March 9, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com On-Line Columnist
If there's ever been a Michigan State athlete who's undergone a bigger transformation than Derrick Nix, good luck naming him or her.
The lone Spartan senior, who'll be playing his final game at the Breslin Center in Sunday's regular season finale against Northwestern, would deserve a place on the list if for no other reason than dropping his weight from 340 pounds to 270 before his junior season, and maintaining.
But the changes the genial giant has made off the court have been just as important to his development as an integral member of the playing group as they have been to his maturation as a person.
Consider these powers of metamorphosis: Just 11 months since his embarrassing high-profile arrest that resulted in a suspension from the team and misdemeanor conviction for impaired driving, Nix satisfied the terms of his sentence by performing countless hours of community service over and above what was required, was unanimously voted captain by his teammates and is on track to get his sociology degree in four years.
Nix has also played some pretty impressive ball along the way, is primed to lead the Spartans to more postseason success and is in position to earn a living by playing the game he loves.
Nix also reaffirmed coach Tom Izzo's belief in giving second chances.
"It's been good," Izzo said. "It's been frustrating at times, but it's been good. `Immature' was the best word for him his first two years, and `growing to be very mature' his last two years in many ways.
"His biggest accomplishment in his life is going to be when he walks (through commencement ceremonies) in May. But I think his biggest accomplishment is he's overcome some adversity and he's grown up. I know this, he's 10 times more equipped for just getting into the world.
"I've grown to respect him, and I guess that's better than liking him."
Nix came to MSU from Detroit Pershing High School as Michigan's Mr. Basketball of 2009, but many observers doubted he'd ever be a serviceable player because of his weight and lumbering gait. Nix found his way into Izzo's doghouse early in his sophomore season when he wasn't allowed to travel with the team to the Maui Invitational.
One of Michigan State's most cerebral players and a true, but rare, back-to-the-basket post player and outstanding passer, Nix won't leave with anywhere close to 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, but, he has two Big Ten championship rings and an appearance in the 2010 Final Four, which he considers his greatest experience.
"I'm gonna miss his presence," said junior point guard Keith Appling. "We've been playing together since high school and I watched him grow as a player and a person right before my eyes. Most people his size aren't that outgoing, and he always seemed to make everybody seem comfortable around him.
"We share so many moments and memories together, it's going to be hard for me to pick out one, but each day he's not here with us, I'm going to remember all the times we shared. He's my roommate and my best friend, and we call each other brothers."
Nix would sum up his career "as a success story," he said. "I came in struggling, struggled a little bit through the next year, and then my junior year I realized how good I could be and how I can help this program. I just kept building on it, and that's why I'm where I'm at today."
He'll always treasure the relationship he has forged with Izzo, who he gives the most credit for his development.
"Coach has always stuck with me through thick and thin, and he gave me a shot a lot of other Division I coaches wouldn't have given me," Nix said. "Me and coach are like father and son. Freshman and sophomore year I just always fought him and never thought he knew what he was talking about, but he's proven himself.
"It was a maturity thing for me. Once I grew out of being immature, I realized he was just in it to help me."
Nix, who will be the first member of his family to get a college degree, hopes to be a broadcaster when he's done playing basketball, which Izzo believes may be years from now.
"Personally, I honestly think he can play after this," Izzo said. "I think his biggest issue is going to be if he keeps his weight (stable) or even drops it more. I think that's going to be a necessity, otherwise his knees (will be a concern) because of the strain on them. If he has a good finish, I think there's definitely basketball in his future."
Before Nix gets the chance to attract the spotlight in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, he wants to leave Breslin with a victory against the Wildcats which would give MSU a share of the conference championship if league-leading Indiana loses to archrival Michigan earlier in the day.
Like all the Spartans, Nix can't bring himself to cheer for the dreaded Wolverines, but there's no question what another Big Ten banner would mean to him.
"It would be a great feeling because then I would be 3-for-4," Nix said of championship runs during his career. "That would be one of my accomplishments, so we just got to hope everything plays out the way it's supposed to."