By: Sean Merriman
I was convinced he was going to be the next Jason Richardson. And oddly enough, as strange as this may sound to Spartan basketball fans, I still am convinced of that, it may just take a while longer for him to get there.
I remember watching Branden Dawson play in the McDonald’s All-American game on that Wednesday evening in late March. Driving, slashing, scoring, the 6-foot-6 kid from Gary, IN. could do it all.
Dawson scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds in limited time during that game. He glided to the rim, scoring almost at ease on the offensive end, while wrestling rebounds away from the likes of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Chane Behanan and James Michael MacAdoo on the defensive end.
“Now I get it,” I said to myself at the time.
Dawson looked like the perfect Tom Izzo recruit.
He would go on to enroll at MSU that summer and started the 2011-12 season off with a bang, averaging 11 points and five rebounds over his first three games in a Spartan uniform.
Those numbers stayed pretty consistent for the most part throughout the regular season. He posted three double-doubles in his freshman campaign, his last being against Purdue, a school that was in an ongoing, heated recruiting battle with Michigan State for Dawson’s services.
Then on a late Sunday afternoon, in the Spartans’ regular season finale against Ohio State, everything changed for Dawson in an instant.
Midway through the first half, Dawson went up for a rebound, his knee buckled and he fell to the ground in pain. It was later announced as a torn ACL, an injury that can often keep players out for up to 9-12 months. An injury, that can often alter a career.
However, Dawson made an astonishing recovery and was back on the court within five months of the injury, a feat that not even his fellow teammates could believe to be true.
Not only was Dawson expected to be ready in time for the Spartans 2012 opener, but he was looked at to be a focal point of a young, but talented Michigan State team.
Just like the previous year, Dawson started out his sophomore campaign on a high note. He scored in double-digits in six of his first seven games back from that unforeseen ACL tear, including a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double in the season opener against Connecticut.
The Spartans had their star forward back, and everything was all good in East Lansing for the time being.
Dawson continued to excel throughout the non-conference schedule and even into the Big Ten season, showing no ill effects of that surgically repaired knee. He put up career-highs in both points (18) and rebounds (13) against Wisconsin in a late-January game, and then topped it with a 20-point outburst two weeks later against Purdue.
However, after that, everything began to take a turn once again for Dawson.
The explosiveness that he showed early on in the season began to deteriorate each and every game after that. The ability to drive to the basket and create his own shot just simply wasn’t there anymore as the season wound down, and the pain began to take its tole.
After scoring in double-digits in 16 of the Spartans’ first 25 games last season, he failed to do so once throughout the team’s final 11 games of the season. He recorded eight-or-more rebounds in nine of the Spartans’ first 22 games of the year, and didn’t accomplish the feat again after the month of January.
Just as the Spartans’ season ended in disappointment after a Sweet 16 loss to Duke, so did Dawson’s season.
That brings us to where we are today, as Dawson faces the most important offseason of his young, basketball career.
If Dawson is able to gain back that explosiveness, develop his mid-range jump shot, and get that knee back to full strength, then this team will have a real shot at a national championship.
Along with point guard Keith Appling, shooting guard Gary Harris and power forward Adreian Payne, all of whom made the decision to come back for the 2012-13 season, as oppose to declaring early for the NBA Draft, this group could very-well be the most talented core to play in East Lansing in over a decade.
But remember, there is a difference between being a talented college basketball team, and being a great college basketball team.
How far Michigan State will go next season could very-well be up to how hard Dawson dedicates himself this offseason.
It’s up to him- his decision.
A decision that could give him a chance to define his legacy at MSU. A decision that could give his team a chance to define their legacy as well.
By: Sean Merriman
When any talented underclassman chooses to forgo the NBA Draft and return to school, fans begin to look ahead and build expectations for the upcoming season.
With that said, let’s put Michigan State’s expectations for the 2013-14 season into proper perspective, now that Adreian Payne has announced he will be returning for his senior year.
They are huge.
Most major publications have Michigan State listed as the Big Ten favorite and a consensus top-five team in the nation heading into next year.
Payne’s return gives the Spartans four returning starters and a bench that should stretch as deep as any in the nation.
But most important, Payne’s return gives this team another senior leader, along with Keith Appling. And if Michigan State fans know anything about leaders, they have been vitally important to this program’s success under head coach Tom Izzo.
Getting Payne back means Izzo will have a real shot at a second national championship. It also means that Izzo can keep the streak alive of sending every four-year player to a Final Four.
Payne and Appling came in as freshmen back in 2010, one year removed from back-to-back Final Four appearances by the Spartans. Both were ranked as consensus top-50 recruits in the nation, one a McDonald’s All-American, the other the runner-up for Mr. Basketball in the state of Ohio, losing the honor to a guy by the name of Jared Sullinger. Both were expected to lead the Spartans back to another Final Four shortly after their arrival.
Appling worked his way into the rotation during his freshman year, serving as a defensive specialist, playing along side Kalin Lucas. He earned the starting point guard gig during his sophomore campaign and has spent the past two years learning to develop and make a proper transformation into that role.
This past year was Appling’s best, averaging a team-best 13.4 points per game, to go along with 3.3 assists per contest. He hit a shooting slump late in the regular season, but rebounded with a nice Big Ten and NCAA Tournament showing.
Much the same can be said of Payne. He looked like a future first-round draft pick out there at times for MSU this season, snatching down rebounds and extending his offensive game even beyond the 3-point stripe. Payne averaged career highs in points (10.5), rebounds (7.6) and blocks (1.3). He was a staple on Sportscenter Top-10 plays with his acrobatic dunks down in the paint.
The two friends, along with freshman Gary Harris, all could have made the choice to leave early and enter the NBA, Harris and Payne as likely first round selections, Appling a mid-to-late second round pick.
But all three chose to stay.
All three wanted to keep that streak alive of sending every four-year player under Izzo to a Final Four.
In sports, there is a strong difference between an assumption and a realistic expectation.
College basketball analysts across the country can assume that Michigan State is going to make a Final Four run in 2014.
But it’s up to the players themselves to turn that assumption into a reality.
With Payne, Harris and Appling in the mix, along with Izzo on the sidelines, you have to like their chances.
Former Michigan State Spartan Garrick Sherman was never known as a physical player who liked to mix it up, despite his 6-foot-10, 250 pound frame. Take a look at this fight that broke out last night in the Notre Dame vs. St. Johns game and how Sherman (far left) just walked away while his teammate got hit in the face. Not to mention, Sherman was the biggest player out on the court, and all other nine players out there were in the mix.
Was this a smart move by Sherman to avoid potentially being ejected from the game, or was this a poor move to leave his teammates hanging while he turned his back and walked away?
When Michigan State missed out on the Jabari Parker sweepstakes, Tom Izzo and the Spartans’ coaching staff shifted their focus towards landing another skilled forward in the 2013 Class– Findlay Prep standout, Gavin Schilling.
Here is a youtube highlight tape of Schilling during his days at Chicago De La Salle.
You can tell from watching this video that this kid is still raw, but has a ton of athletic ability and great potential for the future.
Schilling is currently deciding between MSU, Minnesota, Villanova and UCLA.
Watch this video from last night’s MSU-Indiana game, and focus in on Cody Zeller’s right hand when he pulls Derrick Nix’s wrist into his own groin. This is one of the most bizarre moves I have ever seen in a college basketball game, or any game for that matter. But the video dosen’t lie. This was a dirty play on Zeller’s behalf, not Derrick Nix.
It’s a rite of passage; the passing of the torch, or the Paul Bunyan Trophy for matter….
I remember watching Michigan and Michigan State play that Saturday afternoon in March of 2000. I was 14 years old at the time, a young kid still trying to grasp a true understanding of what this in-state rivalry was all about.
I remember watching Mateen Cleaves, slashing, passing, scoring and looking exactly like the type of player that was capable of leading his team to a National Championship.
Cleaves was outstanding that day, leading the Spartans to a commanding 51-point win over the rival-Wolverines.
I remember as the final minutes trickled down on the clock and as Tom Izzo brought in the bench players to close out the game, Cleaves jogged to center court, dropped to his knees, and kissed the giant Spartan “S” on the Breslin Center court. It was a moment that I would never forget, and I can say with confidence that I am not alone in making that statement.
“Oh, I get it,” I said to myself at the time.
This is what the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry was all about.
The rivalry was just as compelling leading up to Tuesday night’s game, and that same feeling came back to me as the final buzzer sounded and the scoreboard read 75-52 in favor of the Spartans.
It was a feeling of gratification. A feeling of self-satisfaction and pride, knowing that the school I spent five years of my life at, a school I have cheered for since I first picked up a basketball as a toddler, gave so much back to me on this one night– This time, in the form of a 23-point win over our in-state rival.
I think I speak on behalf of many MSU fans when I say, we don’t necessarily hate the University of Michigan. We hate those who obnoxiously cheer for the University and refer to MSU as their “little brother,” despite sporting a Western Michigan or Central Michigan diploma on their bedroom wall.
That right there is where that sense of pride comes into play. That feeling I felt on Tuesday night as a 27-year-old working adult, and that same feeling I felt back in March of 2000 as a 14-year-old grade school student, finally grasping a true understanding of what this rivalry really meant.
Of course, Michigan State fans know and understand that this rivalry is not as big as the U-M, Ohio State rivalry game—it never will be. But don’t fool yourself to believe that U-M fans don’t care about and embrace this in-state rivalry.
In my opinion, there are three main aspects that fuel a rivalry. They are 1. The schools proximity to one another, 2. The history between those two schools and how close the games have been between those two schools, and 3. Fan interaction.
Michigan State and the University of Michigan are separated by approximately 60 miles. A simple drive down I-96, followed by a straight shot down US-23, and you’re officially in Wolverine country.
As far as how close the games have been as of late, over the past five seasons, MSU holds a narrow 5-3 lead on Michigan in basketball, while the Wolverines hold a slim 6-4 margin over the Spartans in football over the past decade.
And then of course there is fan interaction. From Mike Hart calling MSU their “little brother” in 2007, to Mark Dantonio setting up the count-down-to-U-M clock in the team’s practice facility and then running off four consecutive wins over the Wolverines, we have seen it all when it comes to this in-state clash.
Another stepping stone was added to this rivalry Tuesday night. A blowout win for the Spartans will only help this plot thicken as the teams are expected to meet again in the first weekend in March.
You can’t judge a season by one night, and you certainly can’t judge a rivalry by one game, either. You can bet that the rematch in Ann Arbor will be a lot closer than Tuesday night’s game between these two storied programs.
But for now, and until the next game is played, this in-state rivalry belongs to the guys in Green and White.
The same MSU greats who kissed the floor back in March of 2000 were at Tuesday night’s game in East Lansing, including Mateen Cleaves.
It’s a night that all of them will soon not forget, and the same should go for all of you MSU fans as well. Embrace this matchup of in-state schools and think all the way back to that day in March, 2000.
“This is what a rivalry is all about,” I said to myself that day.
At the time, I wasn’t sure if I was right in making that statement. Now, 13 years later, I know that I couldn’t have been more spot on.
Brandon Wood has been active on twitter this past month, often tweeting ab0ut his ongoing preparation for this summer’s NBA Draft.
That dream seems to be quickly fading as Wood was arrested and released early Sunday morning after being charged with criminal trespass, battery and simple assault for his involvement in an altercation a Chicago-area home.
If you thought you were shocked by Wood’s idiotic actions initially, read this article recently released by the Detroit Free Press.
I would love to gauge MSU fan’s reaction to this story.
College basketball will always hold a special place in my heart.
If you think about it, what isn’t there to love?
The most popular arenas are always packed to the brim for big games.
The biggest and best programs don’t necessarily always end up on top.
And most importantly, there isn’t a better time of year than that opening week of the NCAA Tournament, where every team has a chance to do something special. Unlike the BCS, college basketball’s postseason format is perfect– No arguments there.
But, if there is one thing that needs to change in college basketball, that is the age limit for players to be able to declare for the NBA Draft.
This idea of players coming to college for one year and then immediately bolting to the NBA is getting to the boiling point. If you are 18 years old, why should you be required to go to college for one year if it’s already set in your mind that you are going to apply for the NBA Draft the following year?
When you are 18 years old you can enlist in the Army, right? So, I ask, why not the NBA?
Fortunately, this unpopular rule has not had as big of an effect on the Big Ten as it has with other conferences.
As of today, Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger and Illinois center Meyers Leonard are the only players from the Big Ten conference who have applied early for the NBA Draft.
In just the past week, Michigan’s Trey Burke, Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas and Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Christian Wofford all announced they will be returning next season. The most noticeable part about this is that all four of those players would likely have been drafted and at least two of them were guaranteed first round selections, had they declared early.
As a Michigan State fan, as much as it may sting to know that all three of those teams, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State, will be better next season because of these guys returning to school, in all honesty, it is good for college basketball and good for the Big Ten Conference.
Of course, it is early on in the year, and anything can change from now until the start of the 2012 college basketball season. But, all indications point to the Big Ten being loaded with talent once again next season. In fact, many preseason polls have ranked three Big Ten teams, Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana, all in the national top-10. Several of those polls have the Hoosiers ranked as the preseason No. 1 team in the nation.
As I watched Kentucky cruise through the NCAA Tournament this season on their way to another National Championship, I thought to myself, do these Kentucky fans even know who these players are? After all, how much can you learn and get to know about a player in a period of five months?
Isn’t part of the beauty in college basketball the thought of getting to know your favorite players and watching them blossom over a four-year period?
Look at guys like Draymond Green, Jordan Taylor and Robbie Hummel. All three players could have bolted for the NBA earlier in their college careers, but all made the choice to come back for their senior seasons, and all proved to be good choices.
Those of us who don’t have ties to Michigan, Ohio State and Indiana can be upset about the fact that those four players made the choice to come back to school next season because that will just make it more difficult for opposing Big Ten schools. But in reality, we should be glad that these kids made that choice, because in return, it gives the Big Ten conference a good name. It shows that the Big ten Conference stands for everything that is right with college basketball.
Hopefully, one day soon, we will be able to say that about every conference in college basketball.
Oh boy, where do I even begin with this…
For someone who has taken a real liking to twitter over the past year or so, this is absolutely fascinating to me. On the other hand, for someone who doesn’t particularly like or even use twitter, I could see how this is beyond dumb and unappealing to say the least.
In case you haven’t heard this story yet, here is how it all played out.
First, U of M guard Trey Burke, who is in the midst of making a decision of whether or not to make the jump to the NBA after his freshman season, tweeted “EVERYONE got something to say… smh I thought this was my life!”
Shortly after that tweet, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis tweeted at Burke: “My advice, believe in YOUR heart & mind, everything else is interference. People u seek out is better than those that seek u.”
Then, U of M athletic director Dave Brandon decided to add his two cents to the equation with this tweet:
“Mark Hollis had good intentions-but made a mistake. Not appropriate to tweet one of our student-athletes. Won’t happen again. End of story.”
First thing is first here– Burke wouldn’t have made that tweet unless he wanted some time of response. Of course, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that because that is exactly what twitter is- a social media platform used for people to get their opinions and thoughts out there in the open, and in return, welcome any reaction to those tweets. But in Burke’s case here, he is clearly giving off a sense of frustration.
But the question with Burke’s tweet has to be– If you are frustrated with “EVERYONE” having something to say, then why are you posting that on twitter, a social media network where EVERYONE has something to say? If you want people to stop commenting on your decision of whether or not to make the jump to the NBA, I really couldn’t think of a worse solution then to post it on twitter.
As far as Hollis’ reply to Burke’s tweet goes, we can look at it one of two ways.
The first way to look at it is to believe that Hollis simply wanted to provide some advice to a kid who he knows and follows on a personal level. Trey Burke is no stranger to Mark Hollis and vice versa. This isn’t a small school athletic director giving unwarranted advice to Michael Jordan. This is a well-known and respected athletic director at a major college program giving advice to an in-state kid who he personally knows, about an important decision, that the kid is clearly looking for guidance on.
Hollis’ tweet was the farthest thing from disrespectful, but instead, a genuine and sincere attempt of support and help. In no way, was this offensive in any matter.
Now, of course there is the other side to this response, and that is that Hollis had to have some idea that this tweet would set off Michigan fans in the wrong way. When this story first broke, message boards were filled with reader comments from U of M supporters, saying that this was an NCAA violation, when indeed, that violation speaks only to recruits, which Trey Burke is not.
Reports have been confirmed that MSU’s compliance office confirmed with the Big Ten that this was not a violation in any way, shape or form.
Now, was there a better way for Hollis to go about relaying that message to Trey Burke?
Without a question. A simple email or phone call ( I believe that is allowed) would have been a much more sensible form of communication as oppose to a social network website such as twitter, where anyone and everyone can see your interactions.
So, can I blame a U of M fan for making that argument? Absolutely not.
Can I blame a U of M fan for trying to make an argument that Hollis violated rule 220.127.116.11, or whatever it is? Don’t even get me started with that because I could keep writing forever, and I don’t think that anyone reading this has that type of time or desire to read an ongoing rant.
Rules are rules, and it has been confirmed that Hollis didn’t break any type of rule.
But what happened after Hollis’ tweet, is where this whole thing really gets interesting.
University of Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon replied to the tweet, saying– “Mark Hollis had good intentions-but made a mistake. Not appropriate to tweet one of our student-athletes. Won’t happen again. End of story.”
Let me start by asking, what was the intention behind Brandon crafting this tweet?
It wasn’t to give any type of advice or support, like Hollis’ tweet clearly was.
It wasn’t to set any type of example, because his final words in the tweet “Won’t happen again. End of story” is clearly a direct shot at Hollis, who reportedly spoke with Brandon about the incident and cleared the air, before Brandon went ahead and posted this tweet.
Lansing State Journal beat reporter Joe Rexrode brought up a valuable point at the end of his blog post about the incident. He says “if we completely reversed this situation and Brandon tweeted some seemingly innocuous advice to Jerel Worthy about his decision back in December, some MSU fans would have had 140-character conniptions for days.”
There is no denying that, that’s for darn sure.
But would Mark Hollis feel the need to reply to that by taking a direct shot at Brandon?
If anything, this whole twitter fiasco is just adding fuel to a rivalry that has picked up a ton of momentum over the past couple of years with Michigan’s resurgence in basketball and Michigan State in football.
Some may think that this whole thing is both idiotic and meaningless, but in reality, as idiotic and meaningless as it may be, this is the world we live in, and these are the stories that make the headlines.
If you ask me to never write on this topic again, I’m sorry…
I can’t say it “wont happen again. End of story.”