Day 1: Michigan State | Traveling Violations
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State is loaded with talent, two deep at every position except power forward. That means it is difficult to stand out in practice. And because balance will be a key for the Spartans, breakout seasons will be limited.
That said, sophomore Shannon Brown looks to be on the verge of some big things.
The McDonald's All-American swingman from Proviso East High School in Illinois showed flashes of brilliance last year but admittedly tried too hard to make an immediate impact. He wound up averaging 7.9 points.
Now he thinks he will do even more.
"Last year I was pressing too much," Brown said after practice Wednesday. "I had a lot of pressure on me for no good reason. Now I am just going out and playing basketball. I've got more maturity."
If so, this could be a big season for State.
- Our wheelman Bret Bearup goes 6-9, 320, so keeping him fed is very important. Unfortunately there was no food on his Delta flight from Atlanta to Detroit, which left him in a temporarily foul mood. "I'm wasting away to gargantuan," he said.
- Bearup has been busy with the presidential election. He formed his own 527 group called "Short Bus Veterans for Truth." It was a bipartisan effort that focused its on getting out the Bush vote in Washington, D.C., and the Kerry vote in Utah.
- Last year, Michigan State guard Chris Hill was named Playboy Scholar Athlete of the Year. Is that because the finance major carries a 4.0 GPA, or because he studies Playboy more diligently than any other player in the country?
"I was just disappointed I didn't get to go out there for a free pass to the mansion," Hill said with a laugh on Wednesday after practice. "No one asked me about studying Playboy, but everyone asked me if I would take them to the mansion if I got to go."
Come on Hef, hook the kid up.
- Hill has a chance to become the Big Ten's all-time three-point field goal leader; he currently trails Penn State's Pete Lisicky by 94 threes. This note is brought to you by Michigan State's exceptional media relations director, Matt Larson, who is so good he knew how to spell Lisicky without even looking it up.
- The Big Ten's No. 2 all-time three point shooter is/was Michigan's Louis Bullock with 332. We say "was" because the Big Ten no longer recognizes Bullock's accomplishment after it was found he accepted tens of thousands of dollars in cash in the notorious Ed Martin scandal.
If you really want to know how out-of-control the Michigan program was, Bullock is all you need to think about. If you are dropping huge amounts of jack on a player with his limited ability, you have officially lost your way. Chris Webber is one thing, but Bullock? Was the plan to buy an NIT bid?
- In the name of post-election unity, we'd be remiss not to mention that multiple NBA scouts who have attended a Wolverine practice swear that U of M is going to be very good this year. Tommy Amaker has a ton of young talent and a program on the rise in Ann Arbor.
- We are rocking a Ford Explorer on the trip this year, which might make some of our eco-conscious colleagues at Yahoo! headquarters near San Francisco uneasy. But most of the trip will take place in red-state country, where the Explorer is considered fairly fuel efficient.
Just two years ago on tour we drove from Oklahoma to Maryland in a Hummer that averaged nine miles per gallon. OPEC sent us a letter of appreciation.
So the Explorer is darn-near a hybrid.
- The full beard look on a player (common in the 1970s) is not completely extinct. Michigan State walk-on Andy Harvey currently sports one. Of course, he's from Escanaba in Michigan's hearty Upper Peninsula, so maybe this isn't a surprise.
- NBA scout-of-the-day honors go to Walt Perrin of the Utah Jazz, who was so intent on actually evaluating the talent at practice that after 15 minutes he not only stopped talking to us (we were more interested in gossiping than watching anything) but moved his seat.
- We got a chance to catch up with some of the Michigan State media, including top beat writers Dave Birkett (Oakland Press) and Jemele Hill (Detroit Free Press). Last summer, Birkett climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with Spartan football coach John L. Smith and wrote about it in ESPN The Magazine.
The group climbed without oxygen, which prompted Bearup to note he was planning ascension of K2 without a winter coat.
- Also at practice were Lansing radio personalities Jack Ebling and Earl Robinson (both of whom know the Spartans as well as anyone) and the talented Lisa Byington of WLNS-TV 6.
- The Spartans have a fairly promising freshman big man from Nigeria named Idong Ibok, who on name alone could wind up one of Dick Vitale's all-time favorites.
- Nobody recruits the state of Michigan like Tom Izzo, a lifelong resident who seemingly knows all 10 million residents. No surprise, then, that 11 MSU players are from Michigan, including four from the Spartan stronghold of Flint.
Valued Reader Emails of the Day
Your submissions, with my responses in italics:
With North Dakota State and South Dakota State becoming provisional Division I members this year, D-I ball is now played in 49 states!
Excellent point and my mistake. College hoops truly is America's game. That said, I thought the Dakota schools had a cool thing going by being D-II powers.
My name is Walter and I live in the place they call the Pacific Northwest. I ama transplanted Kentuckian and GOD do I miss GOOD college basketball.
I beg of you, for next year, that you please allow me to go with you and your crew on your basketball trip. I am a good driver (I could provide you with my driver abstract) and I don't eat too much, I have permission from my wife and kids and I would buy the first round of drinks and table dance. I would carry stuff for you and your crew.
And did I mention that I would buy the first round and table dance?
P.S. This is Mrs. Andrews and kids: Please get this @#$! out of our house. We need the vacation.
I've never heard of a table dance.
- A number of readers wrote in looking for a "reader/fan party" in Champaign on Friday. We are always in favor of getting some people together for some hoops talk, drinks and laughs. Especially when the Tabmaster Bearup is in the house.
We are going to attend the Illini's exhibition game at 7 p.m., so getting together sometime from 5 p.m. until just before tip-off should work. Area readers please send in recommendations in Champaign and we'll announce the time and place in Friday morning's column.
- Through the years we have toured the facilities – offices, locker room, video room, etc. – at just about every major program. We've seen all the bells and whistles of excess. While we can't speak about the new digs at the University of Texas (which we have heard impressive things about), the Longhorns would have to have one incredible spread to better Michigan State's unbelievable Berkowitz Basketball Complex.
From the NASA-caliber video room to the Fortune 500 offices to the his-and-hers practice courts to (our favorite) the enormous barbecue party porch out back, no expense was spared.
- In an effort to get a jump on Thursday we left East Lansing after practice to spend the night in South Bend, Ind. That meant dinner at one of America's finest truck stops, the Petro:2 off I-69 near Freemont, Ind.
This is the ultimate truck stop, a place where you can get a tank of diesel, an engine winch, a shower, a half-pound of fried shrimp (for $2.99), a hunting knife and a commemorative Ohio State Buckeye lamp, all in one stop.
We mainly stuck to the Baker Street Restaurant. It offered a meal called "Chicken Fried Chicken," which is a sure sign of two things: 1. You aren't leaving hungry, and 2. The menu writer attended the school of redundancy school.
Baker Street is as good as it gets. They've never heard of a morsel of sustenance that can't be deep fried, and all over the restaurant are great quotes such as: "Commonsense isn't so common," and "A penny saved is a penny."
It's early but the coveted Restaurant of the Trip contest already has a serious contender.
- Miles so far: 125.2
- Campaign stop tomorrow: South Bend, Ind.