Way back in late September, junior forward Malik Hall quietly gave an answer in a press conference about the type of leadership he wanted to bring to the team as a captain. More specifically, what he didn’t bring last season in the face of adversity.
“I knew I should have said a lot more last year and part of the reason that we were hurting is we didn’t have a lot of people saying stuff,” Hall said. “Even if you were the captain or not, you should always, if you feel like you have something to say, you should express it and that’s something I didn’t do.”
Flash forward a couple months later to the first ten minutes of a game against Eastern Michigan. Heavily favored Michigan State looked disjointed on both ends of the floor, struggling to get stops, giving up too many easy shots and generally playing down to their competition.
Hall, spot-starting in place of sore redshirt senior Joey Hauser, was mired as much as anyone in the early dysfunction. But steadily, the junior forward emerged at the other end of the rough stretch, tied the game up with a put-back layup off a Hoggard miss and settled in nicely to play a big role in turning the tide on the Eagles to force a blowout.
Reserved as ever, Hall continued to choose his words carefully when describing how he picked it up after a slow start against Eastern Michigan.
“I think as the game went on, I got a little bit more comfortable,” Hall said. “I don’t know, I just started a little flat at the beginning. Just tried to pick it up as much as I could.”
Comfortable or not, Michigan State men's basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo had a different idea of what happened.
“I think Malik got upset with Malik and he was different in the huddles and he was different on the floor and (in the) last three quarters of that game, he could have been our best player,” Izzo said.
Hall picked it up to the tune of 15 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes for his season-high and highest point total since he dropped 19 in Michigan State’s loss to Maryland in the first round of the 2020-21 Big Ten Tournament. Hall did a little bit of everything, driving and shooting the ball well and staying extremely active in the post and on the glass to help his team to a victory.
It was a more focused glimpse at one side of a one-two punch with Hauser in the mix at power forward that Izzo said should be one of the strengths of the team. And beyond the box score, it showed a different Hall, closer to the one promising to speak up and take the reins when the team falters.
As captains, senior forward Gabe Brown and Hall form an admitted yin and yang of leadership styles: Brown playing the role of the highly energetic spark plug and Hall as a more quiet do-it-all guy.
According to some players, that dynamic changed a little on Saturday night. Freshman guard Max Christie noted Hall’s subdued tendencies as a captain and said he does a good job of pushing things “in a quiet way.” But as of late, he said the team has been trying to help Hall be more vocal on and off the court to help lead the team.
“I think Malik really took over and took on his role as a captain (and) was the leader that we want him to be,” Christie said of Hall’s night. “He was vocal, he was loud, he made sure that we heard him and we all respect him because we all know what he’s talking about.”
Senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. has known Hall since he arrived in East Lansing and said he knows his personality as well as anybody on the team. With that in mind, he echoed some of Christie’s sentiments about Hall as a leader.
“Malik is a different type of guy,” Bingham said. “He’s not like a rah-rah type of dude. His personality is really laid back. What he says, it really makes sense. And he says it and he doesn’t say it in a different way because of all the yelling (the team and coaches do).”
But there was that shift in Hall last night, one Bingham noticed early.
“I feel like he took that matchup (against freshman forward Colin Golson) and (Golson) scored a couple buckets on him,” Bingham said. “And I kind of just told him at the bench, ‘Don’t let him score on you no more.’ I don’t think that happened. ... I think he took it personal.”
For his part, Hall admitted that he and the team took the slow start to heart. He said he’s pleased with his offensive performance but is looking to shore some things up on defense as well.
And as a captain, Hall has talked with Izzo about being a key player on the team and has worked as a captain on pushing all the “little things” involving communication with the team.
“I think we’re doing a lot better than we did in the past two years,” Hall said of pushing these smaller details. “Just making sure that someone knows what’s going on and making sure that we can continue to let people know, like ‘Hey, this is how this is gonna be, this is what’s going to happen.’”
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At the tail-end of a strong night ripe with intrigue regarding his performance, Hall summed up his thoughts simply.
“I’m excited and happy about it but not too happy,” Hall said. “Still got more to do.”
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