EAST LANSING - In an unexpected and unprecedented move in the Tom Izzo era, Izzo had to bid an early good-bye to a veteran letter-winner due to medical retirement when Delvon Roe announced on Thursday that he is finished playing basketball.
Roe, who was a three-year starter for Michigan State, elected not to play in his senior year due to degenerative knee pain, stemming from an injury he sustained as a senior in high school.
"I think I've cried twice over a player," Izzo said. "One was Mateen's when he broke his foot, his senior year, when he came back to school to try to win a National Championship, thinking his dreams were dashed. And two was this morning. Delvon and I spent a lot of time today. It just got to the point."
Roe, whom Izzo considers one of the toughest players he has ever coached, teared up several times during Thursday's press conference.
"This is the hardest decision I've ever had to make," Roe said. "I have no regrets. I'm not sitting here and making excuses for anything. I played in two Final Fours. I played in the National Championship game, and started. Two Big Ten championships. The memories I have in this program are going to last a lifetime."
Roe started 73 games in his three-year Spartan career, never averaged more than 6 points or 5 rebounds per game in a season, but always contributed in intangible ways that sometimes Izzo wasn't even aware of.
"I hope you remember him by what he gave us because he probably gave more than 99 percent of the guys who ever played here in any sport - he gave his health," Izzo said. "He lied to us continuously on how he was. His sophomore year, he played with that torn meniscus from the start of the year till the end of the year, not telling us because he thought he'd have to have surgery again."
'It Got Too Hard'
Roe, who came to Michigan State as one of the highest-rated recruits Izzo has ever signed, never played without pain as a Spartan. Roe underwent several surgeries and setbacks during his three-year career at Michigan State, but always hoped the problems would subside.
He suffered an ankle sprain midway through the summer, forcing him to sit out for more than a month. Coaches and trainers thought the ankle injury might help his knee problems, by forcing him off the court. Instead, the knee began to fail when twice-weekly workouts began on Sept. 15, leading to excessive swelling this past weekend.
"I started back playing, and something just wasn't feeling right, and I could tell it wasn't the ankle," Roe said. "I didn't have that speed that I usually have on defense, on jumping. I just felt like I couldn't jump. Last Saturday it swelled up pretty big and then I got some fluid taken out.
"With me, usually these things happen at the end of the season where I can say, 'Okay, I'm going to get through it. I can get through it. I have time. I can get through it. Summer is almost here, I can get through it.' But this year I felt like if this was going to happen for the whole year, for six straight months, of constantly getting shots and getting fluid taken out, that I didn't think mentally that I could take that.
"For my teammates, I love 'em to death. They know that. It's hard for me because this is the only thing I ever did my whole life, basketball. Basketball was all I knew. It came to the the point that I had to think about myself.
"Every day, since the first day I came, it's never been about me, it's always been about this program and this team, since the day that I walked into this building. I've played through pain. I've hid things from coach just so I could play, to help this team out. Help them get to Final Fours. It just really came to a point where it got too hard. I don't think I could have went through another year, mentally, with this type of pain and the medical procedures to continue to play."
Izzo is surprised Roe lasted this long.
"We have built this program on toughness. I'm not sure we have had anyone any tougher than Delvon," Izzo said. "If you look at what he has done for us, if you ever consider a Spartan a warrior, you would probably rate him right up there in the top."
'For My Seniors, I Love Them'
Roe was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team in 2009, starting 31 games for a team that played in the National Championship game.
Never able to work on his game during the off-season due to annual surgeries and rehabilitations, Roe reinvented himself as a defensive stopper. He was named to the Big Ten All-Defense team last year.
Tom Izzo remembers Delvon Roe hitting a new threshold of pain at the 2010 Final Four.
"I remember when we lost everybody, as we were playing Butler," Izzo said. "Kalin Lucas was out, Chris Allen was hurt and we knew Delvon was hurt but we just blew it off because 'Delvon can always play.'
"Four minutes into that game, Delvon came out and said, 'I can't go no more.'
"I said, 'You're done.'
"And he said, 'You can't do that to me.'
"And I said, 'Okay.'
"And then he limped around and played some more."
Roe soldiered through the physical Final Four game for 24 minutes, scoring 4 points and getting 4 rebounds.
It was an appropriate stat line for Roe. No one knew how much he was actually contributing behind the scenes, and how much he was sacrificing. - By Jim Comparoni
In the locker room following Michigan State's loss to UCLA in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Roe said he was looking forward to what he expected to be the first relatively pain-free, injury-free summer of his college career. He was optimistic about getting a chance to sharpen his skills.
But those plans were derailed by the ankle sprain.
"I got to the point where I didn't want to get just get through, get through, and get through weeks, months, games and seasons. I wanted to play and have fun," Roe said. "I felt that having to always be in a situation where going to games where with four minutes left to go in the game and I'm looking at the clock like, 'When is this game going to be over with, so that I can get a day off. And then hopefully my knee won't swell up so that I can go back and play again.'
"I didn't think that was fair. I didn't think that was fair for my teammates, for my coaches, to constantly tell people that I was going to be okay, that I was going to get through.
"What it came down to is the intensity it takes to be a Division I athlete, to play at this level, the focus that you have to have to play at this level. I felt that mentally I just couldn't go through another year, to have that type of focus, and to be the player that they want me to be, and the player that I want to be, and most importantly the player that my teammates need me to be
"For my seniors, I love 'em," Roe said, pausing to try to hold back tears. "They know what I went through for them."
'It Was Worth Every Needle'
Roe broke the news to the team at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. Just two hours later, many of his teammates were in the back of the room during Thursday's press conference.
"The hardest part was telling the team," Roe said. "Austin, DayDay and Nix - because those are the three that I've been here the longest with, and they knew up close what I was about, what I cared for. They knew winning was the most important thing. And for me to tell them that I wasn't going to grind just one more year with them was the hardest decision to make.
"I don't want this to be something that everyone is all sad and down about. I know I'm crying right now but at the same time these past three years have been great.
"I think the thing that made me realize it was worth it more than anything was the Final Fours, was the Big Ten championships. It was worth every needle, every dose of medicine. That's why we play the game, the chance to be on a Final Four team, a chance to win championships. That's why all those guys in the back come here, for a chance to play in those championship-type games and those atmospheres."
"I thought about when this day would come," Izzo said. "I was hoping it would be the last day, watching him kiss the 'S', but it's going to be a little earlier. Hopefully he will still get to do that."
Izzo said Roe will be around the program throughout the season in some capacity. Roe will accompany the team to San Diego on Nov. 11 for Michigan State's game against North Carolina, which will be played on the deck of a United States aircraft carrier.
"I told him that he has to come to the aircraft carrier because if it wasn't for guys like him I would never have the opportunity to be in a game like that," Izzo said. "So in some ways it's just a little early, but this is one that should be celebrated. It won't be by the guys standing behind you (Roe's teammates), and it won't be by me right now, but when I get to stand with him at the aircraft carrier and when I get to watch him kissing the 'S' it will be a lot easier and it will mean a lot more."
Even at the end, Roe made his decision for the well-being of his teammates, Izzo said.
"One thing that Delvon talked to me about was: 'Is it fair to the development of the A.P.s, the Gaunas, the Nixes and other guys, is it fair to them?'" Izzo said, in reference to younger post players on the team such as Adreian Payne, Alex Gauna and Derrick Nix. "I have started Delvon almost every game, even some times - as his dad said - even some times when he physically didn't deserve to. He always did deserve it every other way.
"But he didn't want to do this (announce his retirement) a month from now when everything would be in the middle of the season. He is thinking of us."
Roe, a theater major, is on schedule to graduate, and is enjoying a blossoming acting career. Roe earned $20,000 during the off-season for a role in the independent film, "AWOL," which stars young actor Liam Hemsworth.
"Graduating is always something that my family has always cherished: 'You've got to graduate. You've got to graduate,'" Roe said. "More than anything in the world, it looks good to have that on your resume, that you graduated.
"You put in so many hours on the road with basketball, people don't understand that, to keep up the good grades. You have Coach to make sure you keep up those good grades, and also your parents and your family. I knew this more than anybody: One day that ball will stop bouncing, and you will need something to fall back on, something to make a living somehow."