Thursday, July 2, 2020

Kyle Ahrens, the 'Forgotten Man', has one last chance to be remembered

October 17, 2019
<p>Junior guard Kyle Ahrens (0) drives to the net during the men&#x27;s basketball game against Indiana Feb. 2, 2019 at Breslin Center. Nic Antaya/The State News</p>

Junior guard Kyle Ahrens (0) drives to the net during the men's basketball game against Indiana Feb. 2, 2019 at Breslin Center. Nic Antaya/The State News

Photo by Nic Antaya | The State News

The monotonous storyline for Michigan State's Kyle Ahrens has become far too predictable and infuriating. He builds and progresses to the peak of his basketball season ... only to tumble back to the bottom of the mountain with an injury.

“That's been my whole career," Ahrens said. "That’s been ever since I have been in high school. I hit the rankings for the first time ever, then boom, I broke my leg. Come back better than ever, boom, stress fracture. Boom, this, that. When you realize it's god’s plan, you just have that feeling inside you and understand that, it makes life so much better.

“I wouldn’t be here for another year if it wasn’t for the people I have, these teammates that we have here, my wife, my family. They just surround me with such great love and everything, so just being around them has helped me out.” 

Yes. Ahrens — a senior guard/forward combo from Versailles, Ohio — is back for one last season at Michigan State. And after years of broken bones, bad knees and back among other injuries, he is once again, finally, healthy — sort of.

“I'm the best I'm going to be," Ahrens said."When you have one injury and another, another, another, you kind of get pains and aches that you never usually have. I mean I feel like I’m the oldest player in college basketball, pretty close to it.”

Ahrens will suit up for his fifth and final season in East Lansing. His career is one that's always been under the radar. Those injuries, which has halted his development, have played a big part in that.

And in other ways, injuries have turned Ahrens into a second thought — a forgotten talent in Michigan State's rotation.

“I honestly love it. I love people not knowing me," Ahrens said during Tuesday's on-campus media day. "It's been like that throughout my whole life."

During Ahrens' junior year in high school, his season was wasted with a broken leg. A couple of years later, Ahrens suffered a broken foot in preseason and was forced to redshirt in 2017-18.

And then came last season, which followed suit with the year prior. Ahrens, who looked like he was ready to take a major step in his career, suffered a mild back strain that hampered him all year. A gruesome ankle injury in Michigan State's final game before the NCAA Tournament ended his season.

Ahrens said the back injury was easily more painful. It affected everything he did, including his daily life.

"My back, I would wake up in the middle of the night, I would have to start stretching or something," he said. "Then in the morning I could walk but it was something I had to stretch out before.” 

Just falling asleep was a chore.

Sometimes an ice bath beforehand would help the pain. Next came a cream, similar to "Icy Hot" to keep everything loose. Then a pillow went under Ahrens' knees. He had to make sure his back was completely flat on his bed. And then he had to just hope he could close his eyes and get to sleep — only to sometimes wake up and have to stretch it out.

“You could tell he was always hurting," Conner George, one of Ahrens' three roommates last season, said at media day. "He would let us know that he was hurting, and you could see it, but obviously he was trying to tough it out, be normal, go about his day, rehab and do all the stuff that he needed to do. He tried to not let us see it, but me, Matt (Mcquaid) and Jack (Hoiberg) could kind of just see it was wearing on him and it was a struggle for him, so we just tried to help him out the best we can.” 

And yet, Ahrens powered through, not wanting another injury to end another season. He was able to do that until March when he landed awkwardly on his ankle in the Spartans' win against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game.

Once again, his season ended early.

“We really missed him in the NCAA Tournament," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "He was playing 18-19 minutes a game. I think we got in foul trouble and having him out really hurt us in those games."

Ahrens sat and watched as the Spartans maneuvered through the tournament field and into Minneapolis for the Final Four. During Michigan State's open practice before its game against Texas Tech, Ahrens was out there jogging on the court.

Months later, he said his ankle was "not good" during that time, and just wanted the experience of running 94 feet down a Final Four hardwood.

Now, as healthy as he's been — Izzo said he's been shooting since July — Ahrens may again have that chance, this time as a senior piece for Michigan State, who may be the preseason No. 1 team and a national title contender this season.

"He’s come back and has really been one of our vocal leaders," Izzo said. "He is one of our best athletes. I think he’s been kind of a forgotten man here in a lot of ways.”

As much as Ahrens has embraced that underdog role, he is ready to let it go. The "forgotten man" has one final shot to make his mark at Michigan State. Coming off of his best summer, Izzo said, Ahrens hopes this is the year he isn't remembered for injuries and instead, remembered for something greater.

“This is my last one, I don’t get another chance," Ahrens said. "Last year I knew I had one more chance, but this year I don’t get one. This is it. I'll never be in college again as an athlete. It is kind of crazy to think about because I've been here for so long it seems like.” 

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