For three Spartans Wednesday nights showdown with Iowa is going to be extra special. The Spartans will be playing their final home game of the season, but it also marks the last game at home for Adam Ballinger, Al Anagonye and Brian Westrick.
The trio will say their goodbyes and MSU head coach Tom Izzo said he wants to send them off on a high note.
"You always hope that their senior games are special," Izzo said. "And I hope I can help make it special."
Izzo said that each one of these players made an incredibly impact to the program and he is "eternally grateful" to them.
Al Anagonye, the senior forward from Southfield, Mich., is not having the season Izzo and himself expected, but he is still putting up 8 points and 6 rebounds a game, while leading the Big Ten in field goal percentage at 61.9 percent.
Izzo said when he first laid eyes on Anagonye he knew that he would be a perfect fit for his program and to this day he sticks behind that.
"He was always very well coached and his parents demanded a lot from him," Izzo said of Anagonye when he was recruiting him as a sophomore in high shcool. "Hes such a good program guy and has been a great recruiter since the day he got here."
Izzo said that "Big Al" may not have a future in the NBA, but is encouraging to maybe take his size to the gridiron, maybe as a Spartans next season.
For Ballinger this season has been flat-out cruel. The 6-foot-9 redhead from Bluffton, Ind., has experienced one of the most difficult seniors imaginable.
Last season Ballinger averaged 11.2 points per game and 5.8 rebounds to earn All-Big Ten third team honors. This season he is averaging 5.3 ppg and just 2.9 rebounds per game.
Izzo said he hopes that Ballinger still has something to prove in his final home game and hopes the kid he recruited because of his great outside range will return to form
"Hes probably the hardest senior to say goodbye to, because he never got the change to do the things hes capable of," Izzo said.
Izzo said Ballingers effort has never been questioned and said it was a pleasure to have wear the Green and White.
"If one thing is true, its that Adam in no way, shape or form cheated this program and we have not cheated on him," he said.
He said he still sees Ballinger having a future in basketball maybe in Europe, but he will always remember how he and Al both took the younger guys under their wings even if it meant grooming them to possibly take over their positions.
And last, but not least Mr. Westrick. Brian Westrick joined the team as a walk-on last season as a 6-foot-5 player out of Grand Ledge, Mich. Izzo said jokingly that the reason he made the squad was because he was the tallest walk-on to try out.
Even though the senior only sees action in clean-up time, Izzo said he has helped freshman forward Erazem Lorbek adjust to the culture and the style of play in America.
Izzo said the first time he decided to play the walk-on last season; he didnt even know the kids name.
The Spartans were taking on Stanford and Al Anagonye had just fouled out of the game. Izzo asked assistant coach Brian Gregory, who had left on his bench that could go up against Stanfords 7-foot giant Curtis Borchardt.
Gregory told Izzo they had the walk-on left and when Izzo asked what his name was, Gregory replied, "the guys call him Bowie."
Izzo said he remembers turning to Westrick and saying "Bowie, get in there," and before he knew it he made a three-point play to tie the game up.
Izzo said he looks forward to helping Westrick out in the future in whatever path he takes because he knows hes going to be successful.
Packing a punch
In the last two games the Spartans have been able to find other sources of scoring, besides relying on sophomore guard Chris Hill.
The Spartans have put together back-to-back games in which four players have scored in double figures.
In the first 12 games of the conference schedule, MSU had only had three players score in double-digits in one game.
Paid to play
Following weeks and weeks of debate over whether college athletes should be paid or not, Izzo said it just doesnt seem reasonable.
He said he has mixed feelings about the idea because he knows that once you start paying athletes on one team, youre going to have to pay athletes on every athletic team at the university.
"Theres no school that can play 700 athletes," he said.
Izzo also said that paying players will not likely change a kids mind in terms of staying around another year or two.
"Thats like comparing $10 to $10 million dollars in the NBA," he said."
Has the hype of March Madness gone to far? This question can be asked to any coach, player or fan, which has seen the NCAA and conference tournaments grow into a marketing phenomenon.
Izzo said he wonders if there is things to be changed in order to get the best 65 teams into the tournament, but says the "Big Dance" is every bit as thrilling as the frenzy in creates.
"The excitement of seeing how this thing builds every weekend is great," Izzo said. "Ill never forget it even if I dont get to do it again."
And the winners are:
As the Big Ten season winds down its that time of year again to see who the best in the league were. Thats right, the Big Ten Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Freshman of the Year and All-Big Ten teams will all be crowned in the next few weeks.
Izzo said he hasnt given a final decision as to where players would end up, but believes Wisconsins Kirk Penney, Illinoiss Brian Cook and Michigans Daniel Horton should be shoo-ins for first team honors. Michigans LaVell Blanchard, Purdues Willie Deane, Minnesotas Rick Rickert, MSUs Chris Hill, Indianas Jeff Newton and Ohio States Brent Darby will all receive some consideration.
Izzo said as to who ends up Player of the Year its between Penney and Cook.