By Jeff Ghiringhelli
There was an obvious air of disappointment in the Michigan State Spartans locker room following their 89-72 loss to North Carolina in last April’s National Championship game. Many players were discouraged at being blown out in front of a very pro-Spartan Ford Field crowd, especially those who grew up mere miles from the stadium.
However, it was a freshman role player who decided to speak up. After getting permission from coach Tom Izzo to address his teammates, Draymond Green displayed his leadership capabilities. He compared his team’s situation to North Carolina’s from 2008. The Tar Heels made it to the Final Four before losing to eventual champion Kansas. The very next year, they stayed hungry, rallied around each other, and were able to win the National Championship. He said there was no reason to expect any different from the Spartans this season.
Green only played 12 minutes in the championship game, scoring seven points and grabbing seven rebounds. This year, his role has been increased, and he has responded by becoming one of the most valuable sixth men in the country. The Dancing Bear, as he is lovingly referred to by his teammates, plays 25 minutes per game this season, averaging 11 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.5 steals, and one block per game.
Coach Izzo has rewarded Green for his efforts by naming him a team captain, a very impressive feat for a sophomore that comes off the bench. Any regular viewer of Spartan basketball games knows that the commentators often talk about Green’s basketball IQ being “off the charts.” Those same viewers know that statement is right on the mark. He rarely makes mistakes (1.7 turnovers per game), and is very unselfish when he has the ball. Defensively he will gladly take a charge, and box out anyone on the court. He often wears his emotions on his sleeve, so whenever he makes a big play he gets both his teammates and the Spartan fans fired up.
It is hard to imagine a player as productive as Green still coming off the bench, but he is comfortable in his role. His chance to be in the starting lineup will more than likely come next year, when Raymar Morgan graduates. Green, while two inches shorter than Morgan, will probably take his spot at small forward. Having players like Morgan and Delvon Roe in front of Green is a good problem for MSU to have, and there are not many Spartan fans complaining about how the season has gone thus far.
It seems that ever since Green made his speech after the championship game, he has been out to prove to himself, his teammates, and Izzo that he can back it up. So far so good. And if he continues to play at this high of a level, the Spartans have as good of a chance as anyone to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.