Chemistry, assigned leadership abound for MSU

Michigan State players say there is a genuine chemistry on the team, but with added leadership in the form of two captains -- something the Spartans did not have a season ago.

When Michigan State forward Branden Dawson woke up one night and checked his phone, he found a huge number of unread text messages. Sixty-three texts to be exact.

They came from a variety of people, from Draymond Green to Adreian Payne to Gary Harris. All were in one group message filled with current Michigan State players and a few recent ones.

The group message is labeled “Spartan Dawgs” in Travis Trice’s phone and he said it is a sign of real chemistry between this year’s team.

“My phone is vibrating right now and I know that’s what it is,” Trice said Thursday. “Guys are constantly asking, ‘Hey, who wants to go to get something to eat’ throughout the day. ‘What are we doing tonight? Who’s house are we hanging out at tonight?’

”It’s real. When we say it, we aren’t just saying it because it’s the right thing to say. It’s genuine.”

Dawson said he thinks that type of chemistry is how things should be on a basketball team. He even thinks that this year might be closer than last year, adding “we are just closer now this year.”

”Last year, our leadership was good,” Dawson said. “This year, I think it’s great. As far as myself, Travis and Denzel (Valentine), we are like brothers. As far as the freshmen, they work hard. With the group text and everything, we are close. We go to movies and do everything together.”

Coach Tom Izzo said the passion on this year’s team is similar to that of 2013-14, also with a similar sense of camaraderie. The difference lies in the level of leadership. After not naming captains a season ago, the leadership this year begins with the pair of captains Trice and Valentine, the latter of whom Izzo compared to former Spartan Draymond Green.

“Denzel, like a Draymond, is not afraid to hear his own voice,” Izzo said. “You’ve had a couple of those guys. You had (Mateen) Cleaves, you had Travis Walton, you had Day-Day, now you’ve got Denzel. …

”They follow him, good or bad. He matches his mouth with his work ethic. That’s a great quality. Some guys can talk it and don’t walk it. Some guys can walk it, but don’t talk it. He is walking and talking. I think it’s going to end up really big for him.”

On the other hand, Trice brings a different leadership approach to the table, leading by his actions as well as words.

”Trice leads by both example and by his work ethic and he does take guys under his wing,” Izzo said. “He has done a good job with (Lourawls Nairn) and some of those guards, Javon Bess. Travis has done an incredible job.”

Together, a vocal leader and a player leading by example give the Spartans a solid pair complementary captains to lean on this year.

“I think it’s a combination of both,” Trice said. “Where Denzel might call somebody out, where I might pull them to the side and tell them what they’re doing wrong. It’s just a mix. I think it’s a perfect match, though, honestly.

”It’s the best of both worlds.”

With the pair of captains, it figures to bode well for a team that lacked designated leaders last season. Trice said now players now who to turn to when something is wrong or when the team needs to pick up energy.

Above all, it is a role that he and Valentine have embraced, but something that is made easier with solid chemistry.

”It makes it easier when you are so close to all the other guys,” Trice said. “The freshmen get along with everybody and it’s hard to get us apart from each other as a team, we are constantly together.

”There are times where it’s like, we gotta go home. We are in the locker room for two hours after practice. That’s a good thing to have. I’m just happy we are so close.”


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