Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Past standards still haunt 'U'

April 1, 2003

San Antonio - The motivation for the MSU men's basketball team this postseason was to make a name for itself instead of chasing the glory of seasons' past.

Mission accomplished?

"It was a good run, not many people gave us a chance to get this far," sophomore forward/guard Alan Anderson said. "But we're still a step short of bridging that gap.

"Until we can put it all together and go to the Final Four or get a Big Ten championship, we've still got some work to do."

That "gap," the distinction between MSU's young team and the veteran-led championship team of three seasons ago, was slightly spanned this postseason with a first-round triumph against No. 10 seed Colorado and upset wins over No. 2 seed Florida and No. 6 seed Maryland.

But until Anderson stands atop the champions' stepladder and sports a frayed net slung around his neck like the image of former Spartan Mateen Cleaves, there's work left to do.

"The Cleaves and the (former Spartan Morris) Petersons, they've won a championship," Anderson said. "We haven't won anything yet. Until we accomplish that goal, we haven't bridged anything."

This tournament was a solid start in that direction, though. Aside from showing tighter defense - until Sunday's 85-76 loss to No. 1 seed Texas in the South regional final - and an uptempo offense, the Spartans have gotten considerable contributions from the freshmen.

Freshman center Paul Davis and freshman forward Erazem Lorbek were both named to the South Region All-Tournament Team on Sunday.

Lorbek led the team in scoring over tournament games (12.0 ppg) and Davis led the team in scoring against Texas (15 points) and hit the game-winning basket against Maryland.

Head coach Tom Izzo remained on the fence about whether his team is ready to make the jump to championship-caliber.

"I think it's starting to, but like I said, we still have a long way to go," he said. "We had a hell of a run, but I'm not sure we're where we need to be yet."

Last hurrah

When the final buzzer sounded to signal the completion of MSU's loss to Texas on Sunday, it also signaled the end of an era in MSU basketball.

Senior forwards Aloysius Anagonye, Adam Ballinger, Brian Westrick and junior forward Adam Wolfe all donned the green and white for the last time in their careers as Spartans.

Anagonye, Ballinger and Wolfe were members of the 2000 national championship team, won two Big Ten titles and went to two Final Fours.

The young team they'll leave behind keeps the program in capable hands, Anagonye said.

"I'm proud of the guys," he said following Sunday's loss. "The game itself I'm not proud of, but I'm proud of the guys who made a commitment to me."

Traveling call

The Alamodome became a virtual "who's who" of Spartan alumni and officials last weekend.

In attendance for games against Maryland or Texas were former MSU players Earvin "Magic" Johnson and San Antonio Spurs Kevin Willis and Steve Smith.

Hoping to lend some championship inspiration for the Maryland game on Friday, Johnson spoke with the team before the game.

Also in attendance was Athletics Director Ron Mason, MSU president M. Peter McPherson and former Michigan Gov. John Engler.

Jud's boys

This season's Final Four was two wins shy of becoming an MSU-themed game of six degrees of separation.

If MSU and Oklahoma had won Sunday, three of the Final Four's head coaches would have had ties to MSU basketball and former head coach Jud Heathcote.

Izzo, Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson and Marquette's Tom Crean all worked as assistants under Heathcote in the '80s or '90s before going on to helm their own squads.

"In my own way I was hoping Kelvin, me and Tom would all get there and it would've been three of Jud's guys," Izzo said. "Two of us let him down a little bit."


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