|Derrick Nix, left, and Tom Izzo will have a preseason top-10 team coming off a Sweet 16 appearance. (US Presswire)|
It's going to be uncomfortable at first for Michigan State fans.
The team should be really good this year, but it's going to be initially weird when the season begins and Draymond Green is not on the floor. Green was the do-it-all point forward who turned himself into the most unique college basketball player during his time in East Lansing.
Now comes the new season, new roles and fixing the wrongs of the team. This goes for the off-court stuff as well. Last year, Derrick Nix was repairing his image only in the literal sense, as he shed a lot of weight in advance of the 2011-12 season. But after last season, Nix was arrested for marijuana possession in the spring. Initially, we didn't know if he'd be invited back. But Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo was impressed with Nix's humble attitude and apologetic nature in the weeks following the arrest.
Izzo spoke to the Detroit Free Press about what this team is, what it can be and, probably most important, how it replaces Green. Nix is not nearly the player -- in skill or mold -- that Green was, but he'll be vital to MSU's overall success.
But where does Nix stand with this group and with Izzo?
Q: Can Nix be a captain for this team, despite his legal troubles this summer?
A: That was the night of the (NCAA) championship game. I told the guys I wanted to have a meeting. So we had a meeting, talked about the semifinals, talked about the year. A lot of times I'll have them over to my house so we can watch the championship game together. But the guys said, "Day-Day's (Draymond Green) gonna have everybody over to watch the game at his place." So I said, "Great."
The meeting ends. I bring Nix in my office, and I say, "Derrick, you've made great improvements this year. Your conditioning is still a factor, but you've made great improvements. I think you have a chance to be the leader of this team." Because when he's right, he's very good. He can be a good teammate, and he's a smart kid. He understands. He's street smart.
And then 5 hours later, he does the dumbest thing of his life, you know? After what he had done. Since then, I mean some guys have community service. He was a math student. He did community service to the second and third power. He had the little three up there. He maxed out on everything he had to do this summer and then some.
And you know, I would have said no, I wouldn't have allowed it. I would have said no because I don't think he could have the respect of his teammates. And the way the summer's gone and so far in the fall, I'm leaving it open yet.
MSU will be picking its captains in a few weeks. From the outside, this means little to those covering the game, even for the fans. But picking captains can have real impact on teams in terms of chemistry, pecking order, etc. It sounds so cliché yet it's so true: teams need leaders. And they need the right ones. Will Nix, a senior, be that? I have no idea.
Elsewhere on the team, the main player with blind optimism surrounding his play his Gary Harris, a freshman who's considered one of the better ones Izzo has lured to MSU in the past decade.
I just think Gary Harris, what makes him special is he could be the first player in a long time to come in and be equally valuable on both ends of the court. Not many guys, I mean he's got all three facets -- offense, defense, intelligence. He's got all three. And he's got an incredible work ethic, so maybe it's four.
A lot of guys are good offensively. There's been a few guys, a la Charlie Bell, who were very good defensively. Not many guys can do it on both ends. This kid can legitimately play both ends.
Izzo also said Keith Appling will start at point guard. The Spartans will be stout, decently deep and varied in size and speed. Can they be better than the one seed they became last season? It sounds weird to say without Green ... but I think so?
This is September, though. I can see myself coming back to this post by Thanksgiving and chuckling over the naïveté.