Shortly before they inserted a titanium rod and four screws into his right leg back in December, doctors told Texas A&M senior Derrick Roland that his college basketball career was finished.
Somehow, his eyes remained dry.
Time and time again, that was the thing that continued to amaze folks about Roland in the two months following one of the more gruesome injuries you'll ever see in a basketball game. His tibia and fibula snapped like frozen tree branches as he attempted a layup against Washington, but Roland never shed a tear.
Not from the pain he experienced that night. Not from the dejection that set in the following day and not because of the daunting road that loomed ahead. Through it all, Roland never became emotional.
Not until Monday, when Texas A&M squandered a late lead in a 59-54 loss to top-ranked Kansas. Even though he didn't play in the game, the defeat was just as tough for Roland to take.
"I started to cry once I got home," Roland said Tuesday night. "Every other game I've been fine. But that one shook me up. We could've won that game and I could've made a difference. I wanted so bad to be a part of it.
"Once I got home, it all hit me."
Depressing as the loss may have been, it did nothing to squelch the positive vibe that has defined Roland's recovery process the last few months. Instead of moping and complaining about his situation, Roland is working diligently to regain the strength and athleticism that made him one of the Big 12's top guards before his injury.
Roland has shed his crutches and walking boot and now moves freely up and down stairs. Instead of being whisked around on a golf cart, Roland now walks from class to class and has resumed driving, as well.
Sometimes he'll even go to the gym to put up some shots.
Roland isn't able to run or jump, but if he continues with his rehab sessions three times a week, he figures he'll be back to normal by May.
"I actually have a dream about getting into a game at the Big 12 tournament or the NCAA tournament," Roland said. "But we're just taking it one day at a time and not looking too far ahead. We're going to make sure we're careful."
Roland said his rapid recovery has surprised everyone – including the physicians who performed his surgery. While some people speculated that Roland's entire career may be finished, he said his doctor told him he would make a "100 percent recovery."
"I just don't think anyone expected me to be coming along this fast," Roland said. "I figured I'd still be using crutches."
Any one of the nearly 600,000 viewers who watched the replay of the incident on YouTube would agree.
The snapping sound that occurred when Roland broke his leg will forever haunt the fans who attended that Dec. 22 game at Washington. The break occurred at about mid-shin at an almost 90-degree angle.
People seated in the lower level turned their heads away from the court so they wouldn't have to look. Donald Sloan, Roland's teammate and friend since childhood, became nauseous and weak-in-the-knees and had to be helped from the court as he cried. Other players buried their heads in their jerseys.
As he lay on the court, Roland never looked down at his leg.
"I just watched how my teammates reacted," he said, "so I knew it must be bad. At that point I figured my college career might be in jeopardy. But I never thought that I'd never play basketball again.”
Roland underwent surgery in Washington and then spent the next two days in the hospital, where he was strengthened from an outpouring of support that continues to this day.
While the rest of the Aggies flew home to be with their families for the holidays, Sloan and head coach Mark Turgeon remained in Seattle to be by Roland's side. Washington coach Lorenzo Romar and forward Quincy Pondexter stopped by to visit, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban offered to fly Roland's family from Dallas to Washington on his private plane so they could help him through a difficult time.
Roland heard from Texas Gov. Rick Perry and also received letters from American soldiers in Afghanistan. He said he responded to hundreds of text messages by the time he was transported back to College Station on Christmas Day. Even now, he's whittling away at the nearly 6,000 e-mails that flooded his inbox after the injury.
"All those people lifted me up when I was down," Roland said. "They helped me get to where I am today because they brought my spirits up."
Roland has done the same thing for the Aggies, a team most pundits assumed would fizzle after losing their second-leading scorer. Instead Texas A&M has gone 9-4 overall and 7-4 in Big 12 play since Roland's injury. Turgeon's squad is currently tied with Baylor for third place in the league standings.
"They've done great," said Roland, who was averaging 10.5 points at the time of his injury. "I think it helped when I showed up at one of their practices pretty soon after I got back from Washington, just to let them know that I was still with them, even though I couldn't play.
"I think it lifted them up a little bit. They realized they could get back to playing basketball instead of worrying about me."
No need for that.
Roland, thankfully, is going to be just fine.
Kansas in close games – The Jayhawks are 11-0 in the Big 12, but it's not as if they're breezing by the competition. Two teams (Kansas State and Colorado) have taken Bill Self's squad to overtime. And victories over Baylor, Nebraska and Texas A&M weren’t secure until late in the second half. Kansas' poise in late-game situations is the sign of a veteran, well-coached, confident team.
USC vs. UCLA – Sunday night's 68-64 victory over the Bruins gave USC its first sweep of its crosstown rival since 2004. It also marked just the sixth time in the last 50 years that the Trojans have won both regular season meetings. Senior Dwight Lewis scored 23 points in the victory.
Virginia Tech – Seth Greenberg has done a phenomenal job with the Hokies, who are in second place in the ACC following Tuesday's 87-83 home win over No. 23 Wake Forest. At 21-4 overall and 8-3 in league play, it's tough to imagine Virginia Tech not getting an NCAA tournament bid. It's true that the Hokies played a weak non-conference schedule, but with five regular-season games remaining and potential for more victories, it'd probably take a total collapse for Virginia Tech to be left out of the tournament.
John Henson – Relegated to the bench for most of the season, North Carolina's touted freshman is finally beginning to receive some quality minutes thanks, in part, to injuries to forwards Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis. Henson posted his first career double-double in Tuesday's loss to Georgia Tech. He's averaging 8.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks over his last five games.
New Mexico – Steve Alford's squad has won nine straight since a Jan. 9 setback against UNLV – and it doesn't look as if Darington Hobson and the Lobos will be slowing down any time soon. The only really tough game left on New Mexico's schedule is a Feb. 27 road showdown against BYU. Both teams have just two losses in the Mountain West Conference.
DeAndre Liggins – Kentucky coach John Calipari couldn't be more pleased with the role the sophomore guard is playing off the bench. Steals, blocks, assists, diving for loose balls and hustle points … Liggins continues to do the little things that have been huge for Kentucky in close games. That's why he's logged 25 minutes or more in three straight contests.
Mississippi State "fans" – Not much good came out of Starkville this week. Kentucky forward DeMarcus Cousins spent Sunday and Monday receiving racist phone calls and texts from Bulldogs fans. Then, when things didn't go their way in Tuesday's home overtime loss to the Wildcats, folks began chucking bottles onto the court from the stands. Not a good look.
Nic Wise – Arizona has lost three of its last four games, and one of the main reasons is the shooting woes of its standout guard. Wise has made just 12-of-45 field goal attempts (26.6 percent) during that span and is just 7-of-22 from 3-point range. Things were at their worst in Saturday's home loss to Pac-10 bottom feeder Oregon State. Wise missed 10 of his 11 shots and scored only five points.
Bob Knight – The former Indiana and Texas Tech head coach has hinted he may want to return to the sideline. Would someone please hire him so we don't have to listen to his atrocious on-air commentary anymore? Some former coaches make good broadcasters. And some obviously don't.
The Big 12 better than Big East – I've been hearing that argument quite a bit this season, and I'm sorry, but it's just not true. The Big 12 is as good as it's been in awhile, and I'll put the league's top five teams up against the top five teams from any other league. But the Big East would win the conference battle with its middle-of-the-pack teams. I'll take Marquette, Louisville, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, Notre Dame and South Florida over Missouri, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Colorado and Nebraska.
St. Mary's – The Gaels could be in a world of hurt following a dreadful road swing. As if getting blown out at Gonzaga by 19 points wasn’t bad enough, St. Mary's was upset at Portland two nights later. Randy Bennett's squad is 21-5 and 8-3 – but that may not be good enough for NCAA tournament bid.
Do North Carolina and Connecticut have any shot of making the NCAA tournament?
The Tar Heels don't, short of winning the ACC tournament. North Carolina has dug itself too big of a hole, and there's no way they'll be able to climb out of it with Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller out of the lineup. Connecticut's chances are a little better. The Huskies are 5-8 in Big East play and would probably get a bid if they finished 9-9. Remember, Jim Calhoun's squad has some impressive wins against schools such as Villanova and Texas as well as some "good" losses against Syracuse and Kentucky. Winning four of their last five certainly seems like a possibility for the Huskies, who have just one ranked team (West Virginia) on their remaining schedule – and that game is at home. Connecticut's quest for an NCAA berth should be one of the more interesting storylines down the stretch. And they too could get in by winning their conference tournament.
Who are the leading candidates for Coach of the Year?
I've heard that various publications and news outlets will pick a different winner. In other words, I don't think there will be a unanimous choice. Here are my top five candidates (subject to change): Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, John Calipari of Kentucky, Dave Rose of BYU, Frank Martin of Kansas State and Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh. Others who deserve praise include: John Pelphrey (Arkansas), Scott Drew (Baylor), Kevin O'Neill (USC), Bo Ryan (Wisconsin) and Tony Bennett (Virginia) and Sean Miller (Arizona).
Who are some underclassmen who will have difficult decisions to make regarding the NBA draft?
Any underclassman projected to go in the Top 10 needs to enter the draft – and probably will. Players who are projected to go in the mid-to-late first round, however, often have a more difficult time making the jump. This season that list may include standouts such as Xavier Henry (Kansas), Ekpe Udoh (Baylor), Elias Harris (Gonzaga), Greg Monroe (Georgetown), Elliot Williams (Memphis), Solomon Alabi (Florida State), Devin Ebanks (West Virginia), Gordon Hayward (Butler), Gani Lawal (Georgia Tech) and James Anderson (Oklahoma State).
The attorney for former Oklahoma State coach Sean Sutton entered a not guilty plea to four felony drug-related charges Tuesday in Stillwater. Sutton, who is in a treatment center, was arrested last week after picking up a shipment of painkillers under another person's name … Northern Iowa has clinched the outright Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship for the first time in school history. Even more impressive is that the Panthers routed Creighton on Tuesday without 7-foot center Jordan Eglseder, who began a three-game suspension following his arrest for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated … Former Memphis State coach Dana Kirk died Monday. He was 74 … North Carolina standout Ed Davis will likely miss the rest of the season with a wrist injury … Baylor has reached the 20-win plateau for the third year in a row … Marcus Jordan, the son of NBA legend Michael Jordan, scored 18 points in Central Florida's victory over Houston on Tuesday … Mississippi State took second-ranked Kentucky to overtime Tuesday despite the absence of leading scorer Ravern Johnson, who missed the game for disciplinary reasons.
Syracuse at Georgetown – The Orange defeated the Hoyas by 17 points on Jan. 25.
Pittsburgh at Marquette – The Golden Eagles have won five straight.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt – Could this be the Wildcats' toughest remaining test of the regular season?
Illinois at Purdue – The Boilermakers can't afford any slipups – especially at home.
Baylor at Oklahoma State – Next to Allen Fieldhouse, this will be the toughest road environment the Bears will face all season.
Ohio State at Michigan State – Evan Turner's Player of the Year hopes – and Ohio State's Big Ten title hopes – would get a boost with a win in East Lansing.
Villanova at Pittsburgh – The Wildcats will try to bounce back from Monday's home loss to Connecticut.
West Virginia at Connecticut – A home victory against the Mountaineers would greatly enhance the Huskies' NCAA tournament hopes.
Georgetown at Louisville – Beating the Hoyas would enhance the resume of a Louisville team that lacks quality wins.
Baylor assistant Mark Morefield – Morefield arrived in Waco when Scott Drew was hired as the Bears coach prior to the 2003-04 season. The previous season he was an assistant under Drew during his one season as head coach at Valparaiso. Before that Morefield and Drew spent four years as assistants under Drew's father, Homer, at Valpo. Morefield's recruiting efforts at Baylor have helped revitalize a program that was rocked by one of the worst scandals in the sport's history prior to Drew's hiring. Morefield has helped the Bears land such prospects as Tweety Carter and Perry Jones – both McDonald's All-Americans – along with LaceDarius Dunn, Curtis Jerrells, Kevin Rogers and Ekpe Udoh.
KOTC: Why have you remained so loyal to the Drew Family?
MOREFIELD: The thing I like about them the most is that they really know how to balance family and basketball. There have been other job opportunities that have come about, but I didn't feel comfortable with them. With Homer Drew … he was always there to remind you that it's just a game. When it's over, you've still got your family. You've still got your loved ones. Don't let the game consume you to where it becomes your whole life.
KOTC: What about Scott? What's his most impressive trait?
MOREFIELD: His tenacity and the fact that he's not fearful of any situation. About the time the Baylor job opened, people had been telling him, 'If you keep doing well at Valpo you'll be in line for a Big Ten job.' So when he took the Baylor job people were like, 'Are you crazy? What are you doing?' But he had the fire. He had the belief. He was certain he could turn Baylor into a winner. So, yeah, Scott taught me to not be fearful and to go take risks and go after opportunities.
KOTC: Were you one of the people who were surprised when he took the Baylor job?
MOREFIELD: I remember it clearly. I was in Las Vegas during the July recruiting period. We were in our hotel room and there were stories on television about what was going on at Baylor. The first thought was, 'Wow. I feel sorry for the people down there.' You don't want to see something like that going on in any program. Then a month later, Scott called me while I was on a family vacation, and Scott says, 'Hey, we're going to Baylor.' I trusted him. I trusted he was making the right decision. I believed in his vision for Baylor. I never really had that, 'Uh, what are we doing here?'
KOTC: You guys have done such a good job of recruiting at Baylor. Why have you been able to have so much success?
MOREFIELD: In this business today there are so many people who aren't real and genuine. Recruits and families and high school coaches know, 'This is who we are. What you see is what you get.' So many people ask me, 'Is Coach Drew really this positive all of the time?' Again, I tell them what they see is what they get. It's not a show. It's not for the media. Those are some of biggest reasons. We also have a lot of tenacity in recruiting. We want to build a winner. We don't say, 'Oh, we can't go after this kid because we might fail or because he's too highly ranked.' We're going to go after them. We're going to recruit them hard. We may not get every kid we recruit. But the reason we go down to the wire on so many of them and get so many final looks is because parents, guardians and coaches feel comfortable with us. They think, 'If my son chooses Baylor, I'll be comfortable with it, because you guys are genuine people. You care about the young man not just on the court, but off the court, as well.'
KOTC: What's been your biggest recruiting heartbreak since you've been at Baylor?
MOREFIELD: I think the one person, for me, was John Henson, who is from Round Rock, Texas – about an hour away. We were one of the first high-majors to offer him. He'd been up here a couple of times. He started to make some noise in Texas and then went out and blew up on the summer scene. We'd offered him beforehand, but it didn't matter because he ended up going to North Carolina. Those kids that are so close to campus … you hate losing them. It didn't make sense, why not Baylor? We had a great relationship with his father and a great relationship with John. So that probably was the one here in recent years where I was like, 'Argh. I don't understand.'
KOTC: Everyone is buzzing about the fact that you just signed Perry Jones, a McDonald's All-American who is expected to be a lottery pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Is he your biggest success story?
MOREFIELD: Perry committed to us after his freshman year (at Duncanville High School). It's a tribute to Perry how hard he continues to work. A lot kids, once they make their college decision, they just stop working. But with Perry, every year he's continued to work on his game, and he's gotten better and better. That's the kind of thing that puts a smile on our face. Now we've got a Top 5 player in the nation and a possible one-and-done.
KOTC: Being in Texas, do you find yourselves having to leave the state to find recruits? Or are there plenty there to choose from?
MOREFIELD: Texas is one of the hotbeds for basketball, without question. Now we've built our program to the point where we can go back to out old stomping grounds in the Midwest, too, because we've got a program we can sell. Three years in a row now we've been ranked in the Top 25 at some point in the season. Still, Texas is the priority. We're an hour-and-a-half away from Dallas. The players in Dallas alone give us a great recruiting base. But now we can expand a little more, too.
KOTC: A lot people that haven't spent any time in Waco think it's one of the Big 12's worst cities. How do you like it?
MOREFIELD: One of our recruits said in our media guide that Waco is "100 times better than I ever imagined." There are too many misconceptions of Waco. Once you get here and see it for yourself, you'll say, 'Hey, this is a pretty nice place.' My wife's father [Bill Brock] is the women's associate head coach at Baylor, so she's lived here for awhile. This is no different than the city I grew up in as a kid. There's plenty to do, but you're not in a big city where you get lost in the shuffle all the time. It's a great combination of a small town feel with a lot of options and things to do.
KOTC: So did you get to take your wife out for Valentine's Day dinner at one of Waco's fine dining establishments?
MOREFIELD: We just sat at home and ate wings from Wing Stop. We've been on the go so much that she didn't want to do anything. I got off really easy.
KOTC: When you're not recruiting or coaching, what do you like to do in your free time?
MOREFIELD: My biggest things are spending time with my wife, going to movies and doing things outdoors. This past summer we went down to Austin and zip-lined. We ride our bikes a lot. I like to golf with my buddies. I get stuck in the office so much that it's nice to get outside.
KOTC: Last thing … I understand you were Bryce Drew's college roommate at Valparaiso. Tell me what life was like after he hit "The Shot."
MOREFIELD: Once we got back from the Sweet 16, his phone was blowing up. Whether it was radio stations in Chicago wanting to get him on early in the morning or whoever. There was so much buzz. We'd go try to grab a simple meal and everyone in the restaurant would want his autograph. Eventually I said, 'Bryce, from now on you're going to have to eat by yourself.'
This week I'm taking a break from the local food reviews this week to offer some obscure suggestions from fast food and chain restaurants with which you're surely familiar.
$1 burgers – If you appreciate Value Menus as much as yours truly, then certainly you've sampled the Whopper Junior at Burger King and the McDouble at McDonald's. I can't decide which I like best, but what I do know is that both are a heck of a bargain for a George Washington. The McDouble is better for eating while driving but, taste-wise, the Whopper Junior wins the battle because it features more condiments. I'd love to hear your opinion.
Egg rolls at Jack In The Box – There aren't many fast-food restaurants that feature as many random menu items as Jack In The Box, which is far from your average burger joint. From chicken fajita pitas to bacon and cheddar potato wedges to deep fried tacos, a customer certainly isn't hurting for options. Nothing on the menu gets me going quite like the egg rolls, though – especially when dipped in Jack's buttermilk dressing.
Chicken pot pie at KFC – Every now and then, when I'm not eating the fiery grilled wings or the grilled chicken – which, by the way, is incredible – I'll get a little crazy and order a chicken pot pie. Granted, I'm far from a connoisseur, but I can't imagine there are many pot pies on the market that are as stocked quality chunks of chicken and vegetables as the ones offered up at KFC. Perfect for lunch on a cold day.
Hot mustard sauce at McDonald's – I don't know exactly how they make Chicken McNuggets. But hey, I've been eating them since I was 10 and I like them. Can't help it. That being said, I think there are a lot of people in their teens and 20s who are unaware that hot mustard sauce even exists. Honey mustard, sweet-and-sour and barbeque sauces have become such staples that hot mustard has been all but forgotten. Give it a try and tell me what you think.
Taquitos at Whataburger – My favorite fast-food hamburger joint has also become a routine morning pit stop during my trips to Texas. There aren't many breakfast burritos – or taquitos, or whatever you want to call them – that are as loaded with goods as the ones at Whataburger. Eggs and cheese are staples in each taquito, and then you have your choice of adding sausage, bacon or potatoes. I usually order one of each and then mix in some salsa.