With a re-loaded backcourt, Michigan State is determined for a comeback year.
by Patrick Hayes / @patrick_hayes
Michigan State’s basketball season a year ago was a well-documented mess of frustrations and distractions, from Tom Izzo’s offseason flirtations with the Cleveland Cavaliers to disciplinary problems that led to subsequent defections of guards Chris Allen and Korie Lucious to the inconsistent performance of senior Durrell Summers and culminating with a .500 Big Ten record, falling out of the Top-25 and losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after being ranked No. 2 in the country in the preseason poll.
But with Allen, Lucious and big man Garrick Sherman all transferring as well as Summers, Kalin Lucas and Mike Kebler graduating, Michigan State will have a very different look next season, and based on the performances of some key players in the Moneyball Summer Pro-Am and Lansing Sexton High School, the Spartans could be poised for a bounce back season.
Michigan State will be relying on contributors to emerge from a crop of new guards that includes incoming freshmen Branden Dawson, Brandan Kearney and Dwaun Anderson (all wing players) as well as Travis Trice, a point guard. The team also added Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood, a combo guard who graduated from Valpo but still had a year of eligibility remaining, which he can use at another school under NCAA rules if he’s pursuing a graduate course of study not offered at his previous school.
Those players will vie for time with incumbent Keith Appling, who played with Team USA’s U19 team this summer.
The key in the group of newcomers is Dawson. A McDonald’s All-American, Dawson is 6-6 with a stronger frame than most college freshmen. He’s put up big numbers in the Lansing Pro-Am, playing against a mix of other Division I college players as well as professional players.
“I think I can come in and make a good impact, but so can the other freshmen and so can Brandon Wood,” Dawson said. “We’re just gonna come in here, play hard and the sky’s the limit.”
Dawson’s readiness to contribute immediately could help make up for the loss of length and athleticism on the wing that Summers brought. But the recruiting class also includes two lesser known but still accomplished wing prospects in Kearney and Anderson. Kearney, the cousin of NFL star Braylon Edwards, helped lead his Detroit Southeastern team to the Class A state championship game. Anderson, who played at Sutton’s Bay (a small high school in northern Michigan), gained attention as the most athletic player in his class in Michigan and was a surprise Mr. Basketball winner as a senior. Along with Appling and Nix, Anderson will be one of three Michigan Mr. Basketball’s on the roster.
“We’re all going to play hard,” Anderson said. “We (the incoming freshmen) like to go hard at each other, play defense. I think we’re going to bring a lot of energy right off the bat and a lot of hustle.”
Anderson, because of his ability and the fact that he played at a small school, was known for his scoring in high school. In the Pro-Am, he’s shown that he can defer and be a facilitator, something that will be important as he’ll have to prepare to be a role player early on in his Michigan State career if he’s going to earn minutes.
“Right off the bat, they’ll (the fans) see my athleticism and my hustle,” Anderson said. “Those are the two things that I always like to get into just when I’m getting used to the environment.”
Nix, a center, is excited for the potential the revamped backcourt brings to the team.
“All our guards can play,” he said. “Brandan Kearney, Travis Trice, Branden Dawson, all those guys were good recruits. Then we’ve got Brandon Wood coming in and he gave us 30 when we played him my freshman year, so he’s pretty good. We should be OK. I think we should do better than last year.”
Nix himself is hoping his junior year proves to be the year he becomes a regular rotation player and contributor. He’s worked his first two years at Michigan State to lose weight and then keep it off. Then he was left behind when the team went to the Maui Shootout last season. Now, though, with Sherman transferring and with Michigan State needing more production out of its frontcourt next to seniors Draymond Green and Delvon Roe, Nix believes he can emerge this season.
“Well I guess this should be my coming out year,” Nix said. “Last year was pretty tough for me. I had some off the court issues going on that weren’t necessary. I’m looking to do good things this year and win a national championship.”
In the Pro-Am league, Nix has shown off the intriguing skill set that made him a highly recruited high school player in the first place. For his size, he’s incredibly nimble. He’s able to establish post position and, although unorthodox, has an array of moves to get to the basket. He’s working on finishing those plays, but going against other talented big men, particularly MSU teammate Adriean Payne, in the summer league has helped him fine tune his game.
“For me, playing against Adriean Payne, other big guys, it’s getting me prepared because I feel like I won’t face many people his size during the season,” Nix said. “Then playing against some of these quick guards (in the Pro-Am), I feel like it just helps my overall game.”
All of MSU’s players believe that the team is capable of turning around its fortunes from last season.
“We have to come in with a good mindset,” Dawson said. “Delvon Roe, Draymond Green, the seniors are gonna take the lead. This year, we’re coming back with a good mindset and we’re focused this year.”