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  • Author:
    Robert Bao
  • Published:
    Fall 2012

CAN LAST YEAR'S SUCCESS CARRY OVER TO 2012-13?

Tom Izzo believes all the positive results from last year-including two championship banners-will carry over to this season.

MSU could well be in the thick of another championship race, after a surprising run last year that saw the Spartans win the Big Ten title, win the Big Ten tournament title and earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

"Last year was a wonderful year, and I think you can build off that," says Tom Izzo, entering his 16th season as head coach. "We learned how to play together again and I think we learned that to win championships you've got to have chemistry and camaraderie."

Much of last year's success fed off the leadership from seniors Draymond Green and Austin Th ornton. Green, the Big Ten Player of the Year, also earned the league's Jesse Owens Athlete of the Year-the first Spartan to win this honor since Ryan Miller in 2001. Izzo hopes younger players can emerge and become leaders- including junior guard Keith Appling, senior center Derrick Nix, and junior center Adreian Payne.

"I think Appling will have to do a lot of it," says Izzo. "I hope (Travis) Trice and (Russell) Byrd are there too. The most difficult part for this year's team is who steps up, who becomes the leader, who becomes the voice. Leadership has unfortunately been a little bit more by committee, which I don't like, but they've been through last year so they've all been part of that success."

Izzo believes Nix could emerge as a leader despite his misdemeanor arrest last spring and a history of weight issues. "He had a great year," says Izzo. "He did everything we asked of him, kept his weight off , had a pretty good year academically- and then one hiccup," says Izzo. "It was hard trying to figure out what to do with him, besides killing him. But he learned from it and will be a better person because of it.

"He's paid some dues so far, he's gonna be paying more, but I'm pleased and proud to say that he's really taking steps in the right direction."

Izzo wants Nix to plateau around 260 pounds so he can take advantage of his quick feet. "I want him to stay at that weight," he says "Then he can learn how to play at that weight. He's making progress. If he grows up and wakes up, he could be a leader. He's got all the qualities."

Izzo is pleased that both Payne and sophomore Brandan Kearney have added significant muscle weight to their frames. "Payne runs like a deer and will be a real valuable asset," he notes. "He was playing his best basketball at the end of last year. Adreian has grown, has become a better leader, and having lived with Draymond last year, I think he gets it."

Also very positive for Izzo is the news that Branden Dawson is "well ahead of schedule" in recovering from a torn ACL injury. Had Dawson been healthy, Izzo muses, MSU could well have made the Final Four last season. He says Trice is recovered from an injury last year. "Trice can pass, shoot and defend," says Izzo. "He's a coach's son and just knows how to play." He believes both Byrd and Alex Gauna have made progress over the summer. And he believes the incoming class of four freshmen will contribute right away, with the possible exception of forward Ken Kaminski, who is recovering from a separated shoulder.

"It's a really good, solid class that in some ways is not even rated as high as it could be," he says. Here are some thumbnail sketches:

Gary Harris-A McDonald All-American, "he's a pure athlete-can score, can get in the lane and finish, can pass and can defend. I think he'll be one of the better defensive guards we've had in awhile. Comes from a great family, good student."

Denzel Valentine-"Maybe one of the best passers we've had since Mateen and Magic, and he's got size at 6-6. Good rebounder, goes on bothends of the court, not lightening quick but real smart. A gym rat. I love him."

Matt Costello-Michigan's Mr. Basketball, "he's a 4.3 student, he's an incredible worker, about as good a guy as you wanna have, tougher than nails. He's Mike Peplowski-strong and defensively is like Drew Naymick. Can score from 16 feet and his shot is goodlooking but will get better."

Kenny Kaminski-"A 6-7 knock-down shooter from NBA range. Suffered a separated shoulder but after he came back averaged about 20 points."

As usual, Izzo wants the 2012-13 Spartans to fast break at every opportunity. He has also maintained his usually tough schedule, beginning with the college basketball season opener Nov. 9 against Uconn at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to be telecast by ESPN. It will be the first time ever that a regular, non-exhibition college game is played overseas, and MSU figures to receive plenty of exposure. The Spartans will also play Kansas in Atlanta, at Miami for the Big Ten-ACC challenge, and then host Texas. "So we've got a hell of a schedule and the Big Ten is going to be really good," says Izzo.

"We'll be in the mix," predicts Izzo, who says he enjoys being picked high in the preseason polls. "Indiana will be the favorite. They have everyone back and then some, and will probably be in the national top three. I think Minnesota, Michigan, and as always, Wisconsin and Ohio State, and us are going to be the teams (to beat)."

Returning as assistants are Associate Head Coach Dwayne Stephens, Dane Fife and Mike Garland.

2012-13 WOMEN'S CAGERS ARE YOUNG BUT ATHLETIC

Just as the men's team needs to fill the void left by Draymond Green, the women's basketball team needs to replace Lykendra Johnson's rebounding prowess.

Johnson, the 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, was a force in the paint. Head Coach Suzy Merchant says several players will need to pick up the challenge.

"She (Johnson) was really one of the best rebounders in the league, especially on offense," says Merchant, who will look to several candidates-including sophomore forward Becca Mills and center Jasmine Hines-to pick up the slack. "The key for us is obviously to keep Madison Williams healthy."

A 6-7 center, Williams was a McDonald's All-American and the state's Gatorade Player of the Year in 2010, but she sat out the last two seasons because of ACL injuries. "We're going to take our time with her and make sure she gets into playing shape," says Merchant. "We want to work on her lungs and her fitness level before asking her to do too much."

Mills and Hines return with more experience and, hopefully, confidence. "We're looking to move (forward) Annalise Pickrel to her natural position, which is a face-up four," notes Merchant.

"We'll be young this year but we have a team that's very athletic," notes Merchant. "We've added some new players. Two (of four incoming) freshmen have the talent to get to the next level after college. We'll be able to press a lot more on defense, and our new assistant (Mark Simons, from Auburn, who replaced Shane Clipfell) has coaching experience with press defense in both the ACC and SEC."

MSU will again try to excel at defense, which, in Merchant's view, is what enabled the Spartans to achieve a first- or second-place in the Big Ten for the past five seasons. Defense will be a point of emphasis for new co-captains sophomore point guard Kiana Johnson and senior swing player Courtney Schiffauer.

Merchant sees Johnson bringing "athleticism, toughness and experience" to the team. Also on the backcourt are senior Jasmine Thomas and junior Klarissa Bell, who emerged last season as a defensive factor. "Klarissa had a breakthrough defensively last season," says Merchant. "She's letting herself go instead of playing not to make a mistake. She's had a great summer and we expect her to pick up where she left off ."

On offense, MSU will miss the offensive production of Porsche Poole, last year's team co-MVP with Lykendra Johnson. But some of MSU's incoming freshmen might help make up the deficit. Freshmen Aerial Powers from Detroit Country Day and Branndais Agee from Cass Tech bring some athletic excitement to the mix. "Aerial can elevate, create her own shot," says Merchant. "She's a powerful player. Brandie has a great motor and is like Cetera (Washington, '11), only with more offense."

Rounding out the freshman class is Mariah Harris and Cara Miller. Assisting Merchant are new assistant Simons, Tempie Brown and NcKell Copeland.

THE ICEMEN COMETH-

This season second-year Coach Tom Anastos will deploy one of the youngest ice hockey teams ever. MSU has 12 newcomers-including two transfers. "This will be one of our most inexperienced teams in recent memory," says Anastos, who notes that the group boasts four NHL draftees. "We'll be bigger, especially on defense, and we'll be faster and more physical than last year," he notes. MSU returns goalie Will Yanakeff , along with some stalwart players like Jake Chelios, Chris For far, Anthony Hayes and Greg Wolfe. "We need some leaders to emerge," says Anastos. "But we've got to have some patience." Assisting Anastos are Tom Newton and Kelly Miller. This will be MSU's last season competing in the CCHA; next year the Spartans will skate in the new Big Ten Conference league.

A. D. OF THE YEAR-

MSU's Mark Hollis has been named the 2012 Athletic Director of the Year by Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal/Daily. Hollis was honored on May 23 at a ceremony in New York City. "Individual awards are difficult to accept in higher education and athletics; however, they do recognize the innovation and teamwork necessary to achieve success," says Hollis, who is credited with last fall's Carrier Classic, the first basketball game on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Hollis also masterminded such world-record-setting events as the "BasketBowl" and the "Cold War." In 2011-12, MSU won the Big Ten Legends Division in football, beat Georgia in the Outback Bowl, won the Big Ten Tournament Championship in men's basketball and won three Big Ten Championships (women's cross country, men's basketball and women's golf). Last spring MSU athletes posted the highest GPA in program history. Hollis is chair of the Division I Amateurism Cabinet, a member of the NCAA's Men's Basketball Issues Committee and a member of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee.

HEART OF A SPARTAN-

MSU football's back to back 11-win seasons in 2010 and 2011 under Mark Dantonio has inspired a new book, Heart of a Spartan: The Story of a Michigan State Football Renaissance (Sport Community Publishing, 2012). The 288-page book was written by Jack Ebling, '73, '75, a three-time Michigan Sportswriter of the Year and a 2006 inductee into the Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame. A former sportswriter for the Lansing State Journal and host of several radio shows, Ebling has written six previous books-including books covering MSU's 1987 Rose Bowl season and Jud Heathcote and the Magic Johnson era's at MSU. The winner of 21 journalism awards, he is currently editor of the Greater Lansing Sport magazine and columnist for 247Sports' Spartan Tailgate website.

For more information, visit heartofaspartanbook.com.

SPARTAN SPORTS NETWORK 24/7-

Beginning this fall, MSU sports fans will be able to access the Spartan Radio Network (SRN) on a 24/7 basis. No matter where one lives, one can listen to MSU radio broadcasts-as well as press conferences, coaches' shows and other original programming-via MSU Alumni Magazine | 55 the Internet. "Our format is all Spartans, all the time," says Will Tieman, SRN president. "We want to celebrate the rich tradition of Spartan athletics and give MSU fans around the globe every opportunity to follow their teams." Predicts Mark Hollis, MSU athletics director: "This will certainly become a destination for all Spartan fans." In 2010 SRN launched a mobile app that has been downloaded more than 70,000 times.

For more information, visit spartansportsnetwork.com.

BASEBALL MAKES NCAA TOURNAMENT-

For the first time in 33 years, the MSU baseball team made it to the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans (37-21) earned a No. 3 seed in the Palo Alto Regional in California-a sweet triumph for fourth-year Head Coach Jake Boss, Jr., and assistants Mark Van Ameyde, Graham Sikes and Jake Boss, Sr. MSU previously made postseason play in 1954, 1971, 1978 and 1979. The Spartans have now achieved 30-game winning seasons for three straight years. "I think this was the next step," says Boss (left , with Boss, Sr.). "I think it validates all of the hard work our guys have put in and the priority that they put on every game this year, including the midweek games and the early-season games where it was our first chance to play outside."