Dec. 9, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Yes, Texas A&M has not lost a nonconference home game in the regular season since 2003. Yes, the crowd in College Station will be roaring against the Huskies.
Yet when 21st-ranked Washington (6-2) arrives for its first true road game this season on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (ESPN2 television, the Washington IMG Sports Network radio and gohuskies.com for a live chat and statistics), A&M's Reed Arena will not exactly be a hostile environment.
In fact, most Aggies (8-1) will be welcoming the Dawgs with almost brotherly love in this rematch unlike any other.
Coach Mark Turgeon and his Texas A&M staff remain grateful for what Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar and UW players did for an wounded Aggie 12 months ago in Seattle.
Derrick Roland, then A&M's senior defensive stopper and second-leading scorer, snapped his leg in a grotesque fall early in a game that Washington ultimately won last Dec. 22. Roland was leaping for the rim then landed with such force it broke his tibia and fibula.
Roland's bones snapped cleanly across, puncturing his skin and leaving the leg in almost a 90-degree angle. The sight and the wood-snapping sound of the break that echoed through the arena horrified a sellout crowd at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, a national television audience and players and staff from both teams.
Romar joined orthopedic surgeon Dr. Chris Wahl and four other UW doctors who happened to be attending the game in rushing to Roland immediately after his fall - even while play briefly continued at the other end of the floor.
Romar and 2009-10 Huskies star Quincy Pondexter then visited Seattle's Harborview Medical Center. That's where Donald Sloan - then the Aggies leading scorer and Roland's pal since grade school in Dallas - plus Coach Turgeon and Aggies athletics assistant Dustin Clark were at Roland's bedside into Christmas Day.
Wahl performed Roland's stabilizing surgery in the middle of the night Dec. 23 hours after the injury, then Romar and Pondexter brought gift bags for Roland. Pondexter prayed for him. Other Huskies players tweeted their prayers. Fans from as far away as Marysville, Wash., an hour or so north, visited Roland in Harborview.
Doctors eventually cleared Roland to go home to Texas on a medical-transport plane Christmas Day.
"It was interesting, at the hospital he was in and out because he was so groggy, but Donald Sloan and those guys, those are some really good kids," Romar said before he and the Huskies left for Texas Thursday. "You hate for that to happen to anyone - but sitting there at the time you were going, 'Wow, these are pretty good kids. They are handling this pretty well.'"
The feeling is mutual.
Months after Roland's injury, Texas A&M returned to the Evergreen State to play in the early rounds of last spring's NCAA tournament in Spokane. Turgeon, a still-hobbled Roland and Aggies staffers there were still glowing in their praise for the care and compassion they received from the UW community.
The Aggies are used to playing in relatively small, remote places in their Big 12 Conference such as Ames, Iowa, or Manhattan, Kansas. They said they were fortunate to have been playing at UW, home to a renowned medical staff and in a city with an elite trauma center such as Harborview, when Roland sustained the horrific injury.
In July the NCAA denied A&M's appeal on Roland's behalf for a medical-redshirt season which could have had him playing against the Huskies again on Saturday in College Station. Turgeon acknowledged the appeal was a long shot. NCAA rules state a player must play in no more than 20 percent of his team's games before getting injured and requesting an extra year of eligibility. Roland had played in all 11 of the Aggies' 29 regular-season games when he broke his leg.
He was back playing early this season in the NBA's Developmental League, before Rio Grande Valley waived him last month.
Romar said he had never visited an opposing player in a hospital before Roland.
"When adverse situations occur in sports, a lot of times you are able to get a wakeup call," Romar said. "As much as we love to play this game and follow this game and support this game, there is a real world where this game doesn't mean a whole lot. And when you see him staring down at that floor, staring up at the ceiling with zero emotion, you temporarily forget about this game - because there is more to life than this basketball game.
"And you go that hospital, the humanity of the whole thing really comes out. Again, it helps you understand the world doesn't revolve around the game of basketball."
So, no, Saturday's game in College Station is not your garden-variety rematch.
Good vibes aside, though, this season's go-go Huskies - who are averaging 104 points in their six wins - have their hands full at A&M.
Even though the Aggies have lost Roland, Sloan and an inside force Bryan Davis, their third senior leader last season, they have beaten then-No. 20 Temple this season.
They also have won 69 straight non-conference regular-season home game, against the likes of Arizona, Alabama and LSU. A&M is 87-9 all-time in nonconference games at Reed Arena.
"I'm anxious to see how we're going to do," Romar said of his team's only road test before Washington begins its Pac-10 season at USC and UCLA Dec. 29 and 31.
The Huskies' only previous trip this season was for three games late last month at the Maui Invitational, including close losses to top-10 teams Kentucky and Michigan State.
The Dawgs have returned four starters from last season's Pac-10 tournament champions and team that reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAAs. They have been touting that experience all fall.
Saturday will test how much of an advantage that experience is away from Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
"I like road games a lot," said senior Justin Holiday, who has set then equaled his career high of 20 points in each of the last two games. "Our team is a veteran team, so I don't think being on the road will be that much of a shock."