It's never too early to praise Miss. St.'s Roberts


Published: Friday, January 7, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 7, 2005 at 1:10 a.m.

It may be a bit early to engrave the trophy.

Yet after some early struggles, Mississippi State senior forward Lawrence Roberts is well on his way to Southeastern Conference player of the year honors for the second straight season.

Roberts finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds in his SEC opener Wednesday night against Auburn. He's coming off consecutive SEC player of the week honors and currently leads the nation among active NCAA Division I players with 44 career double-doubles.

How staggering are the numbers?

  • Roberts is averaging a league-best 11.6 rebounds per game, more than two per game ahead of Kentucky forward Chuck Hayes, who is second on the list at 9.4.

  • Roberts is leading the SEC in offensive rebounds at 4.08. David Lee, Florida's leading rebounder, is at 6.5 total rebounds per game.

  • Oh, by the way, Roberts is second in the league in scoring at 18.4 per game and is shooting 57 percent from the floor.

    Roberts has rebounded from early adversity. He was suspended for a game for a minor NCAA infraction after not fronting expense money for an NBA tryout. He spent a night in the hospital after falling on his back in an October practice and wore a mask early in the season after breaking his nose in a November practice.

    He looked tentative offensively in early season losses to Syracuse and Stanford. But since shedding the mask, Roberts has been more aggressive, averaging 22.2 points over his last six games.

    "Trust me, you don't need to know the stats," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "If you were sitting on the bench you could see that he is a different person without the mask on. When he first had that mask on, he started playing without practicing for two weeks, and that will affect you as much as the mask would. No question it bothered him, especially offensively."

  • NET GAINES:

    Georgia, with four senior starters lost from a season ago, will likely go through some growing pains this season. But coach Dennis Felton may have found a gem in freshman New York City point guard Sundiata Gaines.

    Gaines scored 23 points in his SEC debut Wednesday night against Tennessee and with sophomore Levi Stukes could form a formidable backcourt in the future. Gaines also is third in assists for SEC freshmen at 3.4 per game, behind Alabama's Ronald Steele (5.23) and Florida's Taurean Green (3.73).

    Gaines graduated from Archbishop Malloy High School in Queens, the same high school that produced NBA point guards Kenny Smith and Kenny Anderson.

    "There wasn't anything unique about finding him," Felton said. "He is from one of the most high exposure AAU teams that dominated the summer circuit. He was no secret, and everybody knew and thought highly of Sundiata."

    Felton made the best recruiting pitch. Rival SEC school South Carolina also was in the mix.

    "I think we made a pretty good personal connection, and number one he knew he could come in and play a lot," Felton said. "The hardest part was him being away from home. He is the quintessential New Yorker."

    n ETC:

    Kentucky coach Tubby Smith wasn't overly concerned about guard Patrick Sparks' six-turnover game against South Carolina, "He just didn't seem to have too much on the pass," Smith said. "But South Carolina can pressure you and force you to make some tough decisions." Sparks came into the game leading the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.47 ... It wasn't the NCAA Championship, but Tennessee's 72-65 win at Georgia could at least provide a sliver of confidence after a woeful 7-5 non-conference start that included home losses to Nebraska and Tennessee-Chattanooga. Last season, the Vols were 0-8 in the SEC on the road, contributing to a 7-9 overall conference record ... Was Vandy's home win against Alabama that much of an upset? Sure the Tide is ranked, but Alabama looked suspect in a road loss at Wisconsin and was a mediocre 4-4 on the road in the SEC last season. Alabama will need to prove it can win on the road in order to land a high seed in the NCAA Tournament this season.

    Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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