The sound was the first thing.
When Texas A&M guard Derrick Roland drove down the middle of the lane in Hec Edmundson Pavilion on Dec. 22, 2009, he missed a layup in traffic.
When Roland landed, his tibia and fibula snapped. It sounded like someone snapped a large, dry branch over their knee.
Roland’s right leg was twisted out in an unnatural position and his foot dangled, limp on the end of his leg. His high sock was the only thing keeping the ferocious breaks from being exposed.
The teams raced up to the other end and Washington took three shots before play was stopped. Roland’s teammates looked down at him and saw the mangled leg. Many lost their composure as teammate Bryson Graham ran out to Roland and began saying a prayer with him. Aggies head coach Mark Turgeon was right behind him. Roland, a senior, was laying flat on his back, stunned. The arena was silent. Roland didn’t look.
“After I heard the pop, I was kind of hesitant to even look and see what part of my leg was injured,” Roland said by phone Monday. “But, as I raised up and could see my ankle and leg twisted, that’s when I began to realize what had happened.”
So, when Louisville’s Kevin Ware landed hard Sunday during the Elite Eight against Duke and heinously broke his leg on national television, Roland sat up on the edge of his couch in Los Angeles.
He was watching the game with a friend, just sitting around the house like everyone else. But, when he saw Wear flat on his back, Roland became among the few who could relate.
Roland was taken to Harborview Medical Center for his surgery. That’s when he started dealing with the multiple layers of coming back.
Like Ware, Roland’s parents weren’t at the game and watched television frightened. His aunt came to meet him at the hospital the next day. He was in a strange place with a broken leg in the middle of his senior season.
“From being there to play a game against a good Washington team, to prove ourselves on national TV right before Christmas, and then to end up in a hospital bed for three or four days, I was completely out of it,” Roland said. “It was hard for me to grasp what really happened.”
Roland began his rehab a week later. He had an out-of-reach goal to return by the end of the season. He rehabbed twice a day; one session with trainers, another at home. He took baby steps. Literally.
“You’re 21 years old and have to learn how to walk again,” Roland said. “That’s quite an experience.”
The NCAA didn’t grant him a medical redshirt, so his college career was over. By July of 2010, Roland was feeling pretty good. He was a solid college player who thought he could play overseas after averaging 10.5 points per game his limited senior year. Trouble was, he had no post-injury body of work. Wear is a sophomore whom, if rehab goes well, is likely to get back on a college court.
All teams in South America and Europe knew about Roland was what they read on the Internet about his injury. They didn’t want to give him a look.
“It was kind of like I was lost,” Roland said. “No one knew where I was, no one knew if I was playing. My first year out, a lot of teams didn’t want to take me. They didn’t know the extent of my injury. The Internet says he’s not playing anymore. That was tough to get past that and I finally got a team to take a chance on me in Uruguay. I played well, led the league in scoring. Since then I’ve just been proving myself.”
After playing a year in South America, Roland played nine games for ENAD in the Cyprus A Division last year. He averaged 8.2 points per game.
He had his biggest basketball moment of last year prior to the start of the season. He finally watched the video of his injury.
“I felt like I never really got over it because I never watched it,” Roland said. “I would always put it behind me, always move forward. I just wanted to watch it just for myself.
“When I first watched it, I didn’t realize my teammates’ reaction was that emotional. I just remember laying on the ground, staring up in the lights, being caught up in the moment, not really thinking, being all zoned out. But, watching the video and seeing my teammates’ emotion, that was something similar to the same thing in Louisville. Tough situation.
“I felt … I mean I was in a little bit of pain and felt bad for myself. As I looked at the video, I felt worse for my team. For them to have to sit there and go through that and go back out on the floor and compete, I couldn’t imagine.”
Which tracks him back to what happened to Ware. He knows what’s next.
“I would tell Kevin, just keep your head up,” Roland said. “Positive energy. Stay around your teammates, family coaches. If he secludes himself, none of the experience will be enjoyable. He has to find like the smallest things to make him happy in this situation. I know he’s sad he can’t play, but being with his teammates at the Final Four, it would help with that a little bit.
“I felt so bad for the kid. I can relate on so many levels. I remember laying like he’s laying there, I know he just wants to get off the floor, get to the lockerroom, get to the hospital. I just know it was really tough on him. I wish him the best in his recovery.”