ON THE HEELS OF A GREAT YEAR, TOM IZZO’S TEAM STARTS FRESH
By Robert Bao, ’68
Last year, the Spartans men’s basketball team hopped aboard a rollercoaster, giving Head Coach Tom Izzo perhaps the most tantalizing ride of his MSU coaching career. And it peaked with a dramatic run to the Final Four.
Get ready: here come the 2015-16 Spartans.
With a seasoned roster, led by senior guard Denzel Valentine and sophomore point guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, the Spartans could work their way to the eighth Final Four of the Izzo era.
ESPN’s “No-Longer-Way-Too-Early” projection ranks the Spartans No. 19 nationally, behind conference teams Maryland (No. 1) and Indiana (No. 14).
Team leader Valentine is a versatile player who gained valuable experience with the U.S. Pan American team this summer. The Lansing native has the drive and command to lead MSU much like Draymond Green did in 2012. Valentine is a double-digit scorer and outstanding rebounder with excellent court vision.
Nairn, a cat-quick dribbler, brings added dimension to the offense. Loath to shoot as a freshman, Nairn concentrated on his shot all summer, giving opponents one more problem when defending against the Spartans.
Coming off minor knee surgery, senior Matt Costello should be ready to live up to his “Mr. Basketball” accolades. Last season, the 6-9 center was steady as a defender and rebounder. He ranks sixth all-time at MSU with 104 career blocks. Junior Gavin Schilling, who rotated at center, has improved his on-court skills dramatically since his freshman debut.
Senior guard Bryn Forbes is known for making clutch three-pointers; yet, his added value to the 2015-16 team could be in his improvement on defense. Forbes might be the team’s most improved player over the summer, according to Izzo.
Fans are looking forward to seeing guard Eron Harris, who averaged 17.2 points at West Virginia as a sophomore before transferring to MSU. Harris is an athletic player who can drive to the basket and shoot efficiently from long-range.
Sophomore Marvin Clark returns after an impressive freshman season, when he started seven games. A 6-6 wing, he will try to fill Dawson’s role.
“He’s kind of Branden Dawson with a better shot at this stage of his career,” Izzo said. “Marvin can do a lot of things, and he always brings energy . . . he’s improved in many ways.’’
Fans are anxious to see sophomore Javon Bess return from a broken foot bone that sidelined him for much of last season.
Three highly-touted freshmen—forward Deyonta Davis, Michigan’s “Mr. Basketball,” and wings Matt McQuaid and Kyle Ahrens—add to the mix. At 6-10, Davis has the height and ball skills to start. McQuaid is an outside shooter boasting a nice range, while Ahrens can drive to the basket and finish.
“All three of those guys I think are going to be challenging people (for minutes),” Izzo said. “I really do and that’s great. You’re going to like all three, they’re all going to give us something.”
Beyond the always hard-fought conference games, MSU will host Louisville (B1G/ACC) and Florida, and face Kansas in the Champions Classic. MSU also could meet Arizona in the Wooden Legacy preseason tournament in Anaheim.
As always, the goal is March Madness. Once again, Izzo’s team has the talent and grueling schedule to prepare them for a deep tournament run.
Alisa Healy contributed to this story.?
Women’s Basketball Powers, Motivation and the Grind
After a season decimated by injuries, the MSU women’s basketball team looks forward to a turnaround in 2015-16.
The Spartans went just 16-15 last season while playing most games with only seven or eight healthy players. If this squad stays healthy, the outlook is very positive.
“I think we’re going to be really, really good. We have a chance to be really good—have to stay healthy,” Head Coach Suzy Merchant said. “It’s exciting. These kids are motivated and they’ve got the grind going.”
MSU’s outlook is bolstered by the return of its two leading scorers, juniors Aerial Powers and Tori Jankoska, and the addition of a strong cadre of newcomers.
In July, Powers led Team USA to a gold medal and the World University Games Championship in South Korea. In the final 82-63 win over Canada, Powers delivered an MVP performance with a game-high 27 points on 9 of 15 shooting and nine rebounds. Powers averaged 18 points per game en route to Team USA’s 6-0 record.
“It feels great, and I’m so excited,” said Powers, who as a sophomore set MSU records for points (678), rebounds (375) and scoring average (21.9). “I’m on cloud nine. I can’t stop smiling ear-to-ear. I look at this thing and see all the hard work we put into it.”
Last season Jankoska also enjoyed an All-Big Ten performance, averaging 17.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Also returning are Branndais Agee, Lexi Gussert and Kennedy Johnson. They will be joined by a highly touted recruiting class of six newcomers—ranked as high as 16 by some publications. Perhaps the headliner of this group is point guard Morgan Green, who was ranked the No. 2 junior college player.
“She will make an immediate impact with her speed and playmaking ability, as well as being a tremendous scorer,” Merchant said.
The positive outlook for women’s basketball should encourage supporters to keep filling the Breslin Center. Last season MSU was 10th in the nation in home attendance with 97,906, which translates to an average of 6,119 fans in 16 home games. It was the 11th-straight season that the Spartans have been ranked in the top 15 nationally in attendance.?
Spartan Sports Greats Inducted in MSU Hall of Fame
A half-dozen MSU alumni sports greats are the newest members of the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame. They bring to 131 the total number of inductees.
The Class of 2015:
The 2001 All-American was a key figure in Michigan State’s historic run at the turn of the century. In his four-year career, Bell helped MSU to the 2000 NCAA Championship, four consecutive Big Ten Championships and three straight Final Four Appearances. He was also MSU’s Best Defensive Player four-straight seasons.
(1980-1990) | Football (1950-1952)
Doug Weaver was a lifetime Spartan. Along with George Perles, he is one of only two Spartans to ever earn a varsity letter as a student, coach a varsity sport, and serve as the athletics director of MSU. Weaver was a played for the Spartan football team from 1950-52, helping MSU win national championships in 1951 and 1952. Weaver also helped coach the 1957 team to a national championship. During his 11-year tenure as athletics director, the hockey team won an NCAA Championship and seven Big Ten Championships.
Maple Heights, Ohio
Coming to Michigan State as just a walk-on, it wasn’t long before Pat Milkovich became an all-time Spartan great. He became the youngest NCAA champion in 1972 at just 18 years and three months old, and was the first four-time NCAA finalist in Big Ten history. Along with his title freshman year, Milkovich also won the 1974 national title at 126 pounds. He is one of just two four-time All-Americans at MSU.
One of the best ever to play football at MSU, Andre Rison was a two-time First-Team All-Big Ten selection in 1986 and 1988, leading the Spartans to a win at the 1988 Rose Bowl. Rison finished his career as the all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and 100-yard receiving games for Michigan State. Rison was a five-time Pro Bowl selection during his NFL career. At MSU, he also lettered in track (1986) and basketball (1988).
Mary Kay Itnyre
After spending her freshman season at Arizona State, Mary Kay Itnyre returned to her home state to dominate Michigan State women’s basketball. During her three-year career as a Spartan, the Detroit native set career records in scoring (1,189 points), scoring average (14.9 points per game), rebounds (821), rebounding average (10.3 rpg.) and double-doubles (43). She still holds the record for double-doubles.
Mike York was a Spartan Hockey great in his four years in East Lansing. York was a two-time first-team All-American, as well as a two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist finishing his career as one of just 14 Spartans to eclipse 200 career points. He helped lead MSU to the 1999 NCAA Frozen Four, and was named CCHA Player of the Year and CCHA Best Defensive Forward. York went on to a 10-year career in the NHL.?