Spartan fans in Iowa take in open practice
DES MOINES, Iowa — The rest of Bennett Hammond’s family was decked out in green and white watching Michigan State’s open practice at the Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday, but not him. He was wearing his own jersey, number 5, from his youth team in the Des Moines area, and a black headband.
Bennett is a five-year old point guard.
He wears the headband, and the number, because of his favorite player, Cassius Winston.
Bennett’s father, Chris, is a 2001 graduate of Michigan State originally from the Kalamazoo area. He and his wife Erin, an Iowa grad from Des Moines, have three children: Katie, 11, Drew, 8, and Bennett.
Erin said that before every MSU game, Bennett runs to his room and grabs his headband so he can get ready to watch his hero.
“I like the way (Winston) plays,” Bennett said.
Katie and Drew were wearing football-style eye black and chanting “Go Green, Go White!” throughout the whole practice. Katie said she likes Nick Ward because of the big facial expressions he makes.
Drew just got a haircut over the weekend, and asked the barber to make his hair look like Matt McQuaid. Drew said he, like McQuaid, is a shooter.
Chris told a story about a time a few year back when MSU coach Tom Izzo was in the Des Moines area recruiting future Phoenix Sun Josh Jackson. He said Izzo and assistant Dwayne Stephens saw them at the high school tournament, and said hi.
“We were all decked out in State gear,” Chris said. “We got to hang out with them. ... We took a family picture and everything. It was pretty cool.”
The natural question for the Hammonds, considering their respective alma maters, was how often they make it back to Iowa City for MSU-Iowa matchups. All three kids are 100 percent MSU fans, not Iowa.
“I’m like 0-for-3 or 0-for-4 when they play there,” Chris said, laughing. “We got blown out, the kids are cheering to the end, I was like, ‘guys, we’re down 17. I don’t know if we’re gonna pull this one out.’ They’re still yelling, ‘go State!’”
The Hammonds were all set to go out of state for the kids’ spring break before they found out MSU was playing in Des Moines. The chance to watch the Spartans, and for Bennett to get to see Winston in person, convinced them to stay.
“I was probably the one pushing to come here,” Erin said.
Even she, a Hawkeye, appreciates this Spartan team.
“I love this team, they’re so fun to watch,” she said.
The Hammonds will be in attendance Thursday when the 2-seed Spartans take on 15th-seeded Bradley at 2:45 p.m. They have tickets for the potential matchup against the winner of 7th-seeded Louisville and 10th-seeded Minnesota should MSU advance.
Dick Volkamer has seen a lot of great athletes play for Michigan State, but one will always be close to his heart. The 1957 Spartan team that made the school’s first Final Four when Volkamer was a sophomore at MSU featured “Jumpin’” Johnny Green, a former walk-on and African-American pioneer of MSU athletics.
“Mr. 32-inch vertical leap,” Volkamer said of Green. “I was out on the court ... one time, and all of a sudden I saw the bottom of his tennis shoes. I thought, well, let’s just roll the ball out.”
He said he used to go to games at Jenison Field House all the time as a student.
“Back in those days, when you signed up and got your student ID, you could go to all the sports things free,” he said.
Volkamer, 82, is a Lansing native who has lived in the Des Moines area “for about the last 100 years,” and came to watch the Spartans practice on Wednesday as a luxury of his semi-retirement.
He said he hasn’t seen the Spartans play in person in years, but whenever he hits the “Guide” button on his TV remote, the words “Michigan State” pop up because he searches for games so often.
Without junior guard Joshua Langford and redshirt junior forward Kyle Ahrens, both out for the season with foot injuries, Volkamer has the Spartans losing in the Elite Eight to Duke in his bracket.
“If they’d have had both of those guys at full strength, they would have played right down to the buzzer with Duke,” he said.
Volkamer said he relished the chance to see the Spartans play in person, and plans on being at Wells Fargo Arena both Thursday and Saturday if MSU makes it that far.