By Paul M. Banks
INDIANAPOLIS- Remember back to 1999, a time when Ricky Martin and really annoying “boy bands” were oppressively popular? Back then Michigan St. had a star point guard who had a monster junior season in leading his team to the Final Four. Mateen Cleaves, remember him? The guy who wore ugly Bill Cosby sweaters when injured on the bench, pondered jumping to the NBA before returning to East Lansing, and leading the Spartans to the Final Four. This year, another junior point guard is facing the same question.
MSU star Kalin Lucas projects as a late first round/early second round NBA Draft pick if he were to declare this season. Obviously, the unexpected run of his team has somewhat delayed his decision. “I’m still going to sit down with Izz, and my parents and make sure we make the best decision and work from there,” he said last Sunday.
This should come right after the season ends?
“I don’t know when, a week-week and a half (after the season completes),” Lucas responded when I asked him when his decision will be made. Lucas delayed his surgery in order accommodate traveling with the team to St. Louis. After the Spartans emerged as champions of the Midwest Regional, he came back home and had the procedure to repair his torn achilles performed. It was a complete success, and Lucas is expected to make a full recovery.
Obviously, suffering two major injuries this season could hurt his draft stock. But he will also have opportunities this summer, with combine and private workouts, to show scouts he’s 100%. This year Lucas has the benefit of an extremely weak point guard class, so there’s less competition. But next year’s draft will be like last June- loaded at the one.
Putting aside long term prospects, his injury has served as a short term rallying point for his teammates. It’s their “cause” to get to the Final Four and win, much like having the Final Four in their home state was the “cause” to fight for last season.
“And I think after Kalin went down, everybody just made that commitment to just join together, just try to make a run, And that’s what we’ve been doing,” Lucas’s replacement, another KL, Korie Lucious said.
Not only has Kalin’s injury served as inspiration for his team, his absence has thrust Michigan St. into the underdog role, and that’s served to bring the Spartans together; to prove critics wrong under the cliche, “us against the world” mentality.
ESPN’s Jay Bilas ranked State the weakest of the Final Four teams remaining, they were an underdog against lower seeded Tennessee last week and they won’t be favored against Butler, the fellow #5 seed that is America’s sentimental favorite right now.
I asked Kalin what he thought about opponents still taking State for granted, despite their phenomenal record in March during the past 12 years. “They don’t need to and I don’t know why they do it, cuz we got back to the Final Four. So if teams want to keep doing it, we’re just going to keep making runs,” he said.
So if Lucas comes back, what will his supporting cast be? The only notable senior gone in 2011 is Raymar Morgan, an all-conference honorable mention. He certainly is a key loss, but the Spartans will once again be locked and loaded next year. Their incoming freshmen class is very stellar- highlighted by consensus top 5 center Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, a top ten point guard. Durrell Summers and Draymond Green have NBA potential, but neither is ready to consider jumping at this point.
So once again the Spartans will be a force! Even more so if Kalin returns.