Spartan Seniors Can Leave Lasting Legacy

The Michigan State men's basketball team has some seniors that have an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy. GSN takes a look at their impact, and how the Spartans might fair in the Big Ten Tournament.

OKEMOS,MI - The long road for MSU's seniors in regards to Big Ten play will end this week as the Spartans travel to Indianapolis for the 2006 Big Ten Tournament.

For some of the seniors individually, it can be said they reached their potential and then some, while others didn't quite live up to the expectations that others, and perhaps even themselves, expected.

One member of the 2002-03 class, Erazem Lorbek, hasn't even been part of this team for some time, leaving early, and heading back to his home country a few years back.

Still, Paul Davis, Maurice Ager, Matt Trannon, Delco Rowley, Anthony Hamo, and Jason Aerts would like nothing better than to quiet critic's and take home a title, and a little hardware to boot.

The Spartan program has reached a level where they point to runs in the NCAA Tournament as the true benchmark of an elite program.

Yet, it can also be said that Mateen Cleaves, Magic Johnson, and their gangs won not only in the the NCAA tournament, but took care of business first in the Big Ten, something this group of seniors has failed to do.

And while this group of seniors can take pride in the fact they reached the Final Four in 2005 and the Elite Eight in 2003, and an overall record of 85-42 in their four years, it also seems tainted with perhaps a tinge of disappointment. Perhaps because so much has been expected. Perhaps that's what happens with a Sports Illustrated cover story.

Regardless, fans can take pride in the Spartan Seniors that took different roads in becoming Spartans, and had different outcomes.

Maurice Ager led Detroit Crockett to the Class B State Championship and worked hard in the summers to garner attention from major colleges. MSU took a chance on the off the dribble slasher who could bury the jumper from long range.

Ager, despite liking MSU from the beginning, had Marquette as his early leader, and Missouri appeared to be the leader at the end, before Tom Izzo made an 11th hour recruiting pitch, a pitch that had previously not worked with Anthony Roberson. This time however, things were different. Said Ager at the time, "My decision came from God."

It was a good decision for MSU as Ager eventually became a Wooden Preseason All-American, and one of the top small forwards and shooters in the nation. As a junior, he led the Spartans in scoring, causing basketball guru Dick Vitale to put him on his All-Big Ten team as a first teamer.

Maurice will always be remembered for his clutch 3-point bombs, slashing dunks, solid free throw shooting, and solid NCAA play, averaging a team best 18.2 points in the tournament.

He will also be remembered for his hard work, twice being named MSU's most improved player.This year he has become a finalist for two awards, the 'Senior Class Award', as one of the top seniors in the nation, and the 'Oscar Robertson Trophy' the writer's award as the top basketball player in the country.

Although the Davis family had an MSU background, they talked about Paul jumping straight to the NBA out of high school, a talk that didn't last very long.

His parents, Joe and Kathie Davis, convinced Paul that going to MSU and staying all four years was the only road to follow, and Spartans fans were happy with parents like that to be sure.

Davis exhibited his talent early as a high school sophomore, and was extended an offer by MSU. Perhaps it was the way he dominated the USA basketball camp in Colorado, and the NBA Players Association Camp in Washington, or perhaps it was the fine showing at the Adidas camp in New Jersey.

However, one moment stood out as he dominated the number one ranked player in the nation at the time, Shavlik Randolph. That dominating performance in Las Vegas caused basketball experts Dave Telep, and Frank Burlinson to call him the best college prospect among high school seniors.

Davis then took his 2002 "Mr. Basketball", and McDonald's All-American accolades to MSU and progressed nicely. MSU was thought to be the place to toughen Davis, and that happened over time in another decision that payed off for MSU.

Paul worked hard on his game, especially on taking the ball off the dribble and attacking the glass, while working on his strength and perimeter shooting.

Davis came into his senior season as a Wooden Preseason All-American, and had one of the most outstanding NCAA tournament runs in 2005, putting MSU on his back, and becoming the leading rebounder in the tournament at 11.6 rebounds per game.

Davis was named Big Ten Player Of The Week six times, and as recently as this past week for solid games against Wisconsin and Illinois. Those six honors tie him for third most in Big Ten history.

Paul also ranks among the top in the Big Ten in seven statisical categories this year. He also ranks in the top ten in Spartan history in six categories, including scoring, free throws made and attempted, rebounds, blocked shots, and field goals. He is also one of just two players in MSU history to record 1,500 points and have 800 rebounds.

Paul will always be remembered for his gritty play, filling the lane on slash and dunks, stepping out and knocking down perimeter shots, and carrying MSU at critical times, including the 2005 NCAA tournament.

Delco Rowley, who came from Indianapolis, will be going home this weekend after coming to MSU with much promise.

Rowley will receive a degree this May and has battled injuries throughout his career. He still has another year of eligibility remaining but this may be it for the big man.

In high school, Rowley was named the number four power forward in the state of Indiana behind Chris Hunter, Tyler Best, and Matt Keifer. "On Court Indiana" actually rated him the second best center in the state behind Sean May.

He seemed to earned those prep accolades as he made Bob Gibbons All-Tournament team because of a boat load of rebounds and toughness under the boards. He also showed a knack for the jump hook, and even hit some outside jumpers.

He was tough to stop in the Spiece's 'Run-N-Slam Tournament', and Prepstar had great things to say as well, commenting on his muscle, scoring in the low post, and his willingness to bang in the paint. Of course a 8-foot, 6-inch reach didn't hurt, and he had demonstrated good hands.

Dave Telep was also impressed at the time, "Rowley was kicking tail, and once the games began, he never once let up." This moved Rowley up to be one of the top 100 players in the country.

Rowley's verbal to MSU caught the Spartans by surprise at the time. Said Rowley, "Michigan State was really shocked because I was leaning to Ohio State than anybody. They were happy when I committed."

MSU was hoping to get an banger in the mold of Antonio Smith, or even Al Anagonye, but that never materialized because of injuries.

Rowley appeared in 68 games for the Spartans, starting six. He stayed mentally tough however, being named MSU's 'Most Inspirational Player' last year.

Perhaps not contributing on the floor as he would have liked, Delco became a leader on and off it, encouraging and supporting the rest of the team, while also providing comic relief in the locker room. He took special joy in trying to make Tom Izzo miss during his daily free throw routine.

Matt Trannon is another guy who can come back next year with a great summer in the classroom as well.

While others have doubted, being from Flint myself and watching Trannon play, I always thought Matt could play basketball, and be a vital cog, and wrote that very thing at the time.

While many see him as a wide receiver on the next level, he also impressed on the basketball court as well.

I compared him to Dennis Rodman at the time, a guy who could move well without the ball, a great positional player who created his own offense around the rim with putbacks, and tips.

Here was a guy that dominating the high school scene without the offense being run through him. He hustled, dove for loose balls, would take a charge, and crash the glass, especially the offensive glass, something probably not lost in the thinking of Tom Izzo.

He also was wiry strong like Rodman, out playing bigger and wider guys underneath, and shutting people down on defense on the perimeter with quickness.

At the time basketball guru Brick Oettinger ranked him the 13th player in the country overall. Something lost on the "Trannon should play football crowd." Vince Baldwin ranked as the eight best basketball player in the midwest. Prepstar later ranked him as the sixth best small forward in the nation.

'High Major Hoops' raved about his "fire and intensity" and said, "his athletic gifts are impossible to overlook as a potential McDonald's All-American." In other words, this guy can play basketball.

Trannon has starred at both football and basketball for MSU. He was an important part of the tournament run last year, averaging 13.4 minutes a game.

This year, he started 10 games and averaged 4.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. However, stats sometimes do lie, as he contributed all the things previously mentioned to make MSU go. A clear sign of his importance was felt when Matt broke his jaw, and MSU suffered a lack of toughness and defense in the paint and even on the perimeter.

Matt will be remembered as a guy who finally reached his potential, not only as a football player, but as a hard-nosed basketball player as well. A guy that is willing to do the little things that helps a team win games. Things that often go unnoticed by the average fan.

Anthony Hamo came to MSU with high hopes as a walk-on, finally receiving a scholarship before his senior year.

I remember Anthony well in high school, I really thought he could make a little impact at MSU, he had a nice shot and a lot of game winners in the clutch.

I was a little worried by his size, yet, another slightly slow, stocky kid by the name of Scott Skiles made a contribution with his lack of physical attribute's.

Now, I never thought he would be that kind of player, but I did feel he would contribute a little more, perhaps like Tim Bograkos did, with a few minutes here and there. Afterall, did average 25-points a game, and had over 8 rebounds and 7 assists per game in a good league.

Regardless, playing at MSU is a dream most don't accomplish, and if you consider that he was also a two-time All-Stater for Powers High, that is a pretty good career that anyone would be proud of.

Anthony did play in twenty-six games for MSU and he can tell his grandchildren that he scored his only two points against Penn State on January 14th, 2004. Then again, the season is not over yet so there is time to put another deuce or two on the board.

Anthony will be remembered for a nice outside shot, being a good team player, and sticking with it to earn a scholarship his final year.

Jason Aerts transferred to MSU from Aquinas College and walked-on to the basketball team and became a good practice player.

Jason was a pretty good player in high school, averaging 22 points and 13 rebounds his senior year and earning first team All-State honors from the Associated Press. He actually set the MHSAA single-season record with block shots with 176.

He has appeared in 16 games for the Spartans so far and scored nine points. He will remembered for his gritty play on the scout team.

Spartans fans can be proud of the legacy of these seniors who still have some basketball left in them.

Turning to the Big Ten Tournament itself, MSU will take on Purdue in a game that MSU is expected to win since they blew out Purdue in a previous meeting by the score of 77-52. However, they did not have to contend with the broken foot of Marquise Gray, nor the broken jaw of Matt Trannon at that time either. There are no sure bets in the Big Ten this year.

However, assuming MSU beats Purdue, they will play Illinois, a team they have lost to twice. Now, educated thinking states that it is difficult to beat a team three times in one year, however, unless MSU finds some perimeter defense and gets some help from role players, it could be a quicker than expected exit.

Illinois in beating MSU by the scores of 60-50 in Champaign, and 75-68 in East Lansing, hit a blistering 20 of 41 shots fromm 3-point land, mostly from Dee Brown. In contrast, MSU has hit a mere 7 of 27 shots from downtown. That trend cannot continue, MSU must play some perimeter defense.

So step one is to stop Dee Brown and play perimeter defense. MSU will also have to take care of the basketball. The season finale saw the Spartans commit 15 turnovers against the Illini, and get the ball stolen nine times.

MSU will also have to solve the Illini's aggressive defense, and a double teaming-trapping defense. A defense that MSU has struggled to solve against many opponents. Give credit to Illini Head Coach Bruce Weber for good film study.

Assuming MSU can beat Illinois, they would have to play the winner of Iowa versus Michigan or Minnesota. All three of those teams are capable of getting hot and beating each other.

Iowa is the number two seeded team and in the same bracket as MSU. Assuming they play and get past Iowa if they win, MSU will have to play for a championship from the other bracket. With the likely opponent being either Ohio State, Wisconsin, or perhaps a fired up Indiana team wanting to send Mike Davis out on top.

At this point I see MSU beating Purdue, and having their hands full with Illinois. If by chance they get by Illinois, fatigue could set in with a shorter bench than normal. They do have the confidence of beating Iowa previously, but probably wouldn't have much left for the championship game assuming they got even that far. I'm also thinking Ohio State is the likely opponent here, and MSU does not match up well with Terrance Dials.

Note-Paul Davis, Shannon Brown, and Maurice Ager were all named to the All-Big Ten Second Team today.

Stay tuned to GSN for more MSU basketball coverage.

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