It is nearing the end of another season, and the Milwaukee Bucks' Fred Roberts is feeling it. There was a head cold and ear infection that bothered him for two weeks right after the New Year. That was followed by a hyperextended knee. Though mostly recovered, Roberts says he can still tell the knee is a little weak.
He can also tell he's played in 69 games since last November."Some weeks," says Roberts, "I feel like I can play another 10 years. Other times, I feel like I could quit tomorrow."
It's likely Roberts will choose neither. In his eighth NBA season, the 30-year-old forward continues doing what he's always done: a rebound here, a steal there, a breakaway shot, a block. Since entering the NBA in 1983, his job has been to take care of the odds and ends of a basketball game.
After an All-America career at Bingham High in Riverton, Roberts moved on to BYU, where he spent most of his time playing in the considerable shadow of Danny Ainge.
But in 1982, after Ainge had moved on to his short-lived career in pro baseball, Roberts was finally the top man.
Curiously, Roberts didn't have as good a senior year as expected. His scoring average droped from 18.8 to 15.5, his rebounding from 8.0 to 7.2. Worse yet, his shooting dropped off dramatically, from the 58 percent he made as a junior to only 48 percent as a senior.
"If I had anything to do over again, I think I'd have a better senior year in college. That was very disappointing for me," he says.
"To me, I thought Fred did a good job for us," says BYU Coach Roger Reid, who was an assistant when Roberts played in college. "But being the competitior that he is, I think he may have put some unnecessary pressure on himself."
Aside from the pressure, Roberts was playing minus the type of supporting cast he had as a junior. Guards Steve Craig and Danny Ainge had moved on. "We were asking Fred to score, rebound and carry the load. Also, teams were now able to double- and triple-team him," continues Reid.
Following his departure from college, Roberts began a period when he - and his name - were traveling around like a virus. Roberts was drafted in the second round by the Bucks in 1982, the 27th pick overall, but ended up spending his first year out of college playing in Italy. Milwaukee traded his draft rights to New Jersey, who traded the rights to San Antonio before he so much as got a glimpse at the turnpike.
"I always thought he'd play in the NBA, though I didn't know how long," says Reid. "He was a 6-10 who could score, rebound and he could run. For a kid to be able to do those things, you know he's got a shot in the NBA."
Roberts made it back to the United States and played in 79 games with the Spurs in 1983-84, launching a steady NBA career, but one that would take him to four different teams.
He spent more than a season with the Jazz (1984-85 and 85-86), appearing in 58 games but playing only 469 minutes in the '85-86 year. That September he was packing off to Boston, where he stayed two seasons and more than doubled his playing time.
But Roberts' suitcase days weren't over yet. The Celtics left him unprotected in the expansion draft, and he was selected by Miami in June 1988. When the Heat traded him to Milwaukee before he had played a game there, he had finally come full circle, back to the team had originally drafted him. He has been with the Bucks for almost three seasons.
Roberts may have finally found a permanent home. The Bucks offered him a three-year contract extension in September, 1989, guaranteeing his income through the 1992-93 season. He has become a popular figure in Milwaukee, where he makes numerous summer appearances.
This year, Roberts has started every game for the Bucks, averaging 9.4 points and 3.3 rebounds. Some nights, he'll wind up with 18 points, and others, four or five. It all depends, he says, on the type of game and whether it is a night the coaches decide to run an offense with him in mind.
With injuries and a slight slump troubling the Bucks in January, Roberts was called upon by Coach Del Harris to take a more significant offensive role. He responded with some of his better play of the year, averaging almost 18 points and five rebounds in one three-game span.
He is quick to point out, though, that there are others on the team who are the big-time scorers. Roberts scores points when told to score points.
The rest of the time his job consists of what he calls "picking up a lot of loose change."
If the game becomes an open-court affair, as it did with the Jazz when the teams met last Nov. 19, Roberts is at his best. In that game he totaled 19 points (6 of 7 from the field) and 4 rebounds, sparking the Bucks to a 114-104 win.
The Bucks, 42-27, have already clinched their 12th consecutive winning season and their 12th straight playoff berth. Monday at 7:30 in the Salt Palace, they will be hosted by the Jazz.
If not the most visible player on the Bucks, Roberts has found his niche. He'll be the guy taking notes when the coach talks. "You have superstars, and those guys are going to play," says Roberts. "Then there are guys the next level down, and there are a lot of people on that level. Once a guy can figure that out you can be steady and find spots on a team - work hard, and do the right things on and off the court - he can find a place in the league."
He continues, "I imagine there have been some people who have not thought I would have been able to hang in like I have," he says. "But I've just tried to plug along, tried to work hard and find a place for myself on the team. I always pictured myself being able to play until I can't get up and down the floor anymore."
PREGAME NOTES: Jazz forward Andy Toolson has been bothered by the flu, Thurl Bailey by a shoulder injury and Karl Malone with a sore hand, but none is reported to be seriously hampered . . . The Bucks are rolling along at 2-0 on their final western swing of the year, having beaten the Lakers and Denver in order. They were 0-5 in an earlier swing out West . . . Roberts had 12 points in a Saturday night overtime win over Denver . . . Karl Malone has now scored over 12,000 career points . . . John Stockton needs 32 assists to reach 1,000 for the season.