Spartan Basketball Commemorative Issue
The Greater Lansing Sports Magazine
Easy Being Green
April & May 2009 Special Edition $3.00 U.S.
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16 bumpy roads & expressways
Spartans Took A Tricky Route To Reach Downtown Detroit BY ERNIE BOONE
20 IZZO, WALTON LEAD THE WAY
Coach, Senior Guard Push Spartans To Be All They Can Be BY JACK EBLING
30 LUCAS LEARNS, LEADS CHAMPS
Point Guard Sparkles As League MVP, But Is Far From Done BY DAVID BIRKETT
36 TEN SHINING MOMENTS
The 2008-09 Spartans Left Indelible Memories BY PAVEL KOFMAN
40 SEASON ENDS, SUCCESS DOES NOT Spartans Could Be Back In Final Four Next Year In Indy BY JACK EBLING
Green And Growing Basketball Brings Spartans, Non-Spartans Together BY JACK EBLING
A Week Of MSU-phoria
47 Fans Get Extra
Spartans Provide NCAA Thrills And Therapy
A Healthy Dose Of Heroism
Spartans Overcome Injuries, Illnesses To Triumph By DR. JEFFREY KOVAN
Green Power In Motown
Final Four Weekend Was A Detroit Delight
By DR. JOHN BRACCIO
By FRED HEUMANN
Triumphs In Trying Times
Pride, Persistence Create A Season To Remember By MARK HOLLIS
By Doug Warren
48 From China
To Championship By Zach Ebling
50 Other Champs
Invade Breslin By Brendan Dwyer
52 MSU Women
Make History By Lisa Byington
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 3
SPORT CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Zach Ebling A seven-letter winner and track standout at Okemos High from 2001-04, Zach played two seasons of football at Kalamazoo College. After back-to-back leg injuries ended that career, he defied the odds and completed the Beijing International Marathon a year later. At age 22, he lives in China and conducts international business, teaches English, acts, models and runs. He’s SPORT’s Asia correspondent.
Ernie Boone Currently the sports editor of the Michigan Bulletin, Ernie began writing sports for the Lansing State Journal in 1964. He has covered Spartan basketball tournament action since 1978. He retired from the state Department of Human Services in 1998 after more than 25 years of service. He is married, lives in Lansing and has four adult children, all graduates of Michigan State.
Pavel Kofman A 2009 graduate of MSU, Pavel was just hired as a producer at WILX-TV, channel 10, in Lansing. He has covered the Spartans for the last four years, including the entire 2009 NCAA Tournament, and has produced “The Jack and Tom Show” on 1320 WILS-AM. He hails from St. Louis, where he grew up on Blues hockey and Cardinals baseball.
The Greater Lansing Sports Magazine
Volume #1 • Issue #8 APRIL & MAY 2009
Publisher NBB Publishing Editor Jack Ebling Assistant EditorS Andy Flanagan Doug Warren Contributing Writers David Birkett Ernie Boone Dr. John Braccio Lisa Byington Brendan Dwyer Jack Ebling Zach Ebling Fred Heumann Mark Hollis Pavel Kofman Dr. Jeffrey Kovan Doug Warren PhotographY MSU Athletic Communications Al Goldis Terri Shaver J. Robin Sumbler MAGAZINE Design & LAYOUT Vision Creative
Fred Heumann A 28-year sportscaster, Fred has spent his entire career in Michigan. Currently the sports director at WLNS-TV, channel 6, in Lansing, he spent 17 years in TV and radio in Detroit and is a multiple award winner, including an Emmy in 1993. Currently a resident of Haslett, Fred is a graduate of Central Michigan, a baseball lover and a fan of the sacrifice bunt.
SPORT, The Greater Lansing Sports Magazine is published monthly by NBB Publishing with offices at 1223 Turner St., Suite 300, Lansing, MI 48906. Postage is paid under USPS Permit #979. Subscriptions: One copy of SPORT, The Greater Lansing Sports Magazine, is mailed complimentary to qualified business addresses in the Greater Lansing metropolitan area. Residential, household, promotional, out-of-area and additional subscriptions are available for $18 per year, half of the shelf price of $3 per issue. Subscribe at: www.SportLansing.com Postmaster: Address changes should be sent to: SPORT Magazine, 1223 Turner St., Suite 300, Lansing, Michigan 48906. 4 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
Printing Millbrook Printing, Co. Mailer Aldinger’s, Inc. Editorial Office 1223 Turner St., Suite 300 Lansing, Michigan 48906 (517) 455-7810 www.SportLansing.com Copyright © 2009 NBB Publishing. All rights reserved.
Making Dreams Come True Spartans Taught Us All To Believe And Achieve BY JACK EBLING
The list of accomplishments was long and impressive for Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. Big Ten basketball regular-season champs by four games, the second-most ever.
“They’re our kids’ heroes,” she said. “They’re their reason to dream.” Their reason to dream… That was it! The lasting impact of the 2008-09 Spartans won’t be measured by triumphs and trophies. Their key contribution was touching our souls.
That was true for kids so young they didn’t know the president’s name but could identify Izzo and for octogenarians who felt just a little younger with each victory. It was a reality for young athletes who said “Maybe I can!” instead of “Why try?” and for struggling workers who faced challenges
Uncrowned kings of the Big 12, Pac-10 and Big East with a combined 7-0 mark. Home of the league’s 2009 Player of the Year and its Coach of the Year/Decade. Ditto for the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and its No. 1 rebounder. Twelve straight NCAA Tournament bids, the fourth-longest streak in the nation. Wins over the reigning champion (twice) and upsets of two region’s No. 1 seeds. Five Final Fours in 11 seasons, with every four-year performer reaching that goal. But leave it to a mom with five youngsters in tow to put it all in perspective. As she sat in Breslin Center the morning after the national championship game, Sue Baylis from Laingsburg took a loving look at her kids and their friends, then said something more important than a 31-7 record ever could.
Jack Ebling SPORT EDITOR
Jack has covered sports and much more as a writer and broadcaster in Mid-Michigan since 1978. A three-time Michigan Sportswriter of the Year, he was a 2006 inductee into the Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame. He has written five books – four on Michigan State and one on the Detroit Tigers – and has contributed more than 125 pieces for national publications. The former English teacher and coach spent nearly a quarter-century as a beat writer and columnist for the Lansing State Journal and won 21 major writing awards. He became a sports radio host in 2002 and branched into news talk in 2006. Currently, he hosts “Ebling and You” weekday afternoons and co-hosts “The Jack and Tom Show” Saturdays on 1320 WILS in Lansing. A two-time graduate of MSU, he has lived in the area for 36 years and has helped to raise two remarkable young adults. 6 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
bigger than Hasheem Thabeet. And it was an undeniable fact for hospital patients and for a city and state that had been given up for dead, if not toe-tagged, amid devastating economic conditions. Maybe that wasn’t the purpose last summer when Travis Walton and Goran Suton spent hundreds of hours shooting 20-foot jump shots. Whatever it was, don’t tell USC and Louisville. Maybe the motivation was selfish for Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers. With a Final Four in Detroit in their sights, perhaps the plan was simply to sucker Kansas and slam UConn. Whatever. The lessons for everyone were simple: Always dream big. Never give up. And don’t try to do it alone. The Spartans began dreaming of a long weekend at Ford Field immediately after their blowout by Memphis in the 2008 Sweet 16. They renewed those vows after a humbling defeat by top-ranked North Carolina last Dec. 3. MSU said no to settling when Suton was sidelined by knee surgery and Raymar Morgan was unrecognizable with pneumonia/
mononucleosis, then a broken nose. It also fought back after back-to-back losses in Breslin to Northwestern and Penn State. The way that happened spoke volumes about the people involved and the program they represented. They pulled together, not apart at the seams, then sacrificed, shared and shifted to reach a common goal. Along the way, the Spartans struck a chord with fans of all ages and allegiances. They appealed to a younger generation and to those who felt younger and regenerated with each win. They brought smiles to the faces of green-blooded fans and to those who never imagined they could be. But here’s the best part. Somewhere on the road to Detroit, a lot of fans decided to give back. Some had done that all along with devotion and donations. Others were caught up in the moment and came along for a magical ride. They were there in Breslin to greet the team after a title-clinching win at Indiana. And remembering MSU’s record in March, they said “Next!” as the Spartans moved through the bracket. Some offered to pay for Digger Phelps’ lobotomy. Others showed up on a Sunday
night to welcome the Midwest Region champs back from Indy. Don’t think Izzo failed to notice the Final Four sendoff three days later. As he and his players waved to supporters standing along the route to I-96, it was Appreciative Fans Day, not April Fools’ Day. Though they stayed in Troy and played in Detroit, the Spartans were the toast of Southeastern Michigan and virtually every city in the state, setting attendance records for a Friday practice, a hotel pep rally and the semifinal and final games. Everyone loves a winner. This affection went far beyond that. One of the most stirring scenes came when MSU crept within 13 points of the Tar Heels in the second half. It was topped moments later when the margin swelled and nearly everyone stayed till the bittersweet end. More dreams were realized than dashed. More games and friends were won than lost. It was easy being green. And it’s always good to dream.
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 7
A Week Of MSU-phoria Spartans Provide NCAA Thrills And Therapy By DR. JOHN BRACCIO
Unemployment at all-time high… Michigan foreclosures soaring… Grads leave at alarming rates… 20% Unemployment in Detroit… U.S. Auto industry on its knees… Government ready to take over… Those were the headlines in Detroit when Tom Izzo’s gallant band of Michigan State basketball players began their 2009 run in the NCAA Tournament. The goal was to reach Ford Field for the Final Four – a dream of Izzo’s since the site was announced. Finally, with wins over athletically blessed USC, defending champ Kansas and overall No. 1 seed Louisville, the drive was alive. A beleaguered state had something to cheer for… and cheer it did! Detroit picked itself up, dusted itself off and said, “Let’s party!” With its battered image, the city’s psyche couldn’t have received a bigger boost. From Menominee to Monroe, nearly everyone joined in a State of Michigan love fest. As a participant, I can say it was wonderful and psychologically uplifting. With his emotions on full display for everyone to see and feel, Izzo said he wanted to take the trip down I-96 because he was a Michigan guy – as were eight of his players. He wanted to represent his school, his state and its biggest city. Showing love and appreciation, Detroit returned the favor. No one will ever forget the euphoria on Saturday, April 4, a sun-splashed day when countless thousands filled Downtown to celebrate together in an often-hostile world. We were psychologically linked at that moment. Then, with a Final Four-record crowd roaring after every rebound and basket, the 8 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
Spartans fought as furiously as Detroiters must to survive. With that passion, they stunned favored Connecticut. The championship game against North Carolina brought a deeper sea of green, with more than 60,000 MSU fans cheering long after the outcome had been decided. They told the nation and the world that while Detroit and Michigan are struggling, we are united. We will fight anyone. And even if we are down, we will be back. As we always have, even before we were the world’s arsenal of democracy in World War II, the people of this state we will work hard, win and take our place among the best in the world. The psychological scoreboard shouted: Go Detroit!… Go State of Michigan!… Go MSU! That relationship needs a bit of explaining. Anyone younger than age 45 can’t remember when the Spartans ruled the state in football on a regular basis. They can’t comprehend the fact that the University of Michigan was less significant in the fall, especially compared to Biggie Munn’s and Duffy Daugherty’s legions. They only know that Detroit and Southeastern Michigan have belonged to the Wolverines since Bo Schembechler arrived 40 years ago.
That didn’t mean that MSU hadn’t had moments. It even had won two national titles in basketball and two more in hockey. But this one was different. Unlike when Magic Johnson celebrated in Salt Lake City and Mateen Cleaves was the toast of Indianapolis, this event was ours to see and savor. More than anything, Detroit needed a bigtime winner it could promote as being part of itself. It found one less than 100 miles away. And that relationship grew more in four days than it had in four decades in some ways. It was the first time that East Lansing and Metro Detroit seemed to be one community. The positive energy is still reverberating. The Spartans and the city needed each other. The result was a symbiotic relationship. Each fed on the other and became stronger. Michigan State was almost universally loved, speeding up Mark Dantonio’s claim that the state is getting greener. Detroit adopted Izzo’s team as its own and benefited financially and psychologically. It was a gaze back at past glories and a glimmer of hope for a brighter future. As Mr. Spock of Star Trek would say, the mindmeld was completely successful. And everyone is better off for it.
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Green Power In Motown Final Four Weekend Was A Detroit Delight By FRED HEUMANN
The Final Four weekend in Detroit represented so much more than Michigan State simply appearing in college basketball’s last dance. My memories of the weekend and the Spartans’ post-season run include an over-riding sentiment of MSU ownership. “Ownership” is a word Tom Izzo likes to use a lot. He talks about ownership by his team, ownership by his fan base, ownership by his alumni, ownership by everyone and everything associated with his prestigious basketball program. Now, Izzo has taken full ownership of the state of Michigan – and so has his school. That was my No. 1 sentiment the whole weekend. And I’m not sure why it took four
10 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
full days to make it sink in, because Izzo has owned hoops in this state for the better part of 10 years. But there was something about this tournament run and the Green and White hysteria that took over the Motor City that made me think a major shift in this state is nearing completion. I have been fighting the impression that I’m a University of Michigan guy since the
day I returned to Lansing six-and-a-half years ago. True, I did play-by-play for U-M basketball for parts of two seasons – hardly a claim that it is “my school.” And, yes, I used to dance around my dormitory at Central Michigan singing “The Victors.” That had to do with one man: Bo Schembechler. I loved Bo Schembechler. That doesn’t make me unique. Tom Izzo loved Bo Schembechler, too. In fact, he said so at his pre-Final Four press conference. Izzo was talking about how he always stresses defense. And he pointed to his love of Schembechler and Woody Hayes and why they shaped what he is now as a coach. But the Bo regime and
the love affair most neutral fans in our state had with Michigan football for years after Schembechler’s run can now be voiced in the past tense. This is becoming a Green and White state. That was never more apparent than in the week leading up to and the weekend of the Final Four. Besides all the Spartans in the seats at Ford Field, neutral fans with no tie to any particular school were all about MSU. Basketball is a very large part of that. Add in the hiring of Director of Athletics Mark Hollis – a young Don Canham – plus the coaching hires since his appointment, and you have a state that is changing from Maize and Blue to Green and White. That was my overwhelming thought in Detroit and in Indianapolis during the Midwest Regional: Spartans everywhere. Green and white everywhere. Izzo everywhere. That equals ownership by MSU. I’ll never forget the walk I made from the Detroit Athletic Club to Ford Field’s media
entrance on Semifinal Saturday, about three hours before the start of the MSU-Connecticut game. There was so much green on the streets of Detroit, you’d have sworn it was a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The walk took about 10 minutes. For some reason, I wanted it to last four days. There was a time in the not-too-distant past that many things MSU did athletically were not wise or done with much class. That too can now be stated in the past tense. From a packed pep rally in Troy to the welcome home at the Breslin Center the day after the championship game, MSU just seems to get it now. As for this year’s team, I keep thinking about some leaders for the future. One would be Draymond Green. This kid is going to be something special, if not as a player, then certainly as a “program guy,” to borrow another common Izzo term. As his role on the floor increased, his leadership habits grew to a noticeable extent. He may be the
captain of this team before long. If Green isn’t the captain, it may be because Delvon Roe will be. There is nothing about this kid not to like, as a player or a person. He is a quote machine. He is respectful of others and extremely well-spoken. And he hasn’t scratched the surface of what kind of basketball player he is going to be in the near future. Korie Lucious is another player who used the tournament as his platform to make a statement for his future. He hit clutch shots, played quality minutes and lived up to the promise I heard about from media members who spend way more time in summer gymnasiums than I ever will. So take a collective bow, Spartans and Spartan fans. North Carolina won the tournament. But MSU staged a championship weekend that may not be seen again in my lifetime. I betcha even Bo Schembechler would have had to admit that.
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 11
A Healthy Dose Of Heroism Spartans Overcome Injuries, Illnesses To Triumph By dr. jeffrey kovan
Success in sports requires skill, intelligence, passion and an insatiable work ethic to be your best at all times. Despite the best-laid plans, a little luck and good health often mean just as much in propelling a player and a team to championship status. The 2008-2009 Michigan State men’s basketball season saw virtually all these variables, but season-long health concerns made the journey a little more challenging. What a ride! Big wins and tough losses, injuries and illnesses, so-called upsets and eventually a run to the madness of March unlike any other. The Spartans overcame many obstacles on their way to the Final Four – a meniscus tear in pre-conference play, mononucleosis and pneumonia early in the Big Ten schedule, a severe ankle sprain (in pre-game warmups, no less), a nasal fracture during the tournament run and two foot fractures in the championship game. Goran Suton’s meniscus tear on an earlyseason trip to Fort Wayne, Ind., set the tone for the struggles ahead. Tough games in Orlando and a lopsided loss to North Carolina in December left few believing a return trip to Ford Field in April was even possible. But Suton’s surgery and quick return led to a huge win over Texas before Christmas. That rehabilitation was essential in propelling the team into Big Ten play with the excitement and energy for a title run. The conference season started with two road wins. Suddenly, the injury/illness bug bit again. What began as a typical upper-respiratory infection and fatigue derailed Raymar Morgan’s hopes for Big Ten Player of the Year. Diagnosed with pneumonia and mononucleosis, he was sidelined despite a desperate attempt to compete. The team struggled with that absence, too. Uncharacteristic
losses at home shook the Spartans’ confidence, but not their spirit. Others rose to the challenge and filled Morgan’s shoes, an opportunity that helped a few freshmen perform through the tournament run. Six weeks of additional calories, extra rest and a coaching staff willing to modify training allowed Morgan to return late in the season. His putback slam against Indiana was one of the season’s biggest baskets. And MSU needed the real Raymar to handle Connecticut in an NCAA semifinal. Ah, March… let the madness begin! Aside from a serious ankle sprain for Isaiah Dahlman in pre-game warm-ups, the team was finally back at full strength. What was once a marathon had now become a sprint to the Final Four.
After tense moments against Southern California and Kansas, an upset of Louisville surprised almost everyone. The real Spartans were finally whole and confident through a three-week run. A nasal fracture for Morgan in Indianapolis was a brief setback. His new-look mask and refusal to be denied led to a breakout game and a huge win against the huge, physical, talented Huskies. The thrilling run finally came to an end with a loss to North Carolina in front of 70,000-plus screaming fans in Ford Field and millions watching at home. As a cruel reminder of the obstacles this team had to overcome all season, Korie Lucious’s foot injury in the final minutes, along with Chris Allen’s kicked and rolled foot in the first half, produced foot fractures. Their surgeries were the first obstacles in an exciting, essential off-season of individual development. The journey is long. The obstacles are many. But at season’s end only four teams reach the ultimate stage in Division I college basketball. Preparation for the 2009-2010 season is already in progress, despite Midnight Madness being five months away. Allen and Lucious should recover from foot surgery. Morgan and Tom Herzog should gain important weight. And the prognosis is excellent for a full recovery from many less significant injuries. It will take all that and more for MSU to make the necessary improvement to reach another Final Four next April in Indianapolis. As the players work on their games, we will continue to work towards their optimum health and performance. Rest assured, these players and their coaches can overcome any obstacle. Whatever next season brings, the health of our team and the good fortune they create for themselves will once again determine the Spartans’ fate.
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 13
14 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
Spartan Solidarity Durrell Summers and Kalin Lucas share a sideline moment with Tom Izzo.
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 15
16 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
Bumpy Roads & Expressways Spartans Took A Tricky Route To Reach Downtown Detroit BY ERNIE BOONE
It was a career-long dream-come-true. Michigan State’s players, officials and fans were all over the court, celebrating the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region championship in Indianapolis. The second-seeded Spartans had just surprised the college basketball world, dominating overall top seed Louisville 64-52 to earn a spot in the Final Four at Detroit’s Ford Field.
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 17
Bumpy Roads & Expressways One by one the Spartans climbed the ladder to cut down a piece of the net. Surrounded by reporters, Magic Johnson was clearly emotional as he spoke about MSU’s preparation and execution. Marquise Gray hung his piece of the net from his championship baseball cap. And Earvin Johnson Sr. put his arm around my shoulder, leaned over and whispered: “No matter what we do next week, it doesn’t get any better than this!” He was right. It seldom gets better than the moment when a team can clearly say, “Mission Accomplished.” For Tom Izzo and this bunch of Spartans, the Louisville victory was that moment. They were back in the Final Four – for the first time in their home state, with a shot at MSU’s third national championship. “It’s as big a win as our school has had because we’re going to Detroit,” Izzo said. That had been the goal all season, especially for four players with one last chance. Much had been made about Travis Walton becoming the first Izzo recruit to complete his eligibility without reaching a Final Four. Yet, it was just as important to fifth-year seniors Goran Suton, Idong Ibok and Gray, practice players and spectators in 2005 in St. Louis. “I went to a Final Four,” Suton said. “But I didn’t play one minute in that tournament. I want to make it as a real player.” Izzo made that his No. 1 goal the moment the Ford Field site was selected. Detroit-area prep stars Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers dreamed of it as recruits. For the rest of the Spartans, the quest began the previous year when a stunned, embarrassed group sat together in Houston after being overwhelmed by Memphis, 92-74. The two Drews, Neitzel and Naymick, soon said their goodbyes. But everyone else was back with a realization. If they could just approach their potential, a Final Four appearance would be possible. Getting to Detroit became the team’s mission. As players began preparing the next week, it dominated their summer agenda. Walton, already recognized as an emotional team leader and a dominant defensive player, was the best example of how each Spartan focused on a phase of his game that would make the team better. With a strong commitment to improving his shot, Walton worked every day to be able to replace some of Neitzel’s lost offensive output. Before the season started, complications arose. Incoming freshman Delvon Roe was never close to peak efficiency after surgeries to both knees. And the bad luck continued from November to March. Suton was sidelined for six games, including the first one with North Carolina, with a knee injury. Then, 18 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
Raymar Morgan, the team’s top pre-confer- double figures. Morgan and Green each had ence scorer, feel victim to walking pneumo- 16 points. But the big story was Suton’s 17 rebounds, the most by an MSU player in the nia/mononucleosis and a broken nose. The resulting lack of consistency had post-season since Johnson had 17 against everyone concerned, especially Izzo. He Lamar in 1979. The rest of the NCAA Tournament couldn’t always believed the team could be special, as shown in its win over Texas in Houston have offered a tougher lineup. Next up was and its 8-1 success on the road in the Big Southern California, one of the best 10th Ten. But maddening inconsistency, seen in seeds in history. That was clear when the back-to-back home losses to Northwestern Pac-10 Tournament titlist dismantled No. 7 seed Boston College by 17 in a first-round and Penn State, left plenty of doubt. When MSU won eight of its last nine game at the Metrodome. The Trojans were regular-season games and ruled the confer- as athletic as any team in the field, as seen ence by four full games, everything seemed when 6-9 Taj Gibson went 10-for-10 from to be coming together. Lucas was the Big the field inside and 6-7 wing DeMar DeRosan Ten Player of the Year and Izzo the league’s added 17 points against the Eagles. Coach of the Year. Walton was then Defensive Player of the Year, Roe an All-Freshman honoree and Suton the rebounding champ. Suddenly, on March 14 in Indianapolis, everything was questioned again. The Spartans stumbled in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, losing by 12 points to Ohio State. Even the most optimistic fans began knocking on wood, crossing their fingers and fingering their prayer beads. That set the stage for one of the finest NCAA Tournament runs in MSU basketball history. The Spartans did it the Izzo way – as a team – for the next 21 days. They did it without a superstar who dominated play every night. Instead, each member of the playing group Suton Shines Lansing Everett graduate Goran Suton was the Spartook turns doing the little tans’ brightest star in NCAA Tournament play and was the Midwest things and making the big Region’s Most Outstanding Player. plays to advance. Lucas drew most of the attention from oppoIn a game that worried Izzo more than any nents. But Morgan, Walton and Suton were the leading scorers in MSU’s first four wins leading to the title game, the Spartans had in Minneapolis and Indy. And Summers, Roe, to answer one question: Were they the team Draymond Green, Korie Lucious, Chris Allen, that ran away from the pack in the nation’s Gray and Ibok made their presence felt on the second-ranked conference or a group that way to Ford Field, as they had in hoisting a would run and hide at the first sign of real adversity? Their answer spoke volumes to a 2009 Big Ten Champions banner. As a No. 2 seed, the Spartans opened lot of observers, if not to Digger Phelps. Rallying with a 10-0 second-half run, against 15th-seeded Robert Morris from Pittsburgh. It was a Friday night frolic and MSU beat USC, 74-69. Walton had the game a 15-point win, as five players scored in of his life with a career-high 18 points. The
Chairmen Of The Boards MSU led the nation in rebounding and showed why against second-round opponent USC.
Spartans also used a huge edge in depth, with Summers, Allen and Green outscoring the Trojans’ bench 26-16. Summers and Green also teamed for 17 rebounds, four more than their opponents’ starting five. But it wasn’t just what MSU did. It was what the Spartans kept USC from doing. Led by Suton, the winners played amazing defense on Gibson, who finished with five points, zero rebounds and five fouls in 23 minutes. So much for the theory that Izzo’s team would crumble at the first sight of an effective post player. It was on to Indy for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. There, MSU would meet Kansas and Louisville, programs with multiple NCAA crowns. And both had coaches with net-cutting experience in the Jayhawks’ Bill Self and the Cardinals’ Rick Pitino. The Friday night matchup with thirdseeded Kansas promised to be one of the year’s best battles. It didn’t disappoint. The defending national champ was still smarting from a 75-62 thumping on Jan. 10 in Breslin. With guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich, the Jayhawks soared to a 13-point lead in the first half. But the fun was just beginning. Suton’s buzzer-beating jumper cut the halftime deficit to seven after several replays. And he kept producing in the second half, finishing with a season-high 20 points and a career-high five steals. But the game and the Spartans’ season wound up in Lucas’ hands after his fourth steal of the night. He had seven assists and just four baskets at that point. His next shot would change that impression forever. With the score tied at 60 and less than a minute left, Lucas spread the floor and took Collins to the basket. A pump fake sent Collins into orbit. After drawing contact, Lucas
hit the jumper, added a free throw, then sank four more foul shots to finish with 18 points and a 67-62 MSU triumph. A 23-7 edge in bench scoring, led by Summers’ clutch plays, made Lucas’ heroics possible. In less than a minute, Summers tipped in a miss, hit one of two free throws and grabbed an offensive rebound. That carom led to Morgan’s dunk that tied the game. Without Summers’ nine points and five rebounds, the spring of 2009 wouldn’t be the same. Even then, the Spartans were supposed to be little more than a speed bump in Louisville’s cruise to the Final Four. The Cardinals used an aggressive press and lived on opponents’ turnovers, an MSU weakness in the season’s worst moments. Those easy points helped Pitino’s players average more than 80 points a game as the regular-season and tournament champs in the Big East. To pull off the upset in front of a reddrenched horde at Lucas Oil Stadium, MSU had to avoid “turnovers for touchdowns,” play at a reasonable tempo, rebound with a vengeance and make shots at a respectable
rate. It did all those things and more with contributions from the entire playing group. Lucas and Walton easily broke the press, got MSU into its offense and controlled the pace. Unable to turn the Spartans over, Louisville couldn’t get its fast break going. Suton was superb. He was 7-for-15 from the field, including 3-for-5 accuracy from 3-point range. The Midwest Region’s Most Outstanding Player scored 19 points, snatched 10 rebounds, dished four assists, had a steal and blocked a shot. In a team game with a game team, Suton had plenty of help. Lucas had 10 points, five assists and a steal. Green grabbed 10 rebounds. And Walton was incredible on defense, holding All-Big East selection Terrence Williams to five points in MSU’s best performance of the season, a fine example of Izzo-ball. The Spartans took care of the ball, committing 12 turnovers. They executed with precision on offense, recording 19 assists on 24 field goals. They were 24-for-52 from the field and 8-for-16 from long range. They held the Cardinals to 38-percent accuracy and had a 37-29 edge on the boards, including 13 offensive rebounds in a hostile setting. The result – Mission Accomplished. Earvin Sr. was right. It doesn’t get any better than that. Especially with Detroit less than 90 minutes away.
Marching In Step The whole was greater than the sum of the parts in MSU’s post-season drive to Ford Field. SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 19
Izzo, Walton Lead The Way Coach, Senior Guard Push Spartans To Be All They Can Be BY JACK EBLING
One was grinning from ear to ear. The other was about to shed a tear. Tom Izzo and Travis Walton felt the same euphoria after Michigan State stunned Louisville on Sunday, March 29, and exposed the Cardinals as Final Four phonies. They just had different ways of showing their emotion after a Midwest Region Final statement. Izzo, whose tear ducts often work overtime, was overjoyed by a dreamcome-true. Walton, one of the toughest players of the past decade, was overcome by the same accomplishment. “I was so happy for Travis,” Izzo said with a wide smile in a post-game interview. “He didn’t want to be the first one to play four years here and not make it to the Final Four. His teammates all wanted that for him, too.” No one wanted a trip to Detroit more than Izzo. And what the ironman from Iron Mountain wants, he usually gets. He just needs to make that known to his players, his school’s administration and a steadily expanding fan base. And why shouldn’t his wishes come true? When it comes to MSU’s success, Izzo is totally invested – often beyond the bounds of reason. It’s hard for anyone, even his nearly extinct critics, to argue with some amazing results. “I wanted Coach to be able to say, ‘If you come to Michigan State, you WILL play in a Final Four,’” Walton said. “I didn’t want him to have to say, ‘Except for one person.’ Now, he doesn’t have to do that.” Izzo doesn’t have to do a lot of things. He does them anyway. He works more hours than many sets of twins. And he doesn’t know how to say no to requests for his fleeting time and personal attention. When the Spartans need to impress a 20 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
recruit in any sport, it’s time to meet Izzo. When his university needs to raise money or morale, one of the first calls is to the Berkowitz Center. And when this community needs an assist, it always looks to a former Division II point guard. None of that changes the awesome numbers Izzo’s program has produced. In the past 50 years, MSU has played in 21 NCAA Tournaments. In the last dozen, it’s 12-for-12. If you don’t believe in Izzo-ball, you’ve spent significant time in solitary confinement. No other explanation exists, given the irrefutable stats: A 336-137 overall record after succeeding Jud Heathcote, the school’s all-time winningest coach (340-220 in 19 seasons), and a 31-11 mark in NCAA play, fourthbest among active leaders. A Big Ten-record-tying five regional titles in the last 11 years, the same number Bob Knight had in 29 tries at Indiana and five more than Gene Keady produced in a quarter-century at Purdue. Amazing success off the court in developing people, not just pros, with 32 players receiving degrees since 2000 and with incalculable value in reinforcing the university’s mission. So when Izzo tells the welcoming contingent at Breslin, “As long as you guys want me, I’ll be here. We still have things to aspire to, including a third national title for this school,” fans should adopt the pinch-and-
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Izzo, Walton Lead The Way pray strategy. They should pinch themselves that the newest face on MSU’s Mount Rushmore is here and pray that he won’t change his mind. Izzo didn’t invent the game. And when he leaves, which he will eventually, the Spartans could get another terrific basketball coach. But MSU will never get a better fit for the institution’s needs and the community’s demands. Think of it this way. Imagine that a rollover accident and resulting scandal had happened two years earlier and the University of Michigan had hired Izzo instead of Brian Ellerbe to lead the Wolverines… You can put the pistol down now, Spartans. It didn’t happen. Instead, Izzo’s team just beat the champs from three other major conferences, knocked off a pair of No. 1 seeds and put MSU in the national floodlights again. In the process, though he wasn’t aware of it at the time, he got the best of three coaches who had won NCAA titles – Bill Self, Rick Pitino and Jim Calhoun. The fact that the Spartans have struggled of late against North Carolina means only two things: MSU has the same problem there that every other school seems to have. And Izzo has one more glorious quest to add to his list before he leaves campus. For Walton, “The Impossible Dream” – or Always In The Lead Senior Captain Travis Walton brings the Spartans together.
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so it appeared at several moments – was realized with a chance to play for a national championship. Unlike fifth-year seniors Goran Suton, Marquise Gray and Idong Ibok,
triple-overtime to become the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Seldom has a conference award had more significance. When the outcome mattered, Walton’s credentials were
“It was great to see the seniors go out the way they did,” Izzo said. ”They had a lot of pressure to get here. I thought they handled it extremely well.” he wasn’t a redshirt in 2005 when the Spartans lost to, you guessed it, eventual champ North Carolina in St Louis. Walton had one shot left to get there. And it wasn’t a layup. He had to become an extension of his coach and lead his team on one of the longest 92-mile treks any team has had, given its injuries and inconsistencies. To understand how that happened, you need to know the dynamics of the MSU basketball family. And The Waltons of the Blue Ridge Mountains – with a starting five of John-Boy, Jim Bob, Ben, Mary Ellen and Olivia – couldn’t have been closer at Tournament time. For that, the Spartans can thank No. 5. Walton didn’t always shoot the ball well, though that’s probably news to Maryland (8-for-10) and USC (8-for-13). But he almost always competed. That should be his MSU legacy. The defender of the “S” logo in the center of the nation’s best locker room worked
stronger than his 700-pound leg press. He held Texas gunner A.J. Abrams to eight points and 0-for-4 long-range shooting. That was 12.9 points below Abrams’ average and ended a streak of 16 games with at least one 3-point basket. The final score in Houston: Spartans 67, Longhorns 63. Walton put the vice clamps on Demetri McCamey, stole the ball three times and watched that misery spread through the Illinois backcourt in a 1-for-17 group shooting performance. Somewhere, Eric Snow was smiling. Final score: MSU 63, Fighting Illini 57. Giving up three inches in height, Walton smothered Michigan’s Manny Harris in Crisler Arena and held him to seven points on 2-for-10 shooting, including 1-for-6 work beyond the arc. No rematch was required or requested. Final: Spartans 54, Wolverines 42. Facing Louisville’s Terrence Williams, who was being touted for the Naismith Hall of Fame at the time, Walton imposed his will
from start to finish. Williams wound up with five points on 1-for-7 shooting and a seat on the bench. Score: MSU 64, Cardinals 52. And in the game he had always dreamed of playing, Walton had a season-high eight assists and zero turnovers against Connecticut. He also held trigger-happy guard A.J. Price to 5-for-20 accuracy from the field. Scoreboard: Spartans 82, Huskies 73. For 37 games, Walton was a walking virus for MSU opponents. They couldn’t stay away from him. And no successful vaccine had been developed. The 38th game was an anomaly. But after the Tar Heels had done their damage, scoring more points in the first half than eight teams had in two halves over the previous 60 days, Walton did what he had always done. He stepped up and took the charge. “You always want to win,” Walton said. “But one team is going to win, and one team is going to lose. It was great just to get here. Nobody thought we’d be in this position. Now, you’re talking about playing for a national championship. So no one is going to drop his head.” Walton wouldn’t allow that to happen.
And no one had a reason to do it. Izzo’s final embrace showed why. They had been through 143 battles together and had won 103 of them, beating two No 1-ranked teams and going further in the NCAA Tournament each year. “It was great to see the seniors go out the way they did,” Izzo said. “They had a lot of pressure to get here. I thought they handled it extremely well. They looked like they ran out of gas a little bit – and deservedly so. As I told them in the locker room, we lost a game, but this program is way better off to have had them here.” Izzo had a hard time accepting the loss immediately after the game. But the Tar Heels were just better – that night and almost every one this season. If the Spartans didn’t have to play a perfect game to win, they had to approach it. And that has always been Izzo’s No. 1 opponent. Perfection. Perhaps that’s another reason why Izzo Goes to Broadway was so great. Stepping outside the box faster than someone who had been trapped in a casket, MSU’s top ambassador embraced an opportunity to step on a different stage and help Coaches vs. Cancer. The show created another wave of positive
vibes and delighted almost everyone who saw it. Izzo did everything but bungee jump onto the stage. And he had already done that in Breslin. As expected, Izzo deflected the credit to two friends who suggested the concept, Jim Epolito and the late Kevin Kelly, and to one mutual admirer, show mastermind Greg Ganakas. He also developed a new appreciation for the teamwork others see in his teams. “After everything we’ve done with Midnight Madness, I thought, ‘How could I make a bigger fool of myself?’” Izzo said. “I thought I did a good enough job of that in the championship game.” If he really believed that, he missed another free throw. There was no disgrace in blowing away the Big Ten, winning five games in the NCAA Tournament – four many than many predicted – or trying to capture the shiniest moment. Walton and Izzo nearly accomplished that. Instead, they achieved so many other goals along the way. And faced with a bad final memory, they’ll do what the Spartans do better than anyone: Rebound. That’s what championship leaders are for.
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A Dream Is Realized Tom Izzo surveys the scene at Ford Field and savors an incredible moment.
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Growing Green And
Basketball Brings Spartans, Non-Spartans Together
BY JACK EBLING
They were the second-best college basketball team in the nation in 2009 – or if you prefer, the champions of the NCAA. That would be the Non-Carolina Athletic Association. “That’s pretty good,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of the Spartans’ new title. “The problem is that the Carolina Athletic Association was really good, too.” Too good for Michigan State or any team in the Tar Heels’ path. But a funny thing happened on the way to Ford Field. The State of Michigan became greener than it has ever been on Earth Day. From Traverse City to Trenton, fans celebrated their new favorite team. And Downtown Detroit became a satellite campus. “We were the blue-collar team,” Izzo said of color-blind allegiance. “We were what the city and the state embodies. We’ve all had some ups and downs. But we were proof that dreams come true, especially if people bond together. We saw what happened with the ’68 Tigers. Maybe that’s what we did, too.” As you might expect, Mid-Michigan was awash in Spartan spirit. A love affair with Izzo and his team never felt more passionate. From the welcome after a Big Ten title-clinching win at Indiana to the reception after upsetting top-seeded Louisville in Indy to the back-toBreslin rally the morning after the championship game, Greater Lansing was always there. Tens of thousands of MSU fans from the area made the trip to Detroit. And maybe the sense of discovery went both ways. The first indication was a record crowd of close to 30,000 for a Final Four shoot-around. The sign in the stadium that Friday afternoon said “Michigan St. 92 mi.” It seemed like about a mile-and-a-half.
When that 50-minute session ended, Izzo called his team together and told it to spread out and thank the fans. As the players waved and bonded, CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz said he had never seen anything like it in his 24 Final Fours. Later that day, after another workout, it was time for the official pep rally in Troy. The Spartans stayed at the Somerset Inn and kept getting messages about the crowd at Somerset Mall. “They kept calling over and telling us how many were there,” Izzo said. “Normally, I do those things by myself. But I said to the team, ‘I’m taking you with me.’ The owner met us in back and said he’d never seen half that many people in the entire mall. We had twice that number in one hallway.” For a coach who always wears his emotions on his sleeve, the response of roughly 10,000 fans moved him to tears. “How could it not?” Izzo said. “I was blown away. We all were. It’s hard to get all the falderal of the Final Four when you’re playing in it. You’re just so busy. But that was something I’ll never forget.” The memories of the weekend were just beginning. A record crowd of 72,456 on Semifinal Saturday saw MSU beat top-seeded Connecticut, 82-73… So much for the walk-it-up Big Ten. “The setting was unbelievable,” Izzo said. “If you’re a Michigan State fan or friend or alum, you would’ve been proud of more than the team. You’d have been happy with every representative of the school.” “Team MSU,” as President Lou Anna Simon likes to call it, was out in full force, just as it was when Suzy Merchant’s women’s team shocked topSPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 27
Green and Growing seeded Duke, led by the departed Joanne P. healthy. With Suton scoring 17 points, MSU “Our goal is to make sure all our underlost by 17 in the rematch. McCallie, to reach the Sweet 16. classmen have a great spring and summer,” “We might’ve hit a home run in every way Izzo said. “Roy Williams of North Carolina It was a great month to be green. And you had to wonder what would have happened except how we played in the championship called me this morning and said something without an estimated 50,000 Spartans in game,” Izzo said. “With 4:25 to go, we’d cut really interesting. He said the guys who the stands on Saturday and close to 60,000 it to 13 and had a close call on a block- came back and could’ve left didn’t just want on Monday night. to win a championship. Their Their presence wasn’t just goal was to get better. They Spartan City MSU’s Friday shoot-around set NCAA attendance records. felt in the stands. Greenhad a great spring and sumand-white was everywhere, mer. And that’s what we’re including many cash reggoing to try to do. isters. Cheers broke out in “But feel good about several establishments at 3 your university today. And a.m. And street musicians thank you sooo much for got tips for jazz renditions coming out and being here. of the “MSU Fight Song.” We appreciate it more than “Somebody said we saved you know.” the Final Four,” Izzo said. The feeling was mutual, as “Even one of the talking two young fans confirmed. heads said there were only “I want to see Travis,” three or four other schools 10-year-old Julia Angst in the country that could’ve said. “I like the way he plays done that. We had 145,378 defense. And he’s a real good people there. I’m not sure captain.” that’ll ever be duplicated.” Not everyone had the A two-day-old attendance cash or connections to get record was broken for the to Ford Field. But everyone championship game. That in Breslin that morning felt crowd of 72,922 included a connected with a program – who’s-who of former players and supporters charge go against us. But with two minutes their program. left, we were down 15. And I said to the from other continents. The best example of that may have been “My favorite thing is when the players staff, ‘Look at that! No one’s leaving.’” the way 6-year-old Ben Staszewski held up That heartwarming show of support didn’t his sign “Good job Spartans,” with help from come back,” Izzo said. “And they were unbelievable. Charlie Bell had practice Monday escape the players. When the Spartans were his 3-year-old sister, Nora. morning in Milwaukee, then drove all the way asked what they took from the weekend, “I like Kalin Lucas and (Durrell) Summers,” to Detroit because he couldn’t get a flight. almost every player mentioned the fans. he said. “I like doing layups just like them. “I thought they did a great job of support- I’m practicing the ones Kalin does, backwards When I got up that morning, Steve Smith and Kevin Willis walked into the film room. And ing us, giving us energy and motivating us,” over his head. I think he’s good at reverse captain Travis Walton said. “They helped us layups because he has a reversible head.” Lou Anna was there the whole time.” Simon was also there high-fiving – not get to Detroit. And when the game was over, Maybe that’s the secret. On a day with that high, if you want to be technical – after they were still cheering. You have to take more reasons to sulk than to smile, his last MSU stunned the Huskies. So was Magic your hat off to them. They did a incredible comment had Izzo laughing. Johnson, who posed for pictures with sev- job of sticking with us and not giving up.” “A reversible head?’ he said. “That’s pretty That was never clearer than the following good for a 6-year-old… If you tell me he’s eral groups of policemen. Detroit’s finest couldn’t get enough of morning. Back in Breslin more than 1,000 6-8 right now, I’ll really be fired up!” the Spartans. One of the weekend’s funni- fans waited patiently to welcome the runWhile the players returned to classes and est scenes came after the win over UConn, ners-up. Some missed work. Some skipped tried to catch up after a hectic month of when four officers kept celebrating in the classes. But they had to be there to say travel, Izzo put himself on display twice tunnel. Suddenly, they saw two NCAA offi- “Thank you!” one more time. more. He threw out a ceremonial pitch – a “I’m basically here to salute the 2009 change-up, high and inside – before the cials and stopped for 10 seconds – until team and Goran Suton, one of my personal Yankees-Tigers game on April 27, then their impromptu party could resume. “Our state police, some guys we had favorites,” Jerry Pecora said of a fellow Lan- starred in Izzo Goes to Broadway on May 7 with us and the officers from Detroit were singite. “I think Tom and his staff deserve a in Wharton Center. great,” Izzo said. “It was one of those mag- lot of credit. Ultimately, the credit belongs The event raised more than $100,000 for ical weekends in every way, shape and form to the player, though. He’s going to go down the American Cancer Society and Coaches – except that I needed Magic and Larry Bird as one of the least appreciated and most vs. Cancer. And if Izzo won’t be offered a impressive big men this school has seen.” to play for us.” recording contract, he may have set a record It was no big news when the bus was late for community involvement. The Spartans had been beaten by 35 points when they faced the Tar Heels on getting back. Appropriately, no one left. One month after he was welcomed back to Dec. 3. They didn’t have Goran Suton that And when the team walked in and Izzo Breslin, Izzo and his family drew a standing night. And Izzo suggested that they might took the mic, the cheers rang out for a full ovation in Wharton. His basketball family have only lost by 20 if everyone had been three minutes. had gotten that same reaction all along. SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 29
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Lucas Learns, Leads Champs Point Guard Sparkles As League MVP, But Is Far From Done BY DAVID BIRKETT
Kalin Lucas sat silently for most of the 90-minute bus ride back to East Lansing after Michigan State’s humbling 35-point loss to North Carolina last December. He shut off his iPod, ignored the 30-some text messages piling up on his cell phone and set his mind to one thing: Earning a rematch. Michigan State fared little better in its second go-round with the supremely talented Tar Heels, losing 89-72, in the national championship game. The fact they made it there at all is a testament to Lucas’ otherworldly play.
The Orchard Lake St. Mary’s High product became the first Spartan to earn Big Ten Player of the Year honors since Morris Peterson shared the award with Indiana’s A.J. Guyton in 2000, and the first sophomore MVP since the Hoosiers’ Jared Jeffries in 2002. Four other Spartans picked up well-deserved hardware for their mantles. Tom Izzo was named Big Ten Coach of the Year after leading MSU to its first conference championship since 2001 (by four games, no less). Travis Walton was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, edging fellow hound dogs Chris Kramer and Chester Frazier. Delvon Roe returned from two knee surgeries to make the all-freshman team. And Goran Suton, Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional, was a second-team all-league selection and the first Spartan to lead the Big Ten in rebounding since Antonio Smith 12 years ago. Still, it was Lucas who proved to be the heart and playmaking soul of a team left for dead by many at the height of the holiday season. “Even in a great year, you usually don’t get that many people win major awards. That speaks volumes,” Izzo said. “(Lucas has) done a lot for us, and yet (Ohio State wing Evan) Turner’s a great player. Usually, an MVP of a league leads a team somewhere, so that’s where we always preach winning. Team goals usually help garner individual goals, not the other way around. This just proves our point even more.” Lucas led Michigan State in scoring (14.7 ppg) and assists (4.6 apg), was reliable from the foul line (80.8 percent) and surprisingly ranked as the Spartans’ best 3-point shooter
among backcourt players at 39 percent. Durrell Summers made 38.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, while Chris Allen shot just 31.1 percent. In every category, Lucas improved from a wonderful freshman season, when he bumped Drew Neitzel off the point and propelled the Spartans to the Sweet 16. “Lucas is one of the best players in America,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. “Seeing him in person, he’s terrific. Absolutely terrific.” Lucas was the only Spartan to score in double figures in all six NCAA tournament games. He matched Kansas’ Sherron Collins in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis, scoring 18 points to go with seven assists and four steals. He outdueled UConn’s A.J. Price in the Final Four, dropping a game-high 21 points and five assists. And in the title match, he had 14 points and seven assists in 35 gutty minutes against North Carolina’s Ty Lawson.
“…he has grown leaps and bounds from where he was. He still has some growing to do, but I think he’s made some big strides.” - Tom Izzo Spartan Head Coach
But Walton said Lucas’ breakout came a season-and-a-half earlier, in an innocuous December game at Bradley most people couldn’t even find on their TV. Coming off the bench then, Lucas scored
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Lucas Learns, Leads Champs seven of his 13 points in the final 3:36 to help MSU stave off an upset in a hostile arena. Lucas, 0-for-7 in career 3-point tries to that point, buried a floating jumper and 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions to
of confidence in you. I think that was the defining moment that said, ‘Wow, he can be a big-time player for us.’ He wasn’t starting at that time. But as time went on, he was making big plays.”
“I call him a poor man’s Chris Paul,” Izzo said. “Don’t take that wrong. I think the world of Chris Paul, but he has a demeanor like that…” give the Spartans a victory. His two free throws with seven seconds left sealed a 66-61 win. Two weeks later against Texas, Lucas erupted for a career-high 18 points and six assists to lead MSU’s upset of D.J. Augustin and fourth-ranked Texas at The Palace. With a few dozen family members and friends in attendance, he played a near flawless floor game, penetrating at will and committing just one turnover. “I think one game he took 15 shots and didn’t shoot the ball that well,” Walton said. “But when you’re a freshman and take 15 shots, you know Coach has got to have a lot
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This year, Lucas continued to come up clutch at opportune times. With MSU reeling after an early-season loss to Maryland, Lucas had his first career double-double with 12 points and 10 assists to spark a rout against Oklahoma State. In January, days after a shocking home defeat to Northwestern, he scored 20 second-half points in a road win at Ohio State. And on the road at Illinois, Lucas scored 18 points to break open a tie game and help the Spartans clinch a share of the Big Ten title. “I call him a poor man’s Chris Paul,” Izzo said, comparing Lucas’ breakneck speed and smallish stature to that of the New Orleans
Number 1 Kalin Lucas was the Big Ten’s Most Outstanding Player as a sophomore, matching the feat of Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves.
Hornets point guard. “Don’t take that wrong. I think the world of Chris Paul, but he has a demeanor like that… I think he has a chance to be one of the great point guards.” Izzo said Lucas has two things to master before he falls into that category. First, he must expand his deadly mid-range game to be just as lethal from long distance. Second, Lucas needs to get stronger to better survive the physical pounding he takes. “If you look at the best of the best, other than Collison from UCLA, most of those point guards have big-time strength, like Mateen Cleaves had or the kid from Syracuse (Jonny Flynn) or Lawson or Collins,” Izzo said. Already, Lucas resembles Cleaves, Collins and Lawson in one way. All have an insatiable appetite for winning. Cleaves played in two Final Fours and won one national title at MSU. Collins was indispensable during Kansas’ championship run two years ago. And Lawson stayed in school this past season to vie for the crown he eventually won. In two postseasons, Lucas, who declined to test the NBA waters this spring, has shown a knack for playing his best on the biggest stages. Against the defending national champion Jayhawks in the Sweet 16, Lucas shook off a so-so first half to score the game’s biggest basket, a pump-fake floater with 48 seconds left that gave the Spartans a two-point lead. He started the play on the defensive end with a steal, drew contact from Collins on the shot, and added a free throw – then hit four more in the final 26 seconds – to seal the win. A week later against UConn, Lucas was the best player on the floor for much of the night. He made 3-of-6 3-pointers and forced the tempo with jet-fueled fast breaks that nullified 7-foot-3 Huskies center Hasheem Thabeet’s shot-blocking prowess inside. “I think he realized that winning is more beneficial, more enjoyable, more invigorating, more everything than all those other things,” Izzo said. “I have a better appreciation for him. In the huddles, on the sidelines, he has grown leaps and bounds from where he was. He still has some growing to do, but I think he’s made some big strides.” For MSU to get where many expect next season – back to the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy – Lucas will need to continue along that path. The Spartans graduate starters Walton and Suton, but return seven of their top nine players. They have enough depth and firepower that one Sports Illustrated writer declared them the preseason No. 1 team. Summers should replace Walton in the starting lineup, and looks ready to blossom after two double-digit scoring outbursts in the Final Four. Freshmen Roe, Draymond Green and Korie Lucious will play more significant minutes after brilliant flashes in the tournament. Raymar Morgan, when he’s healthy, is a match-up problem for opponents. And, as he always does, Izzo will have a rotation of big men to mix and match down low. But as was the case this year, MSU’s fortunes will rise and fall with Lucas’ play. Izzo said he wants his point guard to become more of a leader next season, especially with the demanding Walton no longer in the locker room. After watching Lucas’ gritty performance in the tournament, he has no doubt it will happen. “He showed me a lot of character,” Izzo said. “He really grew up. He didn’t complain. He didn’t blame. He handled it like a real, real good player should handle it. I was proud of him for that because that means he’s taken a big step in the right direction.”
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Sophomore Salute Chris Allen and Kalin Lucas celebrate MSU’s win over Kansas.
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Ten Shining Moments The 2008-09 Spartans Left Indelible Memories BY PAVEL KOFMAN
One setback can’t tarnish a season. Despite Michigan State’s loss in the national championship game, there were plenty of shining moments and lasting memories in 2008-09. There were games that the Spartans weren’t supposed to win… Just don’t tell them that. There were wins that built character and showed glimpses of MSU’s potential. Then, there were triumphs that will be treasured forever – times when an entire state, in the midst of economic hardship, rallied around its home team. These 10 moments shone brighter than all the rest:
36 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
The Louisville Shocker
The emotion pouring out of senior guard Travis Walton said it all after MSU beat Louisville to make its Final Four dream a reality. “It’s as big a win as our school has ever had,” five-time Final Four coach Tom Izzo said. “We’re going to Detroit, and that’s been our dream and a goal of ours since they announced where the Final Four was in 2009.” Few gave the Spartans a chance in this Midwest Regional championship game against the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. Many in East Lansing thought a magical run would wind up one game short of Detroit. That only made the win more incredible. Louisville had danced and strutted to the Elite Eight and had great confidence – not to mention a red-drenched crowd in Indianapolis. While much of the talk was about Louisville’s high-powered attack, little was made about the MSU defense. But many would quickly learn just how good the Spartans were. Cardinals guard Terrence Williams was arguably Louisville’s best player, especially in the tournament. When Walton was done with him, Williams went scoreless in the
first half and finished with just one field goal and five points. Walton had reached his first Final Four. His play was a big reason why. “One thing coach does is stick to his promises. He said, ‘You get me through Friday, and I’ll do my best to get you through Sunday,’” said Walton. “I was thanking God for blessing me to be around a man like that, who is going to give me everything and give our team everything he can give.”
day,” Izzo said. “I should have some experience with this. But I didn’t have any experience with 70-some thousand people, a lot of them pulling for us.” The win meant that MSU could shine in the Final Four spotlight for another few days and its fans could indulge in the moment for a little longer. “From the moment we were on that court and we won that game, people didn’t think about what they were going through outside,” Walton said. “They were just happy that we won and that they could continue to cheer for us on Monday.” To say that Jim Calhoun’s Huskies were big is an understatement. Hasheem Thabeet, all 7-foot-3 of him, led one of the top shotblocking defenses in the country. Connecticut’s big bodies couldn’t keep up with MSU’s transition game. The Huskies were bent over before halftime, catching their breath, as the Spartans wore them down. MSU rotated 11 players in the game, while UConn used just one player regularly off the bench. All five UConn starters played more than 30 minutes, compared to just two Spartans. A strong second half made the difference. Suddenly, a national title was one game away.
UConn Rocked In Detroit
Welcome to Detroit, Stanley Robinson. The biggest on-court highlight in the Final Four was Durrell Summers dunking in Robinson’s grill. The Connecticut forward even got a piece of it. Yet, Summers slammed it home with authority. Raymar Morgan saved his best for the big stage, breaking out of a late-season slump to score 18 points after donning a Rip Hamilton-esque mask. The best part was when the final buzzer sounded, and a record Final Four crowd – including an estimated 50,000 Spartans – showed their euphoria. “It’s hard to explain the emotion of the
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 37
Ten Shining Moments
An Emotional Senior Day
The Big Ten championship, the emotion, the family. This game made you absolutely proud to be a Spartan. An entire season of emotion was poured into one game: Senior Day for Goran Suton, Walton, Idong Ibok and Marquise Gray, the dedication of the Frances Cleaves Family Center, with a floor-to-ceiling mural in the lobby outside the Spartan locker room, and the raising of the Big Ten championship banner. With festivities taking place after the game, the Spartans knew they had to beat Purdue – for themselves, for the seniors playing their final game at Breslin Center, and for the late Fran Cleaves, Mateen’s mom and one of the most influential people in the Spartan family. “I always tell our players Senior Day is a memory-maker, and this was an incredible memory-maker,” Izzo said. Choosing to have Senior Day and bannerraising ceremonies after the game instead of in pregame was risky. It would have been a somber scene if the team had been swept by the Boilermakers. Instead, everything worked in the Spartans’ favor. And the entire Breslin Center
Returning The Love Travis Walton (5), Korie Lucious and teammates thank 30,000 Spartan fans at the Friday Final Four shoot-around.
crowd stuck around afterwards to take in the festivities. “I think that’s just about as awesome of a setting as I’ve ever been a part of,” Izzo said. “I can’t tell you how appreciative I am that everybody stayed. The players deserved that. I’m thrilled to maybe start a new tradition here. “
At every open practice in the NCAA tournament, MSU players give the crowd a slam dunk show at the end, and the Final Four was no different. Chris Allen bounced a ball off the floor, had it hit the backboard, then slammed it down with one hand. Summers also used the backboard, slamming a doublepump directly off the backboard.
Troy Turns Into East Lansing
Kalin Puts Away Kansas
You couldn’t help but get chills at Somerset Mall in Troy on the eve of the Final Four, as close to 10,000 Green and White fans packed the mall as if it were the Breslin Center. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think we would be able to put on a show like this for all of you,” Izzo said in his speech to the crowd. “You made this the proudest day of my life, no matter what happens tomorrow.”
Final Four Open Practice
It was just a 50-minute practice for MSU, but the Spartan fans showed up to Ford Field for the free open practice as if they were hoping a game would break out. Close to 30,000 fans were at Ford Field around noon on Friday, the day before the Final Four, as the Spartans were the first team to hit the court.
Kalin Lucas drove to the basket, guarded by Sherron Collins. The game was tied at 60 with a minute remaining. Lucas went left. Collins was on him. Then, Lucas got the Jayhawk to bite on a pump fake. By the time Collins hit the floor. Lucas hit a shot and drew a foul. “The shot clock was going down,” Lucas said. “The thing Coach wanted to do was just spread the floor. That’s all I tried to do. I tried to create. I just got lucky. I got him with the bump, and I scored.” Lucas broke the tie and won the game, sending the defending national champions home after they led by 13 in the first half. “When (Lucas) plays against another big time guard like Sherron Collins, he wants to prove himself to the nation,” Walton said. “Today, he wanted the ball in his hands. He’s just a big-time player. He’s growing.”
Raymar’s Jam Seals The Title
Morgan’s one-handed putback slam at Indiana put the exclamation point on the Spartans’ first outright Big Ten title since 1999. It came against Izzo’s chief assistant that year, his close friend Tom Crean. The Hoosiers didn’t go down without a fight. But MSU prevailed in a sloppy game when it lost a 13-point lead. Despite clinching the title, the team was in agreement to hold off on the Big Ten trophy presentation until it could do it at home in front of its fans.
1979 NCAA Champions Reunion
Magic Johnson was in the house, as were Jud Heathcote and the vast majority of the 1979 National Champions. But as the oldtimers were honored at halftime, the current team had a battle on its hands with Bo Ryan 38 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
and the Wisconsin Badgers, who led by six at half. With MSU basketball royalty watching, the Spartans responded in the second half, outscoring Wisconsin 36-19 and getting a victory in front of their special guests. “My mentor was here, and we looked like a dysfunctional group, so that bothered me,” Izzo said. “And we had Magic right behind me with all his stardom. So, yeah, that was pressure.”
All Hands On Deck Late-game hero Kalin Lucas needed help from Draymond Green (23) and others to
beat defending champion Kansas.
Summers’ 3 Sinks Texas
MSU Spoils Illini Senior Day In a rollercoaster season, it was seldom-used Idong Ibok who may have made one of the timeliest contribution to a Big Ten title. The Spartans were having trouble stopping 7-0 Illinois center Mike Tisdale, who single-handedly chipped away at an 11-point, second-half deficit. So Izzo sent the 6-11 Ibok in to defend Tisdale and stop the bleeding. Ibok did just that. Tisdale faded down the stretch, and MSU left with a 74-66 triumph.
“It was a panic decision,” Izzo said. “When we couldn’t handle Tisdale, Ibok did a great job and stepped up for us.” The Orange Crush at Assembly Hall was hostile, but the Spartans were determined to leave with a share of the Big Ten title.
It was a signature win for the Spartans against then-fifth-ranked Texas in Houston. MSU and the Longhorns battled back and forth until the closing seconds. Suddenly, Summers hit a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to continue the Spartans’ recent series dominance. Izzo had told Summers before the game that he was disappointed with recent practices. Summers responded on the court. “I’ve always questioned his toughness a little bit,” Izzo said. “This kid reached down. He gave everything he had. Today, he grew up a little bit.”
The Season Ends,
Success Does Not Spartans Could Be Back In Final Four Next Year In Indy
BY JACK EBLING
It almost sounds ridiculous with the loss of two three-year starters and their top three centers. But so did the idea that the Michigan State Spartans would reach five Final Fours in 11 seasons. So when people pick Tom Izzo’s program to make it six semifinals in 12 years next April, they have recent history squarely behind them. They also have major talent on their side, including the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and seven of the team’s top nine scorers in post-season play. “I think we have a chance to get back there,” Izzo said a month after the final maddening turnover against North Carolina. “Of the guys we played a lot at the end of season, two were seniors and one was a junior. The rest were freshmen and sophomores.” The most important returnee is Izzo. Despite reports that he felt unappreciated and rumors that he would leave for Arizona or Kentucky, guess who will be back for his 15th season as the Spartans’ head coach? Yep, “Mr. Broadway” himself. As long as Izzo has an office at the southeast corner of the Berkowitz Center, MSU should be a force in college basketball. He may not win every conference championship. But no one will compete any harder or contend more often. 40 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
With assistants Mark Montgomery, Dwayne Stephens and Mike Garland all back, continuity won’t be a problem. Recruiting shouldn’t be that difficult, either, given one of the nation’s best facilities, the program’s reputation and a promise only Izzo can make, “Come to East Lansing, earn your degree, and you’ll play in a Final Four.” We’ll get back to recruiting later. First, let’s look at the players Izzo has signed to scholarships since 2006 – two seniors-to be, four juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen, not counting walk-ons who had opportunities elsewhere. With few exceptions, the Spartans have been a guard-dominated program for nearly 40 years. Since Mike Robinson’s enrollment in 1970, MSU has had 33 first-team All-Big Ten selections. Twenty-two of those honors have gone to guards. Thus, it should be a comfort that Kalin Lucas said no when Izzo suggested he look at his NBA options. The Spartans’ first conference Player of the Year since 2000 was a blur on the break and a game-breaker from outside.
Fresh Faces Korie Lucious (34), Draymond Green (23) and Delvon Roe (10) begin their careers with a Final Four triumph over UConn.
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 41
The Season Ends, Success Does Not Without No. 1 at the point, MSU would never Lucious will be idled until their feet heal Tournament and 11 points in nine minutes from surgery. Power forward and possible vs. UConn. have been No. 1 in Big Ten scoring. Lucious needs a big off-season as much Lucas, a 6-foot junior-to-be, was steady center Delvon Roe should be much better, and often spectacular, scoring in double too, when his surgically repaired knees have as anyone to reach his potential. The talent is there. Unfortunately, so were 40 turnfigures in 28 of his last 29 games. He aver- time to heal. “Delvon was playing on half a leg,” Izzo overs. If that problem disappears, he can aged 18 points in conference road games. And his poise against Kansas shouldn’t have said of a member of the league’s All-Fresh- be a major asset on a championship team. If not, more minutes will be shocked anyone. available for 6-5 sophomoreBack for his senior year will to-be Austin Thornton or 6-6 be 6-8 forward Raymar Morsenior Isaiah Dahlman. gan, who has plenty to prove But Lucious, the shortest to opponents and pro scouts. player on the MSU roster, isn’t Before being sidelined and the key to next year’s success. slowed by pneumonia/monoChances are, the tallest player nucleosis, Morgan looked like will be. Fourth-year junior Tom an All-American. He led his Herzog, a 7-0 center who needs team in scoring in five of its to gain weight and strength, is first nine games, producing 29 the only returning center on points against Oklahoma State, the roster. He played 32 min26 against The Citadel and 21 utes this season and scored against North Carolina. three baskets. With 1,190 points in three If the Spartans can get 15 seasons. Morgan could crack minutes a game from Herzog the top eight scorers in school and 15 from Roe or Green history if he returns to form in the post, that still leaves and stays in the lineup. We saw 10 minutes for a freshman. what the real Raymar could do Derrick Nix, Michigan’s Mr. when he had 18 points, nine Coach On The Court Kalin Lucas gets a message from Tom Izzo in MSU’s Basketball, is a 6-9 low-post rebounds and five steals vs. Midwest Region upset of top-ranked Lousiville. player with some skills. But he Connecticut. needs to give Herzog half his Durrell Summers and Chris calories. Another 6-10 prosAllen will have great opportunities to start as juniors. Each scored man team. “When he’s healthy and gets to pect, Garrick Sherman of Ohio, could slide 8.5 points per game. And if one of them work on his game a little bit, he’ll be as good in and fill the void. Actually, there could be two craters with emerges at shooting guard, the Spartans as anyone we’ve had here. I really like what the departure of Travis Walton, the Big Ten’s should be a solid contender. If both make he gives us.” The 6-8 Roe had almost as many rebounds Defensive Player of the Year, and Goran significant progress, make room for another as points but shot better than 56 percent Suton, the conference’s leading rebounder, banner at Breslin. The 6-4 Summers showed flashes of bril- from the field. Unfortunately, he hit less plus fifth-year backups Marquise Gray and liance with 26 points at Ohio State and 21 than 46 percent at the foul line and needs Idong Ibok. No one on the roster has Walton’s ability against Iowa and Minnesota. He has always to improve significantly to stay in the game to stop a big scorer. More important could been a freakish athlete with NBA range and at winning time. With Roe’s minutes monitored closely, be his ability to lead. And Suton was underhops. And his soaring slam over the Huskies another freshman had a great opportunity. rated until his work was done. The Midwest was arguably MSU’s Play of the Year. Allen’s season went the opposite way, And 6-6 Draymond Green responded better Region’s Most Outstanding Player outplayed
“…each and every year we expect to get here,” Izzo said. “Let’s hope next year is somewhat comparable. That’s what great programs do.” ending with a fractured foot against the Tar Heels. The 6-3 Georgian opened the season with 21 points but had just 22 in the final five games. He was 1-for-15 from 3-point range after he reached the Sweet 16. “Allen and Summers can play better than they have,” Izzo said. “And we need them both to do that. If they don’t, they won’t be playing. But I think they will. Their offseason is everything.” Allen and backup point guard Korie 42 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
than anyone expected. Projected as a possible redshirt on Signing Day, the two-time state champion was a winner in every way, scoring 16 points in 17 minutes against Robert Morris, then grabbing 10 boards against Louisville three wins later. If Green looked more like a future captain each day, Lucious showed rare explosiveness for a 5-11 freshmen. He had 12 points in 15 minutes against Iowa, 16 points in 18 minutes against Ohio State in the Big Ten
Tyler Hansbrough, too. The trick for MSU’s returnees is to be as committed as North Carolina’s veterans were. The Tar Heels returned intact and finished a job they abandoned in a 2008 semifinal against Kansas. “I told Hanbrough it was really nice to see a bunch of guys stay in school and put winning above everything else,” Izzo said after an 89-72 loss. “We had a cause, but they had a cause, too. The biggest difference was that
they had juniors and seniors that we played against two years earlier.” The Spartans’ lone junior on the floor at Ford Field had a bashed nose and a bruised ego in the wee hours of April 7. But he saw enough in his teammates to make him want to try again. “We kept fighting,” Morgan said after MSU won the second half, 38-34. “I’m really proud of my team.” Two teammates had similar thoughts. And that might say more about the season ahead than the one just behind. “The biggest thing we’re proud of is being so inexperienced and making it this far,” Summers said. “We learned that you’ve got to bring it early. The five minutes told the tale. “ “We had a great season but didn’t finish the way we wanted,” Green said. “We’ve got
to work hard this summer so we can do what they did next year. This gives me the motivation to push my teammates all summer and push myself to get back to this position.” Green had already been pushing his teammates. Moments after the final buzzer, he addressed his older teammates and spoke from the heart. “Draymond had the quote of all quotes when he said, ‘Look where North Carolina was last year, down 41-12 or whatever it was!… Here they are winning the National Championship,’” Izzo recalled. “It was kind of neat that it came from a player and not from a coach.” The Spartans will try to return to Lucas Oil Stadium after a typically tough nonconference schedule. The plan is to play the Tar Heels again in Chapel Hill in the ACC-
Big Ten Challenge, to face Florida in East Rutherford, N.J., to visit Texas in Austin and to host Gonzaga in Breslin. A year from now, the incoming class will feature guards Keith Appling and Russell Byrd, two of the top shooters in the country, and big man Alex Gauna from Eaton Rapids. But MSU has work to do first if plans to win back-to-back titles. And the head coach had one other comment linking the recent past with the future. It showed that the Spartans’ eighth Final Four and third NCAA title might not be far away, injuries and individual improvement willing. “That’s where we want our program to be – that each and every year we expect to get here,” Izzo said. “Let’s hope next year is somewhat comparable. That’s what great programs do.”
44 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
Hard Work And Hardware Marquise Gray hugs a treasured trophy, but the road didnâ€™t end with a win over Louisville.
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 45
SPORT QUICK HIT
Fans Get Extra “Home Games” Breslin’s Big Screen Is The Next Best Thing By DOUG WARREN
Close to 60,000 Michigan State basketball fans paid big bucks to fill Detroit’s Ford Field on April 6 for the NCAA Championship. Meanwhile, Breslin Center welcomed roughly 9,000 Spartans to watch a rematch with North Carolina for free on the center-court video screens. Many of those fans began lining up at Breslin two hours before tipoff, eager to see the Spartans end their season with a win. MSU students comprised most of the crowd, with help from families and local fans. And the entire lower bowl of the arena was filled well before the 9:27 p.m. tipoff. The crowd more than doubled the 4,000 fans who watched the MSU-Connecticut semifinal two days earlier. To accommodate the overflow, the upper bowl was opened to spectators as the start of the game approached. As the CBS pre-game show played high above the floor, the entire lower bowl at Breslin took on the personality of the famed Izzone student section, as chants of “Go Green! Go White!” echoed back and forth. As the network cut away to a shot of MSU coach Tom Izzo addressing his team in the locker room, the crowd’s approval turned to a deafening roar. The noise continued as the Spartans’ starting lineup was introduced. The cheers were balanced with boos and unprintable comments during the Tar Heels’ introductions. UNC center Tyler Hansbrough was the least popular player in East Lansing. Once the game began, much of the crowd in the lower bowl stood at rapt attention. When MSU played defense, the crowd began to bounce in unison to the traditional monotone “Ahhhh” chant of the Izzone. But this noise was louder and more intimidating with more twice as many fans as the student section usually held. When Goran Suton hit his first 3-pointer to give the Spartans a 3-2 lead 49 seconds into the game, the place exploded with the largest cheer of the night. Little did anyone know that score would give MSU its last lead of the season. A 32-8 UNC blitz gave the winners a 34-11 advantage. When the first half ended with the Tar Heels ahead 55-34, one would have expected the place to empty. To their credit, however,
roughly 80 percent of the fans remained in their seats – refusing to let what they had witnessed dampen their enthusiasm for the Spartans and their remarkable season. “They’ve had a great season,” Ed Pratt of Lansing said during a second-half break in the action. “They’ve had some unfortunate breaks in this game. They can’t get a shot to drop. And as Magic (Johnson) said at halftime, it looks like they are trying to rush their plays. I think the excitement of the moment got to them a little bit early. We will see how they play in the second half.” When the Spartans made a run and to cut the deficit to 13 points with less than five minutes to play, the energy in Breslin returned.
But Korie Lucious suffered a fracture in his foot and was called for a foul on Ty Lawson seconds later. The vitriol toward the officials and the Tar Heels was unmistakable. “It has been a great season,” Debbie Hurth of Lansing said. “It’s a little more down tonight.” “Well, it is and it isn’t,” her husband, John, said. “There have been a lot of ups and downs all year. They are in the Final Four. They made it to the championship game. Tom Izzo has had another great run. He is a great coach. And the guys have played very well this season. They are young and have a good core coming back. The future is bright for the Spartans.” The positive memories of more than five months were more than enough to outweigh the negative from one night. They were also enough to make fans dream of 2009-10, when Breslin will be available for another mass viewing of games in Indianapolis, where MSU won it all in 2000.
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 47
SPORT QUICK HIT
From China To Championship Spartans Prove Traveling Can Be A Good Thing By ZACH EBLING
I had seen Michigan State pound Michigan by 51 points and take the bite out of the Florida Gators. In fact, I had never missed a National Championship game when a Tom Izzo-led team had been present. This year would be no exception. When the Flint-driven Spartans sent Wisconsin, then Florida back to the Stone Age and won an NCAA title in 2000, the trip from Okemos to Indianapolis took roughly four hours. This year’s journey home from Beijing would take more than 19. Yet, that 6,637-mile trip paled in comparison to MSU’s ride to the Final Four. Before the Spartans left the runway last fall, excitement surrounded a team with Detroit as its final destination. But no “Fasten Seat Belt” sign could prepare the team for Terrapin/Tar Heel turbulence. Air sickness set in as Delvon Roe, Goran Suton and Raymar Morgan battled injuries and illness. And some thought the plane might be grounded when MSU dropped home games to Northwestern and soon-to-be NIT champ Penn State. Once back at cruising altitude, exceptional piloting steered the team to touchdown. Along the way, the Spartans reached new heights. They won 19 games away from home, tying a school record, and ruled a conference that put seven teams in the NCAA Tournament. MSU’s four-game margin was the second-largest in Big Ten history. Discipline, drive and determination fueled a stingy defense. When the nation’s No. 1 rebounding team arrived at Ford Field, it was met by a family that set records for a Friday shoot-around, for Saturday’s semifinals and for Monday’s rematch with North Carolina. I was part of that green-and-white sea as the Spartans rode a wave of emotion. Connecticut’s hopes never made it through customs. Eventually, even the best journey must come to an end. In its fifth Final Four in 11 seasons, MSU ran into a perfect storm. That didn’t stop hundreds of thousands of Spartans – and others who wished they were – from feeling great pride. While Monday didn’t produce a third 48 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
MSU national championship, it left so many Shining Moments that no CBS montage could capture them all. Luckily, I didn’t miss a minute of that run. Twelve time zones away, I managed to see every basket on a 4x6-inch Internet display – the most-enjoyable hours I’ve spent in Beijing. You can imagine the excitement I felt when the Spartans kept winning. Convincing triumphs and clutch performances punched our tickets to Detroit. My ESPN bracket kept rising in the rankings as MSU and UNC advanced. And a pre-season pledge to return for the Final Four kept getting closer, 40 minutes at a time. At 4 a.m. on Monday, March 30, Beijingtime, the Spartans put Louisville out of its misery. Izzo’s team knew where it was headed. Seconds later, so did I. Less than four-and-a-half days later, I met my dad at Metro Airport. Semifinal Saturday was surreal. A traditionally blue town was nothing but green. Huge tents surrounding Ford Field couldn’t begin to hold the fans, even with $20 cover charges. At 3 a.m., street musicians were still playing the “MSU Fight Song” for tips. Strolling along St. Antoine, it was hard to
believe I was back in Detroit. I was certainly a long way from Beijing. The semifinal win over UConn pushed me to the top of the ESPN pool. And I was sure the Spartans would keep me there with a sixth NCAA victory on Monday. That outcome wasn’t to be, as UNC earned its fifth national title. But as I had done since the days of Steve Smith, then Shawn Respert, I stayed through the final seconds. So did close to 60,000 others who bled green-andwhite. Surveying the scene, I was as proud as I had even been to be a Spartan. The following Friday, I boarded another plane for Beijing and took an entire half-day in the sky to think about MSU’s accomplishments. The Spartans led the nation in victories over top-50 teams. And only one group in NCAA history beat more No. 1 seeds. MSU spanked the Big East champion Cardinals, the top seed overall, in Indianapolis to advance to Ford Field. The Spartans also beat Big 12 titlist Kansas, the defending national champ and a logical preseason favorite for 2010. The location of next year’s Final Four – Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy – should provide the perfect stage for one of Michigan State’s greatest point guards. Tickets haven’t gone on sale yet. But come next spring, return trips will be booked. After all, I have never missed a National Championship game in which an Izzo-led team has been present. Next year will be no exception.
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SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 49
GREATER LANSING SPORTS AUTHORITY
Other Champs Invade Breslin Boys Basketball Tourney Brings Big Buzz, Big Bucks To Area By BrEndAn Dwyer
While Michigan State was rolling through the NCAA Tournament this year, Breslin Center played host to 16 basketball teams with their own championship dreams. The Michigan High School Athletic Association crowned four state titlists and created lasting memories for hundreds of players, coaches and fans with the semifinals and finals from March 26-28. The local economy was another big winner. But followers of the competing schools and the sport in general left East Lansing with something else – an appreciation of the present and a peek at the future. Muskegon Western Michigan Christian edged Cedarville by a point for the Class D crown to begin Championship Saturday, and Flint Powers Catholic beat Zeeland in Class B that evening to finish a job it nearly completed 12 months earlier. But the game that people will talk about for decades was Detroit Pershing’s comeback against Kalamazoo Central, led by a pair of soon-to-be Spartans. After Mr. Basketball, Derrick Nix, had a huge game to get the Doughboys to the final, junior guard Keith Appling took over and delivered one of the best performances by any prep athlete in any sport. Appling took just 24 shots and scored 49 points, breaking the record of 47 by Detroit Southwestern’s Antoine Joubert nearly three decades ago. The standing ovation from fans of both schools showed just how special Appling’s effort had been and why Tom Izzo had offered him a scholarship as a sophomore. But the entire event brought a different kind of electricity to the community – a measurable buzz while the Spartans were busy in Indianapolis. As people checked in and out of hotel rooms, enjoyed area restaurants and explored other opportunities, a quick check of the math demonstrates the impact. Over 58,000 fans, many from other parts of the state, came to campus for 12 games. And just as spring melted the gray, winter doldrums to make way for new growth, the success of this tournament brought similar signs of life and reawakening to a sluggish local economy. 50 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
“We’re always excited to see the return of the boys’ state basketball tournament,” said Mike Price, manager of sports development with the Greater Lansing Sports Authority. “It means warmer weather is around the corner. We get treated to some fantastic basketball games. And businesses throughout the community get a big shot in the arm.” According to an economic impact study tabulated by SportsImpacts Inc., 91 percent of attendees for the semifinals and finals were from outside Ingham and Eaton counties. That bodes well for regional restaurants
Rare Air The Breslin Center was rockin’ as Detroit Pershing took on Kalamazoo Central in the 2009 MHSAA Boys Basketball Class A Final.
and hotels, as fans traveling far from home tend to rely more on hospitality services. The study showed that fans spent an average of $62 daily per person on meals and entertainment. Research also indicated that of the 58,112 in attendance, 28% stayed at least one night at a Lansing-area hotel. The total economic impact on the community
was just over $2.2 million. “We enjoyed a ton of additional business because of the boys’ state basketball tournament,” said Aaron Weiner, general manager of Buffalo Wild Wings in East Lansing. “We saw all kinds of families and had solid numbers for day business, which was just tremendous. Being aware and responsive with special community events is a smart way to boost sales. We’re just excited to be part of a community that is equipped to host great sports tournaments like these. “We didn’t have to offer big discounts or anything, but placing take-out menus and promotional flyers at the March Madness Hoopfest event and in a lot of the partnering hotels was really successful. The crosspromotion did a lot to help businesses while the tournament was in town.” Just like successful teams, local service providers worked together to serve the region’s influx of high school hoop enthusiasts and drive their individual business goals. “The increased room nights we get out of the MHSAA boys’ basketball tournament are huge, but also there is something extra special about hosting this particular group,” said Scott Smith, director of sales for the area’s Quality Suites hotel. “The kids are so positive it just sets an upbeat tone throughout the entire region.” “It has been absolutely spectacular working with the GLSA to bring sports groups into our hotel., It’s a fast-growing market for our whole community, and it has done some really good things for our weekend business. We feel our hotel and the Greater Lansing community are perfectly positioned to host sports groups. We look forward to a long-term relationship with the GLSA.” Price couldn’t agree more. After it appeared that the tournament might leave Mid-Michigan, it stayed in Breslin and again produced a win-win situation for all concerned. “When we’re out there selling Greater Lansing as a host city for tournaments, we’re selling a lot more than just our athletic venues,” Price said. “Area hotels, restaurants and retailers play a big part in the process and stand to do really well when groups arrive. When these sports groups come to town, the whole community wins.”
O nH Site ol C lo h w ap is el no a w tH op aw en k
Visit us at www.hawkhollow.com
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 51
SPORT QUICK HIT
MSU Women Make History Spartans Run Over Top-Seeded Duke In Breslin Stunner By LISA BYINGTON
Some sports storylines are just too good, and this one had to be aligned just perfectly – perfect for Michigan State and perfectly awful for the Duke Blue Devils.
A Loss Into A Win…
Who would have known a disappointment in the Big Ten Tournament could lead to one of the most memorable wins in MSU women’s basketball history? But it did. That six-point loss to Wisconsin dropped the Spartans a few lines in NCAA Tournament seeding. Many months earlier, they had earned the right to host the first and second rounds, a quirk of the women’s game. Universities bid to be opening-round sites, based on facilities and potential attendance. Long story short, a No. 1 seed may have to travel a long way from home.
On March 16, 2009, the fourth floor at Spartan Stadium erupted. Head Coach Suzy Merchant sat in her chair, holding son Tyler, clapping and smiling. Her players were more animated. Leading scorer Aisha Jefferson stood up and cheered. Director of Basketball Operations Julie (Pagel) Dombroski, who played for Joanne P. McCallie at MSU, ran around high-fiving everyone and every pillar in the room. A former “P” manager walked around in shock, holding her hand over her mouth. MSU was the 9 seed and Duke the 1. The Blue Devils would have to travel a long distance. A flight to East Lansing was scheduled. And “P” would be returning “home.”
This was no homecoming anyone would want. McCallie had more success at MSU than any other women’s basketball coach. Her 2004-05 team shared the Big Ten crown and 52 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
thanks to circus shots worthy of Barnum & Bailey. “I felt like it started with Mia Johnson,” Merchant beamed at the end of the game. “At shoot-around, it was almost comical how into it she was. We needed a point guard like there was no tomorrow. She was not only good. She was fantastic.” Fantastic… was the scene afterward. MSU students flooded the court. That included some members of the men’s basketball team, who joined the Devil Of A Time MSU coach Suzy Merchant hugs NCAA women in a dance and the second-round hero Mia Johnson after upsetting top-seeded Duke. fight song. A triumphant head coach stood on the perimeter, advanced to the national title game. But when she left for Duke in March 2007, stared and smiled. “I didn’t know where to go,” Merchant following a handful of overtures, she left laughed. “I just watched it. I just stood back MSU feeling like a deflated basketball. After bolting for Durham without a pub- and looked around and… I don’t know. It was lic goodbye, McCallie started her introduc- a moment I’ll never forget. “ “It was a little bit of a pride thing,” junior tory press conference: “I would just like to thank Maine (her first head coaching job) Allyssa DeHaan added. “It kinda showed we’re and Michigan State for giving me the oppor- still alive and can do it without Coach P here. We’re so proud to wear the State jersey and be tunity to get to Duke.” MSU was now known as the program Spartans and do our own thing.” Afterward in the locker room, Merchant Joanne P. McCallie left. kept insisting this wasn’t about her. Then, she paused and personalized the moment. “People want to see their team win. I The Game… During a week of build-up, MSU kept insist- mean, you don’t just want to play well and ing it wasn’t about Coach P. But when an have a moral victory. I’m so happy for the announced crowd of nearly 5,200 sounded administration, for the president, for Mark more like 10,400 booing McCallie during (Hollis) and Shelley (Appelbaum),” she said before pausing and smiling. introductions, the motive was clear. “They hired you, ya know. Here’s the forSo was the scoreboard: MSU 63, Duke 49. If the Blue Devils’ former coach, Gail mer coach who did a great job, and I didn’t Goestenkors, had been on the sideline, want to disappoint anybody. What I was so would the outcome have been the same? happy for is that they weren’t today, that Would the Spartans have played with the everybody feels good about Michigan State same focus? Would Mia Johnson have had women’s basketball.” Not everybody. Not the first No. 1 seed to an out-of-body experience? Johnson took over at point guard after lose to a No. 9. But Merchant was right. This Brittney Thomas suffered a season-ending wasn’t about McCallie any more. As one MSU administrator said afterward, knee injury. And committing only one turnover, she poured in a game-high 17 points, “This is Suzy’s team now.”
SPORT QUICK HIT
Broadway Snapshots Coaches vs. Cancer Fundraiser Nets Rave Reviews PHOTOGRAPHY By J. ROBIN SUMBLER
Tom Izzo stepped out of the box for Izzo Goes To Broadway, an original adaptation by East Lansingâ€™s Greg Ganakas. With help from the MSU community and guest stars from New York, the event deserved as many curtain calls as this Spartan season.
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 53
SPORT LAST SHOT
Contribute Photos online:
www.SportLansing.com Published photos will receive a poster commemorating their Last Shot, courtesy of Capital Imaging.
Break A Leg IZZO GOES TO BROADWAY • EAST LANSING, MI 05/06/2009 PHOTOGRAPHED BY AL GOLDIS
SPARTAN BASKETBALL COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE 55
SPORT FINISH LINE
Triumphs In Trying Times Pride, Persistence Create A Season To Remember By Mark hoLlis MSU Director of Athletics
Times are tough! We are constantly surrounded by success and failure. We also know that neither condition is permanent. During tough times, we tend to focus on failures – both our own and those of others. Thoughts of dreams, compassion, opportunities and excellence tend to sit on the shelf, waiting for action. Regardless of the outcome of our actions, we cannot sit and wait for a better tomorrow. Nor can we continue to live in the glory of the moment without a focus on our future. To move forward, it takes dreams to believe, opportunities to develop, action to move, compassion to connect and a commitment to excellence. It is more important than ever to recognize and celebrate our successes and effectively learn and adjust from our failures. It is with this perspective that we look back at the past year of Spartan Athletics, a year of focus on our community. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four saw Detroit and the State of Michigan embrace a group of young men as symbols of hope. More than 140,000 fans watched two basketball games at Ford Field. Roughly 30,000 attended the team’s practice. And close to 10,000 cheered at an MSU alumni pep rally at Somerset Mall. More importantly, the state came to life for a weekend of optimism. We followed Tom Izzo as he led the Spartans past Robert Morris, Southern California, Kansas, and Louisville. Then, we welcomed them back home for games against Connecticut and North Carolina in the Final Four. Compassion described our ice hockey team as players skated with, supported, and built a friendship with Brandon Gordon. Brandon lost his battle with cancer. However, he continues to positively impact the lives of so many people throughout our community. Immediately after pitching MSU’s first nohitter in 16 seasons, Nolan Moody’s compassionate embrace with his father, who 56 APRIL & MAY 2009 SPECIAL EDITION
realized a dream of playing in the Masters by following his footsteps at Augusta. Moving at a quicker pace, we saw Nicole Bush and Shane Knoll push limits on the track, both establishing is battling cancer, amazing times for came after the first themselves and game ever played their University. in McLane Baseball The men’s tenStadium. Our comnis team faced a munity continues to unique opponent embrace Nolan and when they particiKevin every day. pated in a rehabiliCancer-free for tation program at nearly two years, San Quentin State Arthur Ray continPrison, competing ues his dream to play football for Michigan State. Mark against inmates. Franklin Gomez came to and Becky Dantonio and the entire Spar- Michigan State from the Dominican Republic tan football family opened their hearts to and realized his dream of achieving an NCAA Arthur. Our best days have been made even National Wrestling Championship. And, Joe brighter through the presence of Arthur’s Baum, after nearly 40 years as part of the MSU soccer program, walked off the field for compassion and his never-ending smile. Tom and Lupe Izzo strive for hope and the final time as head coach with a Big Ten a cure through their efforts with Coaches Championship trophy in his hands. As we celebrate our 125th year of Spartan vs. Cancer, including their performance in a Broadway production that brought atten- Athletics, I am proud to be a Spartan. We tion and financial support to the fight we share the success of our teams, student-athletes and coaches with others on our campus all want to win. It takes a collection of individual talents, and in our community. Likewise, we celebrate the success of our working together, to achieve as a team. Spartan rowing accomplished back-to-back on-campus peers, including the procureBig Ten championships. Suzy Merchant led ment and development of FRIB, the site the women’s basketball team to a win over announcement for IBM’s new applications top-seeded Duke and a trip to the NCAA center and the expansion of our medical Sweet Sixteen. The men’s basketball team schools. We embrace the economic develreached the Final Four for the fifth time in opment efforts of Mid-Michigan, our state 11 seasons. And the football team made its and our nation. And we are grateful for the second consecutive bowl trip to Orlando, support we gain from all Spartans. We dream, take action, demonstrate comthis time for a New Year’s Day appearance. We celebrated the U.S. Amateur Pub- passion, never fear failure and always stay lic Links Championship of Jack Newman. committed to excellence. Times are Tough. Then, many Mid-Michigan weekend golfers Spartans are Tougher. Go State!
Michigan State University Basketball. Coaches. Athletes. Fans. Spartans. Join us as we celebrate the success of one of our great community assets. Thank you, Spartan Basketball, for an inspirational season!
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