Arielle Roberson's long wait is nearing the end. It's a good thing, too, because her patience also might be running out. She could be a poster girl for boundless exuberance and perseverance, but even so, she's getting antsy.
Last week, when the Colorado men's and women's programs hosted Buffs Madness, Roberson got a brief, blissfully sweet taste of how it's going to be next month when the regular season begins.
She was blown away.
"I was warming up and asking myself if I was really doing this," she said. "When I actually get to the game, I know I'm going to be asking if I'm really out here. I'm going to be ready, but I know I'll also be like, 'Oh, my God, is this really happening?'"
At long last, yes, it will be.
What Roberson was certain she would be doing last year at this time was delayed by a left hip ailment - a torn labrum - that wasn't diagnosed until well after she arrived at CU to begin her freshman season. After a month or more of specific exercises and physical therapy prescribed to relieve periodic back pain she had experienced at Wagner High School in San Antonio, further testing revealed the hip problem.
Surgery was performed in early December, shelving Roberson for the 2011-12 season. It wasn't crushing, but it was close. The most frustrating part, she said, was "not being able to be with my team the way I thought I would be - on the court. I've never had to sit out in my life. That was probably the biggest shellshock. I think just that whole preseason was a drag, trying to make it day to day in classes, have it carry over through the night . . . that was a big bummer."
On a daily basis, Roberson might be as upbeat as anyone on the CU campus. "Everybody enjoys Arielle," said her coach, Linda Lappe. "She's got a smile on her face all the time."
At times, though the smile required work. "Once I got that (news) and the doctors said I couldn't play anymore, that hit me really deep," Roberson said. "I never expected that. I'm sure I expected some bad news, but I didn't expect it to end my freshman season. It was definitely really tough to swallow."
But Roberson is a battler, and throughout her fight to return she had the support of her teammates and the CU staff. The Buffs knew what she was going through.
"Her teammates really empathized with what she went through last year," Lappe said. "They respect the fact that she's really worked hard in her rehab to get to where she is today. Anytime she does anything well her teammates are really happy for her and proud of her. I think she can feel that from them."
Roberson's first-year ordeal "weighed on us because we knew how bad she wanted to play as a freshman . . . it was hard on her and we knew it," said junior guard Brittany Wilson. "But she was one of us, one of the family. She's like a little sister to me. Now she's back and we're with her."
"That's just the nature of this team," Roberson said. "They're always there to pick somebody up who's having a bad day; they're always there. Now that I'm getting back in, sure I make mistakes - I think that's inevitable - but I kind of pick myself up and coach has been harping on that. But I'm getting positive feedback and I think that really helps because I like to be perfect. And when I'm not, and knowing I'm not yet what I once was, they can see that and the coaches can see that. I think they all do a really good job of trying to keep my spirits up and have me focus on the positive things that I am doing."
Roberson is 6-1, lithe and athletic. It runs in the family. Her brother, Andre, is a 6-7 junior wing for Tad Boyle's CU men's team. They are the only brother-sister tandem in the Pac-12 Conference, and believed to be one of only five in Division I basketball.
Aside from "family tournaments," Arielle and Andre didn't compete much growing up in San Antonio. "He played more with his friends, me with mine," Arielle said. "It wasn't like, 'Hey, Andre, let's go play.' He liked to play with his guy friends and they always went places I couldn't get into."
But they could compete in the backyard tournaments, which might have ranked among San Antonio's top amateur sporting events. Their father, John, played hoops at New Mexico State and professionally overseas for 12 years. Their mother, Lisa, was a New Mexico State volleyball player. Two of their sisters, Ashlee and Amber, played basketball and volleyball at Texas Tech and Texas, respectively. Those guys peering over the fence? They might have been college recruiters.
Arielle's and Andre's games aren't mirror images of one another, but they're very similar. Lappe can see it. "For sure," she said. "They play very much alike in terms of their nose for the ball and getting off their feet quickly, their ability to score over bigger players on the block . . . Arielle gets off her shot fairly well. Just their feel for the game; both have a very good feel for the game. She's blocked numerous, numerous shots where she's come out of nowhere - and that's a lot like Andre.
"She might not block them above the rim quite like Andre, but she gets up and comes out of nowhere a lot of times. So that's exciting . . . just her defensive play in general is. She has quick feet in the post and can guard multiple positions - outside and inside players. She's really good at moving her feet, getting deflections."
Andre led the Pac-12 in rebounding last season (11.1 a game) and was third nationally. He also tied for the conference lead in blocked shots (1.8 a game) and averaged 11.6 points a game. He was the only Pac-12 player to average a double-double.
Arielle can see glimpses of Andre's game in her own, but defers to her big brother in the board work. "He has a better knack for the ball in rebounding," she said. "But I can definitely rebound as well. He might be a tad bit better, but I will get the knack."
She also sees a shared unselfishness in their games: "We kind of look for others before we look for ourselves . . . I think that's a positive. But we're both slashers."
The difference, though, she added with a laugh is Andre "finishes with a dunk, I finish with a layup . . . but for the most part, I guess we like to do the dirty work and then clean it up."
Lappe missed having that cleaning service last season as the Buffs began Pac-12 play. As a high school senior, Arielle averaged 18.2 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, three steals and two blocks per game. North Carolina and South Carolina chased her, but CU caught her - and it wasn't because Andre already was on the Boulder scene. "It was a bonus, though," Arielle said.
Her rehab has gone well, bringing her back to "about 95 percent" of where she needs to be when the Buffs open the season on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 11 against Idaho at the Coors Events Center. "I'm still trying to work on getting some of my quickness back. I lost that."
But she's retained enough of her overall athleticism and feel for the game to impress Lappe, the CU staff and the Buffs. During the first week of practice, said Lappe, "She struggled a little because she hasn't played in over a year . . . it took a while for her to get into flow of drills and five-on-five play. It seemed like everything was going 100 miles an hour in her head. But this week we're already seeing that start to slow down a little. She's starting to get back into the flow. That just shows her athleticism and ability to do that so quickly."
Added Brittany Wilson: "It's excellent to have her back. She's so very versatile. She's going to get a lot of mismatches on whether she's at the 'three' or the 'four.' She can drive, she can shoot. It adds a whole different twist to our game now."
Lappe is eager to work Arielle into the Buffs' lineup to relieve some of her other players from playing out of position. At 6-2, senior Meagan Malcolm-Peck has an inch on Arielle, but she "has played most of her life on the outside," Lappe said. "Putting her on the low post is different for her. But she's had to play some 'four' and she's more of a guard. She's tall, but she doesn't bring the length that Arielle does. And Arielle has played most of her life on the block, so she has a good feel down there."
But Roberson concedes that getting all the way back will take time. "My post moves are not as fast as they used to be," she said. "I'm relearning how to maneuver around bigger players. But the timing is going to come. For the most part, I'm pleased with where I am but I'm not content."
Arielle expects her parents to be in town for the CU women's opener as well as the men's on Friday night, Nov. 9 against Wofford. "I know that's going to be a great experience," she said. "I'm really looking forward to it. I can see it, I can taste it . . . I'm just really ready and excited for it to come. It all feels so good."