Less than a year after Derrick Roland's right leg snapped in a game against Washington, he is playing basketball again. His story is one of help, hope and inspiration.
The snap of the bones in Derrick Roland’s right leg was so loud the Texas A&M coaches could hear it from the sideline.
While play continued at the other end of the floor inside Edmundson Pavilion, Aggies coach Mark Turgeon ran onto the floor. His senior guard lay motionless under the basket, right leg bent at nearly a 90-degree angle. Roland’s sneaker looked separate from that leg.
When the game stopped, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar walked quickly to the other end of the floor to join Turgeon and the Washington doctors, who were trying to comfort and care for Roland.
Donald Sloan, a friend and A&M teammate, leaned against the basket stanchion, his hands covering his face.
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“To see something like that happen right before your eyes, you’re really concerned because that could be a career-ending injury,” said Romar, who visited Roland in the hospital. “When you see that, all competition goes by the wayside.
“When I walked out there, he was laying there motionless, and I looked at him and you could just see his career flashing before his eyes. He’s a great kid, and I hated seeing that happen to him. A kid like that, you pull for him.”
Three days before last Christmas, 1,500 miles from home, Roland, the Aggies’ defensive stopper and second-leading scorer, suffered a broken tibia and fibula. That kind of injury haunts every eyewitness.
It scared Roland, too. But nearly a year later, a basketball player’s resilience and determination in coming back from such a gruesome injury is one of the best stories of the Christmas season.
“The injury scared me initially. It scared me that what happened to me would mean that my career was over,” Roland said this week by phone from his home in Dallas. “But I never gave up on myself.”
Roland was operated on at Harborview Medical Center. Turgeon and Sloan stayed with him, even after the rest of the team flew home. The next day, the A&M coach printed some 125 e-mails and read them to Roland.
“The care that he got from the minute he got hurt until he left Seattle was tremendous,” Turgeon said. “The doctor there, Dr. (Chris) Wahl, was fantastic. And he just had overwhelming support from the Aggie Nation. He got so many e-mails they had to shut down the system.
“And after surgery we just kind of felt like he was going to have a full recovery. The thing that I love about D-Ro is that he never felt sorry for himself. I was really proud of the way he handled it.”
Fast forward about six months from that horrible night. Roland is running the fast break during an NBA Developmental League tryout. He takes a pass and rises into the air the way he has thousands of times before. He doesn’t think about his injury, doesn’t worry about the landing.
He flushes the pass, a sign to Roland that there is life left in his legs, that he still can play at a high level, that he has recovered from one of the ugliest injuries an athlete can suffer.
Roland was nervous at the tryout. “It felt like they all had me under a little microscope,” he said. “My performance was being watched by everybody, and that play told me that I was 100 percent again.
“There were a lot of people who doubted that I would ever play again. But after I left the tryout I felt like I had my confidence back. I felt like I was a totally different player. I was better than what I was when I got hurt on Dec. 22. I was stronger, faster and I was smarter because when I was sitting out it gave me a chance to watch and learn the game even more.”
Turgeon said he never saw Roland cry during the recovery no matter how much pain he was suffering.
But Roland did cry twice after A&M losses. Once after the Aggies lost at home to Kansas, and once when they lost to Purdue in the NCAA tournament’s second round.
“I never cried, because I believe in certain things and because of my faith I always thought that things work out for people who believe,” Roland said. “But I did cry after those two losses. I thought I could have helped my teammates. I thought that was our year to make a lot of noise, and I wasn’t able to help. I thought we were going to the Sweet 16, but it was out of my control.
“I felt bad. I still wanted to apologize because I wasn’t there for my teammates. It was frustrating because when I would watch, there would be plays that I would have been involved in and I wanted to be there to lead them and let them know what’s what.”
Roland recently was cut from the D-League. He hopes to get another chance there or overseas this season. He expects to play in the NBA’s summer league in 2011.
“He’s gotten where he is in basketball because of how hard he works at it and how determined he is,” Turgeon said. “I think when he was laying on the floor and definitely when he came out of surgery he was determined that he was going to be back playing again.”
Roland’s hoop dreams are alive and well.
“I feel fantastic,” he said. “I can’t even feel any pain in my leg. I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in. Sometimes I’ll have thoughts about my injury after I’ve played, but during the duration of a game I never think about it.”
After Roland returned to College Station, Sloan visited him every day after practice and made sure his good friend stayed involved with the team. Another close friend, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers, called often. His message: “Stay positive. Don’t give up on your dreams.”
Every coach talks about the idea of a team as family. A&M’s reaction to Roland’s injury was that idea in its finest form.
“When he went down, I felt like there was nothing more important for me to do in my life at that time than to take care of D-Ro,” said Turgeon, whose team finished 24-10. “And that’s what we did.”
Turgeon and his wife, Ann, made sure Roland didn’t want for anything. They stayed on him to take his medication, made sure he took walks every day and ordered him to make all of his rehabilitation appointments.
“Coach Turgeon and his wife made me feel like I was always with my family,” Roland said. “They always made sure I had everything I needed.”
And now all of Roland’s hoop possibilities have been restored. All of last December’s horror has been replaced with hope.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org