Appling "upgraded" during his time at MSU

Senior point guard shows growth in game and off the court as he prepares to wrap up his degree -- and as his game is reaching new levels.

Tottie Collins had a simple question for Tom Izzo about her son, Keith Appling, after a recent Michigan State game.

A simple question, but a meaningful one as Appling closes in on a college degree: "Tell me it's true that he's got one class and then an elective."

Izzo confirmed it, acknowledging he didn't think it would be a big thing. But to Appling and his mom, being the first member of his family to earn a college degree couldn't mean more.

"I feel like once I first stepped on the campus here at MSU, that was so farfetched at the time," Appling said. "I really couldn't see that far down the line. For it to be this close is an amazing opportunity."

But now that he is in this spot, it has given Appling a chance to upgrade himself both on and off the court.

That growth took place in part due to accepting it is okay to be in college for four years and not already playing basketball in the professional ranks.

Izzo pointed to the way the college basketball culture puts pressure on athletes that leaves them not feeling good about themselves for being a junior or senior.

But the time spent in East Lansing has given Appling the time to grow, as he said he has matured a lot.

"Now, I'm able to do a lot of things that I wasn't before I got here to MSU," he said. "Growth comes with time and my coaches tell me a number of different things as far as on the court and off the court that helped me become a better player and a better person."

It also provided him the time to correct the things he wasn't doing early in his career, Izzo said.

"He didn't do the things he needed to do early on," he said, "but good people and good players and good citizens are guys that learn from what they didn't do and upgrade.

"That kid has really, really, really upgraded."

The latest upgrade has come in Appling taking his play on the court. The senior is averaging career bests in points per game, field-goal percentage, 3-point shooting, rebounds and assists.

He also has set a career-high of 27 points twice this year and has seven games with more than 20 points – and four with 20 points and seven assists.

Izzo said it began with learning to trust those that cared about him most.

"I think Keith came out thinking he was gonna play this one way," Izzo said. "He has dreams of where he wants to get, and to do that, there's a certain road you've got to go down, and it's understanding the game better.

"I think last year was a small piece of it, but at the end of the year and the summer, I think he really looked at it saying ‘I've got to improve my mental stage of the game. Physically I'm tough, I'm athletic.'"

So buckling down on being a more well-rounded point guard led to Appling spending time studying NBA point guards like Chris Paul, as he said before the season.

"I think he improved by watching film, by trusting us, by listening to what you say," Izzo said. "He's just way more at peace with himself. He's trying to do the things you need to do to be successful, instead of just playing and not really studying the game."

The studying has left Appling among the early frontrunners for conference player of the year awards. Izzo said his performance is bigger than that – and Sporting News agreed as it named Appling's as a second-team All-American at the midway point.

"If you really look at Keith Appling, he is playing at an extremely high level right now, not just in this conference but in the country," Izzo said.

All-in-all, Izzo said things are just coming together for Appling and he has found peace with himself.

"I think right now, he sees the results," Izzo said. "He is enjoying the moment and not worrying about where he wasn't last year or the year before and what people were saying about him. It's been fun for me to watch Keith."

But the work isn't done yet. He has to finish two classes for his sociology degree – and the work on the court is never complete.

"In saying all that, though, you have to get in and watch more film," Izzo said. "He has to do a few more things a little better and then he could really take off."

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