Izzo finding roles for freshmen on injury-bitten hoops team
After about two weeks of practices, senior guard Kalin Lucas said his excitement and anticipation for the first game of the season is growing.
He thinks the men’s basketball team is prepared to be a dominant force.
Lucas said healthwise, he and the rest of his injured teammates still are rehabbing and making adjustments to be successful. Lucas ruptured his Achilles’ in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season and underwent a strenuous rehabilitation.
Along with injuries the team will have to overcome, another challenge will be compensating for the loss of graduated forward Raymar Morgan. In his four years as a Spartan, Morgan averaged 11.9 points and 5.7 rebounds.
“On the defensive end, we’re going to miss Raymar a lot, so we’ve just got to have guys step up and talk more, as well on offense,” junior guard Korie Lucious said. “We’re going to miss him, but at the same time, we have other guys that can go to the glass and get offensive rebounds.”
Junior forward Draymond Green said although Morgan was an effective presence, he knows the team brought in enough talent to make up for the loss.
Specifically, players noted freshmen guard Keith Appling, center Adreian Payne and forward Alex Gauna as incoming players expected to greatly contribute to the program’s success.
“We’re looking forward to having them out there with us, and we just have to get them all on the same page,” Green said. “That’s a lot to learn when you come to a program like this, but we think they’re picking up well.”
While some of the veterans see the freshmen catching on, head coach Tom Izzo said they have a long way to go. But he expects major improvements once the season starts and they get some playing time and experience, especially with players such as Lucas and Lucious still not fully recovered from injuries.
Izzo also said Gauna recently became ill with mononucleosis while Payne was having shoulder complications, which prevented them from participating in the core conditioning. With Payne back on the court, Izzo said he needs to improve his three-point shooting form.
“When he gets ready and shoots it, he’s got a very good-looking shot, as you can see,” Izzo said. “The consistency is whether he just catches it and fires it, or catches it and gets it ready and shoots it.
“If he gets it ready and shoots it, his rotation is about as good as half the guards we’ve got.”
While Payne has an impressive shot, Izzo said he’s more impressed with other aspects of the center’s game.
“I’d much rather him dunk or go up there and get a rebound with his elbows above the rim,” he said.
Senior guard Durrell Summers said Appling brings a lot of energy to practice every day, which boosts everyone’s morale and excitement.
“Once he slows down a little bit and keeps learning, he can be like an X factor for us just because he can do so much,” Summers said.
With MSU’s season opening next week, team members said they need to do everything possible to help the new players be as prepared as possible.
“We’re not expecting them to come out and try to score 30 points or anything like that,” Lucious said. “But we’re just going to try and help them be as solid as possible.”
“Myself, Kalin, Durrell, Draymond and (junior forward Delvon Roe) — we’re all veterans now, so we know what we have to do to get wins.”
With so much incoming talent in Payne, Appling, Gauna and injured freshman guard Russell Byrd — who is recovering from surgery on his left foot to repair a stress fracture — Izzo acknowledged a correlation between his recruiting success with the team’s NCAA Tournament success.
“I thought for the first time in the last year or so in recruiting, all those Final Fours have helped us. … That’s why it’s so important we keep this going, not just for our athletic department, but for our university,” he said.