Drafted Only 30th. Hurt By The Nba Lockout. Two More Barriers For Lou Roe To Kick Aside. "It's Like Nobody Sees What I've Done." After Years Of Achievement, A Summer Full Of Discontent

Posted: August 01, 1995

ATLANTIC CITY — Lou Roe never needed the casinos to gamble.

In this city of extremes, the posh and the deprived, only one side of life was available when Roe was growing up. And it wasn't the one with neon lights, slot machines, marquee boxing matches and Donald Trump.

"This is the other side of town," Roe said, pointing to a two-story, brown, run-down housing project beside a string of age-worn buildings just off the Atlantic City Expressway.

"This is the side I'm most familiar with, where taking a legitimate chance at a better life might turn a lot of people against you. The side with a lot of good people just trying to survive, willing to do almost anything to get out."

In others' eyes, Roe has been gone for a while.

After a stellar basketball career at the University of Massachusetts, where he led the Minutemen to four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, Roe saw a lifelong dream fulfilled when he was selected in June's NBA draft, landing with the Detroit Pistons.

A new life was supposed to follow. Money, of course, would be a big part of it because "guaranteed security," said his UMass coach, John Calipari. But not the only thing.

"I thought, finally, it would shut some mouths and get me the respect I feel I've earned, home and abroad," Roe said.

He was mistaken.

Projected as a surefire first-round pick, Roe dropped to the 30th pick overall. He's no longer certain to get the guaranteed money that generally comes with being a first-rounder.

Worse, the lockout of NBA players, in effect since July 1, leaves Roe without the two things he's worked for all these years: a contract and a place to prove himself on the pro level.

In a sense, Roe feels as if he's scrapping in the ghetto all over again. But the critics and doubters aren't just in Atlantic City anymore.

"They all still question his game," said James Dudley, a childhood friend. "Those memories run deeper for Lou than people will ever realize. People in A.C. have questioned him all these years. But he always felt like all he had to do was achieve and that would be it.

"But then he dropped in the draft, and the look in his eyes said it all. It was like what he accomplished meant nothing. He was so hurt. He knew it was the same old thing. Different day."

Roe said as much while driving around his hometown, amid run-down buildings and vagrants on the streets.

"That guy there tried to get me to deal drugs," he said, pointing to a man in downtown Atlantic City. "There are others that tried to get me to use some.

"But you realize, when some people aren't achieving, misery loves company. I knew better. I worked hard. I just achieved. But you wouldn't know this listening to some people. It's like nobody sees what I've done. Second-team all-American, man? And so many people still diss me? I can't understand that."

In his four years at UMass, the Minutemen won four straight Atlantic Ten regular-season and conference titles. He was named to the A-10 all-tournament squad each season.

He finished his career second on UMass' all-time scoring list (1,905 points), fourth in career blocks (121), and atop the list in rebounds (1,070). He was named the conference player of the year after his senior season.

Before leaving Amherst, he was as an Associated Press second-team all- American (he was named a first-teamer by the Sporting News) and a finalist for the John Wooden Award as national player of the year. Julius Erving had played for UMass, but Roe was the school's first all-American.

Now, instead of playing in one of the pro summer leagues against stiff competition, he spends his days at St. Joseph's Field House, Community College of Philadelphia or some other venue filled with empty bleachers but minus pro personnel, remembering a special night gone bad.

"I was sick to my stomach," Roe said of draft night. "I couldn't believe I dropped to the second round.

"Yeah, my mother smiled and hugged me, along with everyone else that was there. The pictures were great in the newspapers, but they didn't really understand.

"They knew I worked hard and that I was going to the NBA. That's all. But they didn't realize what I had lost, what going down to the 30th spot had done to me."

Two things it did were hurt his wallet and erase any chance of a long-term guaranteed contract. His pride was hurt, too. And he wasn't alone in his consternation.

"I couldn't believe my eyes," said Calipari. "There were many sad people on our staff. The first round is guaranteed security. He doesn't have that now.

"I couldn't believe he dipped. I mean, what else does he have to do? He

went from a back-to-the-basket player to someone who can take someone off the dribble. He's been proving people wrong all his life - seven NCAA tournament wins, a Sweet 16 appearance, the Elite Eight, player of the year, Carolina, Arkansas, Syracuse, whoever was there to play. You just wonder: 'What the heck were they looking for?' "

"I earned everything, man," Roe said incredulously. "I've gone about things the right way. I worked for it. You'd think more people would be happy for me, that teams would like that. I guess it's back to the same old thing."

This time, though, it's a different venue. It's the Pistons and new coach Doug Collins. Roe will be on a Detroit team filled with such young stars as Grant Hill, Lindsey Hunter and the emerging Allan Houston. As usual, nothing is guaranteed.

But at least things are looking up.

"I'm in the pros now," said Roe, who has yet to sign a contract. "I'm working on my shooting, dribbling, everything. I'll be ready.

"But I'll bet you the critics will still be out there. The only difference is the playing level. Once I prove myself here, what can anyone say?"

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