2010 Final Four: Michigan State's Delvon Roe puts up with the pain in his knee

Michigan State's Delvon Roe, left, said, "I still have a little bit of that left in the tank." He likely will start Saturday vs. Butler.
Michigan State's Delvon Roe, left, said, "I still have a little bit of that left in the tank." He likely will start Saturday vs. Butler. (Paul Sancya/associated Press)
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

ST. LOUIS -- Side to side, Delvon Roe rocked in the moments after Michigan State claimed its second consecutive Final Four berth, never allowing his weight to settle on one leg for too long. The sophomore forward with the bulky black brace wrapped around his right knee looked for other accessories to add to his wardrobe.

A team official handed him a commemorative T-shirt and hat, which brought a smile to Roe's face, and for a brief, glorious period, the pain subsided.

Roe does not lead the Spartans in scoring or rebounding, though coaches and teammates claim he possesses the talent to do both. These days, he rarely draws attention with athletic plays or dunks, though the player he once was suggests he could perform those feats more regularly as well.

But as Michigan State prepares to play once again during the final weekend of the men's college basketball season, no Spartan has engendered more respect or admiration for the gallantry he has displayed merely by continuing to take the court than Roe, who has played through a meniscus injury in his right knee since September. Michigan State faces Butler on Saturday in the national semifinals, and Roe likely will be in the starting lineup.

"His level of pain tolerance is unbelievable, to be able to tolerate that," said Tom Mackowiak, Michigan State's team trainer. "He definitely has a higher pain level than most athletes that participate. I think he's got a stronger mental willpower to want to participate, which speaks highly of his competitiveness, too."

Early in the second half of Michigan State's seven-point win over Northern Iowa on Friday in the round of 16, Roe soared over several players for a put-back dunk that caused the crowd to take a collective gasp.

But a few minutes later as the Spartans huddled during a timeout, Roe paced off to the side, occasionally bending over to check on his bum knee. When not in the game, Roe walked back and forth behind the bench to keep the knee loose. Roe played 27 minutes, and although he tallied just six points and five rebounds, he drew rave reviews.

"We just told him at the beginning of the game, 'Give us what you can give us,' " Spartans forward Draymond Green said. "He probably wasn't feeling great, but he's a warrior. And I'll tell anybody any day I will take Delvon to war with me any day because he's a warrior."

Roe said he needed the full length of the court to gather the momentum necessary to leap for that dunk against Northern Iowa. His knee injury prohibits him from making quick jumps or fast cuts, from performing tasks other players take for granted.

Roe said his knee is 40 percent healthy and that on game days, the adrenaline can push him to 90 percent. The 6-foot-8 forward logged 20 minutes Sunday in Michigan State's one-point win over Tennessee, recording three points, zero rebounds and a game-high three blocks. At this point, Roe said, one of his primary tasks is to find some way to feel as though he contributed something to the Spartans' effort.

"A lot of people just don't understand what type of player I was before I got all these injuries, what type of athlete I was," Roe said. "I still have a little bit of that left in the tank."

Roe underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee after the first game of his senior season at St. Edward High in Euclid, Ohio. Because of overcompensation, Roe had to have minor surgery on his left knee prior to the start of his freshman campaign in East Lansing.

Mackowiak said Roe has felt soreness in his right knee since last fall, but it was not until Michigan State's 18-point loss Feb. 2 at Wisconsin that the pain "really kind of went over the edge."

"It's a lose-lose situation," Roe said. "It gets worse and worse as the game goes on. If I'm playing a lot of minutes, it's going to get worse and worse and worse. If I'm sitting out for too long, it's going to get worse because I'm sitting down and it's getting stiff. But I've just got to play through it."

Roe said he uses pain pills, ice and other means of rehabilitation, but the only thing that will erase the pain is season-ending surgery. The thought of taking that route has crossed his mind constantly over the past few months, and he said his parents have not always been in agreement with his decision to keep playing.

Following the win over Northern Iowa, Roe spoke with his father, Delvon Sr., who expressed the immense pride he felt toward his son. It's rewarding, Roe said, to learn he has earned the respect of those who know what he's going through.

Count Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo among that group. When asked how much more he could expect Roe to give this season, Izzo said he had no idea.

"I think we all know how much he's giving, and if he isn't a guy that everybody can learn from, he's such a talented kid and nobody's even seen half his talent yet," Izzo said. "He could have gotten operated on. He could have done this. He could have done that. . . . That kid gave us -- when you tell a kid, you hear it in any book, you hear it and it's cliche-ic. Lay it all on the line. He laid it all on the line, I promise you that."

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