- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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The NCAA suspended reigning SEC player of the year Lawrence Roberts of Mississippi State for one game because he did not pay in advance for an NBA draft workout in Portland last June.
Roberts will miss the season opener Thursday against Fairfield.
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury told ESPN.com Friday morning that the student-athlete reinstatement committee issued the one-game suspension to Roberts early Friday. NCAA rules state that underclassmen must pay their expenses in advance of an NBA workout. Roberts' family and Mississippi State said Roberts paid back the $900 for travel and lodging after he returned home to Houston and withdrew from the draft June 17.
The school reported it as a violation and had to seek his reinstatement. Underclassmen are allowed to have their expenses paid for the NBA's Chicago pre-draft camp but cannot accept any expenses for individual team workouts.
The news got worse for the Bulldogs Thursday even before the NCAA's decision Friday. Stansbury said Roberts broke his nose in practice in two places and will need surgery Monday. Stansbury said Roberts won't play in this weekend's exhibition game, which would have been allowed despite the one-game suspension, nor will he play Nov. 12 in the second round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Birmingham, Ala.
The winner of the Mississippi State-Fairfield game plays the winner of the Alabama A&M-Birmingham Southern game. The winner of that game goes to New York for the semifinals Nov. 18. Mississippi State's bracket plays the winner of the Syracuse bracket. The winners of brackets at Memphis and Cal play the same night in New York. The four teams will then play a championship and consolation game Nov. 19 in New York.
Stansbury said Roberts has to wait for the swelling to go down before he can have surgery. Stansbury wasn't sure when his star would be able to play with a mask on but was hopeful, if the Bulldogs advance, that Roberts could play in New York.
Mississippi State feared that Roberts would have to sit out eight or nine games for the violation. The speed with which Roberts repaid the money helped his case. Revelations that Notre Dame's Chris Thomas, who took multiple visits in the spring of 2003, did the same thing and wasn't suspended, was part of Mississippi State's case.
The NCAA could decide to investigate how many underclassmen have done the same thing. Notre Dame didn't report it as a violation because Thomas paid the money back before school started in August 2003. It wasn't reported as a violation, so the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement committee wasn't involved.
Stansbury said he would likely start 6-foot-9 sophomore Piotr Stelmach (0.9 ppg, 1.1 rpg last season) in Roberts' place. Stansbury said Roberts (16.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg) inadvertently took an errant elbow in the face from freshman Jerrell Houston in practice Thursday. Roberts is the only returning first-team Wooden All-American.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.