As a freshman, Branden Dawson was guarding one of the nation’s premier players on one of the largest stages.
The now-junior forward was guarding North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes in his first collegiate game, as well as the first game ever played on an aircraft carrier in front of the President of the United States and a nationally televised audience.
Like many of MSU’s opponents Tuesday evening, Dawson was a five-star recruit, as well as a McDonald’s All-American. But like Kentucky head coach John Calipari said last week, Dawson said the experiences of playing on a big stage needs to be taken into account.
“This is college basketball, when you’re in a college and you play great teams, its a huge step from high school,” Dawson said. “It was difficult for me because guys were much stronger, faster. — it was North Carolina. They were a great team, it definitely was a huge adjustment.”
It’s a mantra, head coach Tom Izzo has basically lived by, “Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime.” And because of that, Izzo’s teams have played on some of the biggest stages, more recently the Carrier Classic, and at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
For Keith Appling, another McDonald’s All-American recruit, he agreed being a veteran was an advantage against an inexperienced team like Kentucky.
“I feel like it’s definitely an advantage being a veteran, being and (playing) in a lot of different venues,” Appling said after MSU’s win against McNeese State last week. “As a freshman, I remember how it was like for me. I didn’t really know what to expect. I can only imagine how it is for those guys.”
Not only is experience is a factor, Izzo said in his weekly press conference Monday afternoon he believes his team’s talent level is being overlooked.
However, with talent and experience accounted for, Izzo said it’s a different situation with Kentucky.
“I am not sure if I ever, and I am not sure if anybody here has heard of seven or eight first-round players on the same team,” Izzo said. “You start talking seven, that’s a whole different experience… I am not sure if that experience would take place over the talent if there is that much of it.”
No matter the outcome, both teams will be a part of an exciting night of college basketball.
The MSU and Kentucky match will be followed up by No. 4 Duke against No. 5 Kansas at 9:30 p.m. Kansas and Duke features the top two recruits from the freshman class, as well as possible the top two picks in the 2014 NBA Draft — Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
“It’s a big opportunity, and that’s the reason we come here,” junior guard Travis Trice said. “Growing up as a kid, it’s what you dream of being on this stage and the chance to be No. 1 if we win. We just gotta live in the moment, but also take it as an opportunity.”