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When basketball ends, Spartans' Roe preparing for next act

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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When the message came via Facebook around 11 p.m. one night last month, Delvon Roe took one glance and thought it was a joke.

"Hello, this is Danny Mooney, director of AWOL. We are shooting a film here in Michigan beginning next week. Saw you on TV acting in As You Like It and thought you would be great for the role of Isaac. Unfortunately, the casting process is going super fast. I will need to hear from you early tomorrow morning so we can get you to Ann Arbor to read some sides. Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks."

I mean, here was Roe, just 18 months or so into his so-called acting career, his credits consisting of the part of Charles the Wrestler in the performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It at Michigan State.

This had to be one of his teammates just messing with him.

A former high-school hoops hot shot, Delvon Roe could be a Hollywood star on the rise. (Photo provided by Delvon Roe)  
A former high-school hoops hot shot, Delvon Roe could be a Hollywood star on the rise. (Photo provided by Delvon Roe)    
Instead, Roe was behind the wheel 12 hours later en route to Ann Arbor, practicing lines for an audition that would wind up landing him the part of Isaac, a former football player in an independent film called AWOL.

"I didn't think I had any shot of getting the part," admitted Roe, Michigan State's oft-injured 6-foot-8, 230-pound senior forward. "The other guy who auditioned was the big guy from The Blind Side."

Roe was on the set just days later with his own trailer, being informed he would earn a paycheck of $20,000.

"It's crazy," the 21-year-old Roe said. "The whole thing is crazy. I thought I was doing it for free -- and was going to do it for free."

What is nuts is Roe's career path. Few remember this was a kid who was pegged as a one-and-done player at Michigan State, a McDonald's All-American lock who was dominant before the knee issues that have plagued him since his senior year of high school.

"He had a shot at the NBA. There's a reason it came down to us and North Carolina," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "He had the talent, and basketball was his life. He was a junkie -- and wasn't just a guy who talked the talk, either. He walked the [walk]. He lived, breathed and slept basketball."

Roe came into school as a criminal justice major who, like just about every other big-time high school player, had aspirations of playing in the NBA.

Those dreams, after numerous knee injuries, are basically gone now.

"I've come to realize that I probably won't play in the NBA, but I'm always going to keep fighting for that chance," said Roe, who averaged 6.1 points and 5.0 rebounds last season.

Roe was required to take two theater classes. One of his tutors told him he should pursue acting and recommended he change his major.

"I was wary of the perception of a theater major," Roe said. "It just wouldn't flow with basketball."

But Roe made the move entering his junior year and got the part in As You Like It.

Then came the offer to audition for AWOL, a film that also features up-and-coming actresses and actors Aimee Teegarden, Teresa Palmer, Austin Stowell and Liam Hemsworth.

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Roe had spoken to Michigan State coach Tom Izzo about the audition, but neither figured he had much of a shot at landing the gig.

Then Roe got the part and had to approach Izzo, regarded as one of the most tireless workers in the coaching profession, with the fact that he wanted to invest a month or so to film the movie.

He was nervous.

"If it had been anyone else, I'm not sure I would have let them do it," Izzo said. "But you have to factor in that it was Delvon, what type of kid he is and everything he's gone through."

Simply put, Roe is basically a shell of himself.

But Izzo was starting to see sparks of the old Roe this earlier this summer, the first offseason he was actually able to play without restriction since he arrived in East Lansing. Izzo raved about Roe's improved shot while watching him work Michigan State camps.

Then came the severely sprained ankle, a third-degree sprain suffered in camp that has put Roe on the shelf for the past seven weeks.

"He had an opportunity and I had to make a decision," Izzo said when Roe approached him about the film. "If he wasn't hurt, I'm not sure I'd have done it, either."

"His first love is basketball," Izzo added. "People have the perception that he's more interested in being an actor than in basketball. That's not the case."

Said Roe: "This is something I want to do when basketball is over. Basketball is still my No. 1 goal, but one day the ball will stop bouncing and you need to have a backup plan. I'm trying to set up my backup plan now."

Roe finishes filming next week, but his schedule over the past month or so has been beyond hectic. A normal day will have him working out at 7 a.m., then rehab for his ankle, class, tutor, lunch and then on the set -- often from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m.

"Honestly, he's a natural," said Palmer, the 25-year-old Australian who was recently in I Am Number Four. "It comes so easy to him that it almost looks effortless. He's eager to learn and has a great attitude.

"He could have a great career as an actor if he applies himself. He has a great shot -- probably as far as he wants to take it."

There are more opportunities on the table.

What Roe has yet to inform Izzo of is that there are already two more options. He has been approached for the part of the Talking Tree in the movie The Oz and was also asked to audition for the lead role in a basketball movie called Game Time, a film that hits home since it's about a potential NBA player who hurts his knee in college.

Roe will also meet with Creative Artists Agency, which represents George Clooney, Brad Pitt and plenty of other stars, later this month to help select an agent.

"I haven't told him [Izzo] yet," said Roe, who may not be able to do either film depending on whether it conflicts with basketball. "I'm nervous to tell him because my main focus is basketball. It's not supposed to be my acting career."

But Izzo is understanding -- especially when it comes to Roe.

"Not many guys of his caliber have dealt with the kind of chips he's been dealt," Izzo said. "I've made a choice that this kid matters. He's always felt like he's let us down -- and I'm not going to let him down."

Soon Roe will turn his focus to his final season at Michigan State, one that will likely determine his short-term future.

"I know I'm not the player I was, but I still think I could have a great year," Roe said. "If I do, I'd like to keep playing ball. If something happens, it might be time to think about something else."

Like moving to Hollywood.

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