"Sense of Urgency" driving Spartans

"We need to take advantage of what we've got this season, and because of that there's a sense of urgency. We all came here to win championships and it's disappointing that we've been here for two years and haven't won any." --junior guard Chris Hill

(EAST LANSING) - It's that time of year again. The leaves are turning red and dropping into the beautiful banks of the Red Cedar River. That can only mean one thing. Tom Izzo's crew is back for another Big Ten championship.

But lately, that has been the exception rather than the rule.

MSU hasn't won a Big Ten championship since 2001 and they last hung a national championship banner in 2000. That would be great for some teams, but that isn't the way Izzo thinks.

"We've got to win another championship," Izzo said. "That is it. We've got to win another national championship. Nobody is going to remember you unless you win a ring or hang a banner."

That is the Spartans goal, to change all of that when they embark on "A Magical Voyage." That is the Spartans name for their version of midnight madness, a popular phenomenon that begin sweeping college campuses starting with the University of Kentucky a few years ago.

The Spartans will begin practice at exactly midnight Friday, the earliest time allowed by the NCAA. They'll need it. MSU plays arguably their toughest schedule to dates with contest against national powers Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Syracuse and UCLA.

Still, MSU has done this before. They believe it is a recipe for success and you can't argue with the results from last season. Going into the 2002-03 campaign, State trotted out an inexperience team led by sophomores Chris Hill and Alan Anderson. But the team gained confidence as it weathered the inevitable bumps in the road and eventually caught fire. The Spartans ended up making a trip to what is called the Elite Eight or the Great Eight, the NCAA tournament quarterfinals.

"A championship is a top priority because we've have chances the last couple years that we let get away," Hill said. "We need to take advantage of what we've got this season, and because of that there's a sense of urgency. We all came here to win championships and it's disappointing that we've been here for two years and haven't won any."

Hill's supporting cast is back, save graduating seniors Al Anagonye and Adam Ballinger and defecting European big man Erazem Lorbek, who elected to return to Europe to play professionally.

The Spartans return eight players who contributed regularly last season including three starters, Hill, Anderson and junior Kelvin Torbert, who has yet to live up to the promise he brought to State.

Joining those three are heralded sophomore Paul Davis, who had a breakout freshman campaign, seniors Jason Andreas and Rashii Johnson, junior Tim Bograkos and red shirt freshman Delco Rowley, who will assume the role played by Anagonye last season, the big strong rebounding forward.

Davis is the man in the spotlight. He is the Spartans most talented returning player, a preseason candidate for the Wooden award as the nation's top player and is being mentioned as a lottery pick for the 2004 NBA draft.

Davis isn't backing away from any of that.

"Obviously, thoughts [of the NBA] go through your mind every now and then," Davis said. "But right now I'm just focusing on the season. After the season, whatever comes up comes up."

That likely means this is Davis' last season in East Lansing, making that sense of urgency Hill mentioned that much more pronounced.

Joining the Spartans returnees are three highly recruited and talented incoming freshmen, led by superstar Shannon Brown of Proviso East high school in Chicago. Brown nearly upstaged LeBron James in the annual McDonald's high school all-star game and was mentioned in some circles as a player who could jump directly to the NBA.

There is no question that Brown will challenge immediately for playing time and Izzo's main task will be keeping the talented 17-year old in East Lansing for more than one season.

Joining Brown are 6' 10", 235-lb., Drew Naymick of Muskegon, MI. Naymick will likely get on the floor as the primary backup to Andreas, although Davis will get some minutes sliding between the forward and center positions.

6' 3", 185-lb., Brandon Cotton of Detroit St. Martin DePorres, a McDonald's All-American, will add extreme depth to the Spartans backcourt and will get playing time behind Hill and Torbert at the two backcourt positions.

The sense of urgency is driving MSU's junior laden class to strive for success before the inevitable defections of talent force them into reloading mode.
For MSU it's all or nothing.
Big Ten championship, NCAA title.
Anything less, they say, at least publicly, would be a disappointment.

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