EXCLUSIVE: Roper Returns to Form after Health Scare
CLEMSON, SC - His teammate's lips moved, but Jordan Roper couldn't hear what he was saying.
It was the early stages of the championship game of the Charleston Classic against UMass late last month, and Roper had played well in the early going of the season. He was the third-leading scorer on the team and had played significantly in all five games, including two starts.
But while defending in the post, an offensive player crashed down on Roper with an elbow after making a basket. The blow struck him square in the temple, and it didn't take the sophomore from Columbia, SC, long to realize something was wrong.
"I was running down the court, and I couldn't hear the plays," he said. "I was hearing Coach (Brad) Brownell call the play and was looking at Rod (Hall), and I could see their lips moving, but I couldn't hear the play.
"We got called for an illegal screen, and when I went over to the huddle, I was seeing spots. From there on, just sitting on the bench, all the lights and the noise and the horn, it really started to irritate me a lot."
Roper soon left the court with what he already realized was a concussion, and the symptoms lingered for "maybe a week or two" beyond that.
After working to establish himself at the shooting guard spot - a position of depth for the squad - Roper missed the next game against Coastal Carolina and played just 28 minutes and scored eight points across the next two.
Fast forward to Saturday night's game against Furman, and it was a welcome sight for the Tigers to see Roper back to being himself.
Roper returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the second game of the season, and even better, he was scoring in bunches like Clemson has come to expect.
"Starting, to me, is not that big a deal. I just thought Jordan had a good week and was ready to play well, and he did," Brownell said.
Roper kick-started Clemson's offense with a singlehanded 8-0 spurt late in the first half as part of a larger 17-0 run to help the Tigers stretch a four-point lead to 19 by halftime.
All told, Roper poured in a season-high 16 points, and Clemson overcame a sluggish start and trounced its in-state foes from just down the road 71-35 on Saturday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The Tigers led by six after a jumper from Roper made it 18-12, and three foul shots from him made it 21-15 moments later.
Roper's three from the corner extended the Tigers' lead to double digits for the first time on the night at 29-17, and another long ball - from the opposite corner this time - stretched the advantage to 32-17 with 2:15 left until halftime.
"I've been trying to get back in the flow of the game since I had the concussion, and those shots helped us," Roper said. "When anybody makes a shot for us, it really builds the enthusiasm, it builds the momentum, and it really helps us on defense."
Roper scored Clemson's first points out of the break on a three-pointer to give him 16 points and surpass his previous season-high of 15 about two minutes into the second half.
The Tigers led by as many as 38 in the second half, and they won going away. The 35 points for Furman were the fewest allowed by a Clemson team since Feb. 6, 1996 when Wofford had just 28.
"We really pride ourselves on defense," Roper said. "It's part of our identity, and it's Coach Brownell's philosophy. We're a hard-nosed defensive team, and we really stress defense with each game plan."
Just as importantly, it looks like the Tigers can factor Roper back into the game plan. While that wouldn't necessarily be in question after a typical concussion, a separate heath scare for him this summer made the situation seems much more serious.
"We had a little spell where he had a mini-stroke this summer, and he had to have a bunch of tests done," Brownell said. "There was some question about how it was going to be, and anytime something like that happens to you, I think it makes you appreciate life, certainly.
"It was a little scary there for a couple weeks, and mentally, I don't think that's easy for you when something like that happens. You combine that with a concussion and things of that nature, it's not as easy sometimes. So he's had to fight through some things."
Another part of fighting through those things was regaining his spot in the rotation, as two-guard is the deepest position on the team. Both Devin Coleman and Damarcus Harrison have also seen starting time there, and they have eight double-figure scoring games between them.
"You just have to stay at it and work hard," Roper said, "because we all work hard and we all want to be out there, obviously. It's a high competition at that position, and we all bring different assets to the position. We're all going to keep fighting, but we all have the same goal in mind - and that's to win ball games."
Roper is just glad he can get back to worrying about doing that.