Michigan State is the pick to win the Big Ten. Why not? The Spartans teem with talent for a program that went 27-9 last season while advancing to the Sweet 16. There’s Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne, Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine for a team ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation in some polls. But the hub of all this talent is Gary Harris. How good is the sophomore, who spurned the NBA to return to East Lansing? Listen to Tom Izzo.
“This kid has gotten better and better and I think will get better and be one of the all-time great guards at Michigan State,” said Izzo, who has won seven Big Ten titles and advanced to six Final Fours.
Let that statement sink in. Izzo isn’t a coach who is given to hyperbole, which gives this statement even more weight. And think of some of the great guards who have matriculated through East Lansing: Magic Johnson, Mateen Cleaves, Scott Skiles, Steve Smith and Shawn Respert, among others.
“Knock on wood, there’s a couple of unique things about Gary Harris which could make him one of the best guards I’ve ever coached,” said Izzo. “And one is his mental approach to things. He’s a very humble kid, and he’s low maintenance. That’s odd this day and age. And the second thing, he’s a shooter that guards people. And that’s odd in this day and age, or any age, in fact, now that I think back to some of the guys that we’ve had many years ago.”
Last season, Harris averaged 12.9 points to earn league freshman of the year honors. Look for the 6-4 Harris to accelerate those numbers this season and blossom into a true star, as he’s over shoulder issues that often hampered him in 2012-13.
“I don’t see the celebrity side of it bothering him, as long as he stays healthy, which he’s had no issues at all,” said Izzo. “So I just think that he came back because he wanted to come back. He came back to try to accomplish more. He stayed up there all summer, didn’t go to the USA stuff or this or that. He just wanted to rehab, get healthy and get better. And he’s a gym rat.”
And a throwback who also is a star—which is a rare combination. Can MSU reach the Final Four? It hasn’t happened since 2010 for a program that has prided itself on the fact that every recruit Izzo has inked played in a Final Four if he remained on campus for four years. That streak is on the line. With Harris back, there’s a good chance it will continue.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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