EAST LANSING — In the circus that is college basketball, priorities, unfortunately, seem to get altered too often.
Instead of celebrating team performance, unity and growth — three things that get lost in today’s view of sports — we place individual performance, and hype, on a pedestal. Currently, this misjudgment of what should be in the forefront of the daily news is as prevalent as ever.
The Michigan State Spartans (4-0) are currently the No.1-ranked team in the nation, an honor that was given to them after defeating the opening-week first-ranked team, Kentucky, in their second game off the season. However, when you turn on the television, read an article, or listen to sports-talk radio, the talk isn’t about the best team in the country, it’s about the freshmen in one of the most stacked classes in a decade, and how they will translate to the next level.
Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, are the four freshmen that have eaten up headlines and taken up air time. And while all four players are special now, and will be special at the next level, we as media, and society, have gotten away from the development and growth of teams and individuals, and have gone straight for predicting the future.
Michigan State freshman guard Alvin Ellis III is a perfect example of how we can get our priorities back in check.
Ellis, who chose to forgo a redshirt season, isn’t putting up flashy numbers (2.7 points per game and one assists per game), he wasn’t recruited as heavily as the above four, and it’s yet to be seen if he will be an NBA-caliber player; but when you’re an 18-year-old college athlete, that’s what’s so special: you can grow.
“I haven’t been hearing it a lot,” Ellis said about the talk of this year’s freshman class. “I haven’t been paying attention to that kind of stuff. I’ve just been trying to play hard in practice, get some minutes on the floor, and see where that leads me.”
So far, that work ethic and mindset has led to Ellis seeing increased minutes since the matchup vs. Kentucky, a game where he didn’t see any action. While he only played three minutes in the Spartans’ victory over Columbia, and five minutes in their victory over Portland, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has liked what he’s seen from Ellis in games and in practice.
“I’ve been grinding in practice,” Ellis, a Chicago native, and former AAU teammate of Parker said. “Hopefully that leads to me getting more playing time. Hopefully, he (Izzo) trusts me on the court. I’ll see where that takes me.”
One thing that’s special about Ellis is his versatility. Ellis entered MSU as a shooting guard, but has since played a lot more point guard in practice, something that he’s getting more comfortable with.
“I see myself as a two,” he said. “I’m getting the hang of playing the one in practice, playing on the scout team and stuff like that. I’m getting used to having the ball in my hands more like that. I’ll hopefully be playing a little more one in the future.”
Michigan State standout sophomore Gary Harris raved about Ellis’ ability to pass the ball, and while the Spartans are currently set at the guard positions, his ability to make plays, if needed, on both ends of the floor is what’s going to lead to him playing and developing in his first season as a Spartan.
“Don’t turn the ball over,” Ellis said is one of his focuses going forward. “I don’t try to turn the ball over in a game, just try to keep it simple. Play good defense because I know that’s going to keep me out there.”