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EXCITEMENT BUILDS AROUND NEW SEASON

After last season’s “perfect storm” of six major surgeries and two player exits, Izzo looks forward to a bounceback with four newcomers adding to a core of veterans and resurgent players.

There is renewed excitement around Tom Izzo as he looks to the 2011-12 season, especially aft er the way expectations last season sank in a perfect storm of surgeries, injuries and player departures.

“I’m very excited,” says Izzo of his 16th season as MSU men’s basketball head coach. “We have a good mix of people—a group of veterans and youths, along with the resurgence of some players that I had expected to play better.

“There are a lot of unknowns, but I like what I know about the unknowns. Of course, you don’t know for sure until you get them in game situations.”

Izzo looks forward to seeing leadership from seniors Draymond Green and Delvon Roe, assisted by senior walk-on Austin Thornton. He sees sophomores Keith Appling and Adreian Payne continuing to excel; both showed moments of brilliance as rookies last year. He looks forward to seeing some of the five newcomers “give us immediate help”—most likely freshmen Branden Dawson, a McDonald’s All-American, and hopefully point guard Travis Trice. Brandon Wood, a transfer guard from Valparaiso, will likely help the team this year—he has proven he can score against topnotch competition, including 30 points Against North Carolina, 28 against Purdue and 24 against MSU.

The resurgent players, says Izzo, are Roe and junior center Derrick Nix, two players who did not play as well as expected—“Roe because of his injuries, Nix because he swallowed an elephant.”

Of course, MSU will face another brutal schedule with early bi-coastal games against North Carolina and Duke—one on an aircraft carrier in San Diego, the other in New York. “Those games will be good measuring sticks early,” says Izzo. “They are incredible opportunities for us.”

Above all, Izzo expects this year’s team to have good chemistry. “We have enough parts, we just have to put them together,” he says. “I’m optimistic because we know the things that need to be corrected and how to correct them.”

The biggest factors last season were the six major surgeries on Kalin Lucas, Delvon Roe, Adreian Payne, Russell Byrd, Austin Thornton and Korie Lucious—setbacks that denied them an opportunity to develop team chemistry over the summer. Making matters worse, Chris Allen and Korie Lucious were dismissed from the team—something Izzo had not dealt with before as head coach.

“With all of that, and with one of the nation’s toughest schedules, we still had 19 wins and made the NCAA tournament,” says Izzo. “In our second game of the season, we led most of the game and were a couple of free throws from beating (eventual NCAA champion) Uconn at the Maui Invitational. So you have to put things into perspective.”

This season’s team will revolve around Green, one of the most versatile players Izzo has ever coached. Green pulled off two triple doubles last season and is Only the third Spartan to ever achieve this statistical feat. He also led MSU in rebounds and assists, a rare combination. Even more eyebrow-raising, Green actually participated in a couple of plays in the Green and White football game last spring. “We need Draymond to go from real good to great,” says Izzo. “He is a good leader, but now he needs to be a great leader. I think he’s very excited about the challenge.”

Roe was a consensus Top 10 player in high school, but a series of injuries beginning his senior high school season curtailed his explosiveness. He has focused on defense and rebounding. Last year, prior to his injury in a late game against Penn State, Roe showed flashes of brilliance with some quick, explosive moves to the basket. “This is probably about the healthiest he’s been since his junior year in high school,” notes Izzo.

Appling, Michigan’s Mr. Basketball in 2010, emerged as MSU’s best defensive player. “This is very unusual for a freshman,” notes Izzo, “It’s also unusual because Keith is known for his scoring.” Indeed, in 2009 Appling scored 49 points at the Breslin Center to lead Detroit Pershing to the state title.

Payne, a 6-10 center who was sidelined by shoulder surgery last summer, has been able to lift weights this summer. “I think he’s up to 232 pounds,” says Izzo. The extra bulk could help Payne surmount the physical play of Big Ten opponents and allow his talents to flourish.

Nix, Appling’s teammate at Detroit Pershing and Michigan’s 2009 Mr. Basketball, has plenty of bulk to make his presence felt in the paint. Indeed, he needs a little less heft to better jibe with MSU’s fast-breaking scheme. A big man with soft hands and nifty Footwork, Nix can have a strong presence in the low post.

Redshirt freshmen Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd both are recovering from surgeries last season. Junior center Garrick Sherman has transferred to Notre Dame. Another newcomer is Brandan Kearney, a Steve Smith lookalike from Detroit. Returning as assistant coaches are Dwayne Stephens and Mike Garland.

New assistant coach Dane Fife replaces Mark Montgomery, who was named head coach at Northern Illinois University. Fife was head coach at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and played college basketball under Bob Knight at Indiana University, reaching the Final Four in 2002.

WOMEN’S HOOPS TO DEFEND TITLE

Suzy Merchant looks to defend her Big Ten championship with plenty of talent, including a McDonald’s All-American center and Michigan’s Miss Basketball.

After winning the Big Ten championship last season, Suzy Merchant says her goal this season is to win another title. Although some key players— including Big Ten Player of the Year Kalisha Keane, point guard Brittney Thomas and forward Cetera Washington-Have graduated, MSU returns plenty Of talent.

“You don’t ever replace those players, who were unique in their own ways, and you can’t replicate that chemistry,” says Merchant, now entering her fifth season.

“What we need to do is to define ourselves with a new identity.”

Merchant, who was selected as Big Ten Coach of the Year by both the coaches and the media, believes her team has plenty of size, athleticism and talent—but remains young.

“The last couple of seasons we’ve had veteran teams, but this year we will be young again,” she says. “That will be our main challenge. But I do like the group we have coming back. We have some size, with (6-7 center) Madison (Williams) being healthy, and we do have some power. We will be able to capitalize and be more of an inside-out team, as compared to an outside-in team. Last season we had a lot of face-up 4s and 5s, and this year we have a lot of post-up 4s and 5s.”

Returning Starters Include senior forward Lykendra Johnson, a powerful defender who is opportunistic in the paint. “She’s one of the best offensive rebounders ever,” says Merchant. “It’s impossible to block her out.” Also returning is senior guard Taylor Alton, a 5-11 forward who can shoot lights out. “She’s a great shooter—she’s deadly,” says Merchant. “She has a high basketball IQ.”

Junior Courtney Schiffauer, who led the team in scoring as a freshman before suffering a knee injury, was slowed down in her comeback last season. “She is now completely healthy and very motivated,” notes Merchant.

Sophomores Annalise Pickrel and Klarissa Bell—last year’s Miss Basketball—are expected to step up and become major contributors. “We like to see Pickrel play at the 4,” says Merchant. “Bell has an opportunity to showcase her ability and athleticism.”

Auditioning to replace Thomas at point guard are senior Porsche poole, who showed Some excellent Stretches last season, and junior Jasmine Thomas. A freshman Might also enter the Mix—Kiana Johnson From Chicago’s Whitney Young.

Many fans are Anxious to see incoming freshman Jasmine Hines, Michigan’s Miss Basketball and Gatorade Player of The Year. A Powerful athlete who is 6-3, Hines set the state’s All-Time Record in both Scoring and rebounding And was named to Parade Magazine's All-America team.

Other incoming freshmen include Becca Mills and Akyah Taylor. “Becca is extremely talented and a bit under the radar,” says Merchant. “She will be an unbelievable player for us.” Taylor is more of a swing player in the mold of Cetera Washington, the team’s second-leading rebounder.

MSU will try to fast-break and otherwise play with an accelerated pace, to take advantage of the team’s athleticism. Merchant would like to see the defense creating more turnovers.

“I’m optimistic,” says Merchant. “Of course, I’ve been optimistic every year. With our size, talent and athleticism, we’ll be competitive in the Big Ten. Our goal is to win the championship.”

Joining Merchant on the bench are Associate Head Coach Shane Clipfell, and assistant coaches Tempie Brown and NcKell Copeland.

BIG TEN RACK AND FIELD TITLES — MSU sophomore Beth Rohl, the Big Ten champion in the hammer throw and the discus throw, in May became the first Spartan named both Big Ten Field Athlete of the Year and Big Ten Field Athlete of the Championships. Th ee teammates also won Big Ten championships. Junior Becca Buchholtz posted a school-record height of 1. 82 meters to win the women’s high jump crown. Senior Emily MacLeod won the 5,000 meters, adding to her previous Big Ten crowns in cross country and in the 3,000- and 5,000 meters indoors. Sophomore Lonnie Pugh won the men’s discus throw with a toss of 53. 81 meters.

MAGIC JOHNSON AND DAN GILBERT TO HELP DETROIT — Magic Johnson announced in July that he’s investing in Detroit Venture Partners (DVP), a high-tech venture capital fund founded in 2009 by fellow Spartan Dan Gilbert, CEO of Quicken Loans, and ePrize’s Josh Linkner. Johnson says this partnership makes good a promise he made to Detroit Mayor David Bing. “Th e only reason I’m a businessman is because of Bing Steel,” says Johnson. “He set the example.” Kinkner says DVP’s goal is to invest in 12-15 new ventures annually, offering each up to $3 million. “We’re on a mission to transform Detroit into a technology hub,” he says. “We hope to make a difference through entrepreneurial fire. We have an all-digital strategy. Th e types of things we’ll invest in are social media, mobile apps, cloud computing, internet and e-commerce.”

ICE HOCKEY SEASON — MSU ice hockey fans can look forward to a new coaching staffled by Tom Anastos and also to a rugged schedule that could include 13 games against teams in last season’s NCAA tournament field—including three of the Frozen Four teams (Michigan, Notre Dame and North Dakota). Eighteen home games will include teams from four of the five conferences. “Th is year’s schedule is extremely challenging and features a nice blend of traditional league rivalries along with two high profile tournaments in the Icebreaker and Great Lakes Invitational,” says Anastos. MSU will play Boston College in the Icebreaker Tournament (Oct. 7-8) at North Dakota—its first meeting since beating BC 3-1 in 2007 to win the NCAA title. Anastos has added former Spartan icers Kelly Miller as assistant coach and Mike Gilmore as goaltending coach, and retained Tom Newton as assistant coach and Adam Nightingale as director of hock Operatios. Miller, who boasts 18 year in professional hockey as player and coach, will serve as a full-time assistant coach along with Newton, who begins his 22nd season with MSU

NEW BRESLIN Scoreboard - Here Is a Sneak preview Of the new scoreboard that will be at MSU’s Bresllin Student Events Center. A new component for the fans will be a wraparound video screen between the upper and lower levels, which is visible in the background.  

Author: Robert Bao

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