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Michigan State big man Derrick Nix emerging as a potent force after struggles

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(USA Today Sports Images)

The maturation of Michigan State big man Derrick Nix is beginning to look truly transformational. Nix might finally be finding his comfort zone after plenty of challenges on and off the court.

Nix followed up his first double-double since his freshman season with a career performance today in a win over Texas in East Lansing. The 6-foot-9, 275-pounder scored 25 points with 11 rebounds and four steals. A week ago he scored 11 and snared 13 rebounds in a win over Tuskegee.

It's a feel-good turnaround story for Nix and Michigan State fans nearly nine months after Nix nearly threw away his Spartan career. It's also a nice reward for coach Tom Izzo who took a chance last spring by giving Nix a second chance after he was arrested and charged with marijuana possession and operating a vehicle with the presence of drugs.

Izzo initially indefinitely suspended Nix, who later plead guilty to a lesser charge of operating a vehicle while impaired and the marijuana possession charge was dropped. Izzo went a step further in trusting Nix after that episode by naming him a co-captain this season.

Nix seems to be relishing the role by taking his game to a new level and also trying to be a leader and source of encouragement for younger teammates. He also has improved his conditioning after struggling to keep his weight down earlier in his career.

The truth is it hasn't been a seamless transition for the police blotter to career performance for Nix. He has required moments of encouragement and some coaxing along the way. Michigan State alum Anthony “Pig” Miller and Izzo both called out Nix the day of the Tuskegee game. Miller told Nix he was playing “soft” and Izzo also challenged his big man to be more aggressive.

Nix admitted after that game last week that those comments from Miller and Izzo fueled him and it seems to have carried over to today. Nix had only scored in double figures twice this season prior to today and he had grabbed 10 or more rebounds on only three previous occasions.

Perhaps the most impressive part of his career day against the Longhorns today came at the foul line. Nix came into the game a career 48 percent foul shooter, but he made 11 of 13 free throw attempts continuing what has been season-long improvement at the line.

Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleRingo

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