charles Rhodes. "And I knew coming in as a freshman that I would get to learn from Lawrence Roberts. I think that is a big plus for me because I'm learning from the best. When he carries on from Mississippi State and leaves after this year, I just want to keep the tradition going.

"The biggest thing I've picked up from him is the amount of toughness he brings to the team."

Once non-conference competition is over, Roberts fully expects Southeastern Conference foes to take the same approach, zoning early and zoning often.

"Most definitely," said Roberts of facing more zones when SEC play tips off in January. "I think until we do a good job of pushing the ball, teams are going to sit back in that zone and make us make shots."

But he is still a force on the floor, regardless of being the center of attention for opposing defenses. In his four games, Roberts has reeled off a pair of double-doubles to give him an even 40 for his career, which leads all active players in the NCAA.

Roberts' current numbers-15.5 points a game and 10.8 rebounds a game-reflect his work ethic, as well as mirroring his productivity on the court last season as a junior.

A year ago, Roberts led the Bulldogs in scoring (16.9 ppg) and rebounding (10.1 rpg). But he knew his game had to expand if a possible NBA future was on the horizon.

To his credit, he's done more than that.

In his home debut Sunday, Roberts notched the first triple-double in school history with 18 points, 11 boards and a career-best 12 assists.

And Roberts has learned from one of the best when it comes to getting teammates involved.

"Each night I try to get everybody involved, knowing that no matter what happens or what I do, I just want to get the win," said Roberts. "I love Kevin Garnett (Minnesota Timberwolves) and every night he goes out and plays and tries to put his team in position to win."

The Bulldogs opened the season with six games in 12 days thanks to a four-game showing in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

After surviving hectic slate with a 5-1 record, Roberts and his teammates are getting well-deserved break from the schedule. Mississippi State does not return to action until Dec. 2 when South Alabama comes calling at Humphrey Coliseum.

But that doesn't mean the work stops there.

"You just go hard in practice," said Roberts about the long layoff. "Coach has emphasized he really wants to get some things done in practice to continue to get better. We had a tough week but we still have to continue to get better.

"We started earlier than last year and against some tough teams. That will help us in the long run."

And so will the unveiling of Roberts' now infamous mask.

Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at

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