The Michigan state basketball season is right around the corner and this week is the start of what looks to be a prosperous season with both the Michigan State basketball media days occurring on Tuesday and the annual Midnight Madness coming up on Friday
The first event of the season, however, kicked off last Friday night with the annual Izzone campout. Nearly 1800 students headed on up to Munn Field, pitched their tents and braved the cold in hopes of securing Izzone tickets in the lower bowl for the 2012-13 campaign. The Izzone campout served as a way to get the students excited about the upcoming season and during the night, appearances were made by Coach Tom Izzo and his players. Students at the event even saw senior Derrick Nix crowd surf.
“Last weekend’s campout was my very first one and it lived up to all of my expectations,” sophomore Michigan State student Megan McNitt said. “The weather during the day Friday was not great, and for a little while my friends and I were considering not going. I’m very glad we did because it was so much fun.”
A few days later, Izzo and the team were right back at it again to discuss the upcoming season at the Michigan State basketball media days.
Heading into this season, the one glowing question on everyone’s minds is who will take over the job at the leadership position after the departure of do-everything point forward Draymond Green.
Last year, Green was the unquestioned leader of the team, leading the Spartans in points (16.2) and rebounds (10.6) all the while earning All American status and NABC player of the year honors. Green’s effort and leadership skills even lead the Spartans to a B1G championship and a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. Needless to say, filling the shoes of Draymond will be a very tough to do.
“We have to respect that Draymond Green was a once in a decade leader,” Izzo said. “A guy that does things for you in so many ways and you try to find someone that’s going to live up to half that standard, not all of it.”
On Tuesday, Coach Izzo announced which players will attempt to fill those shoes. And those players are senior Derrick Nix and redshirt sophomore Russell Byrd.
Nix, the lone senior on the team, is coming off his best season as a Spartan where he averaged 8.1 points and 3.8 rebounds as a junior. Nix has come a long way since coming to Michigan State as a freshman where he weighed in at around 320 lbs. Today, Nix is down to 265.
However, it’s been a tough off-season for Nix, who was arrested on April 3 for the possession of marijuana. Nix was immediately suspended and later reinstated and sentenced to 24 hours of community service. However, Izzo had his own set of plans for Nix, putting him through nearly 70 hours.
“I put him through hell last summer,” Izzo said. “That kid went to more charities and more community service things than most of my guys go to in four years and in the end he more of enjoyed it.”
Nix is certainly grateful for his second chance and is looking forward to making the best of it as he captains the Michigan State basketball squad this year.
“A lot of people say what they want about Izzo but you never know how much someone cares for you until your career is on the line but he fought for me to stay here and that means a lot,” Nix said. “I have no more room for errors, no more mistakes, no more let-downs, no more parties, no more nothing, it’s just a straight line from here on out.”
The other man that will be captaining the Spartans this year, Russell Byrd, is finally healthy and ready to contribute to the team after a couple of injury-plagued seasons. Both he and Nix were voted by their teammates to be captains for this season.
“I was just honored and I was thankful, thankful that my teammates see me that way,” Byrd said after finding out he was captain. “I’m excited about the responsibility it is to be a captain and I’m ready to lead these guys and do whatever I can to make them better and make the team better.”
In addition to watching Nix and Byrd lead this year, another piece of this team that will be very interesting to watch is the emergence of all the incoming freshmen. One of the members of this class includes freshman guard Gary Harris, a McDonald’s All American and Mr. Basketball from the state of Indiana. Harris, who dominated in high school has noticed a change in the level of play since he got to Michigan State.
“The speed, the size, just everything, the college game, everybody is a lot better at this level rather than high school,” Harris said. “You got to be a lot more efficient and you can’t make as many mistakes.”
Harris’ fellow freshmen include: Matt Costello, Mr. Basketball for the state of Michigan, Denzel Valentine, a coach’s son who nearly averaged a triple double in high school, and Kenny Kaminski, a talented forward who may redshirt this season due to a shoulder injury. Together, these four freshmen make up one of the more talented recruiting classes in Michigan State history.
As for Brendan Dawson, the sophomore forward who suffered an ACL injury last season, he is recovering remarkably well, getting back into practices and looking like he will be able to play when the season tips off verse Connecticut in Germany on November 9.
The preseason festivities will continue with the annual Midnight Madness this Friday at the Breslin Center. Doors will open at 9:30 pm and the event will serve as another way to get students, fans, and players geared up for the season.
Nevertheless, with all of these preseason basketball activities taking place in the past week, the Michigan State basketball community is eager to get the season started. The team appears to be one of the deeper teams in the nation and certainly will be fun to watch this season.
“I can’t wait,” said Valentine. “It’s going to be really fun out there.”