March 18, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
COLUMBUS - Michigan State entered the season with one promise.
While coach Tom Izzo couldn't say for sure how good the unranked Spartans would be with six newcomers in mix, they would be fun to watch.
They've certainly lived up to that expectation with Draymond Green providing the unexpected, like a third career triple-double in Friday night's victory over LIU Brooklyn, on a regular basis; Adreian Payne making flamboyant dunks; Derrick Nix defying the laws of physics with his 270-pound frame; and Keith Appling whooshing up and down the court at breakneck speed.
What Izzo wasn't expecting was how much fun these players are to be around either as a coach or a spectator.
Green is equal parts charisma, charm and gabby neighbor. Nix has that affable gentle giant thing going for him. Injured swingman Branden Dawson can find humor in almost everything while Brandan Kearney is a practical joker. Senior captain Austin Thornton balances all the characters with a studious, introspective side.
Izzo recalled how great it was to see the players cavort earlier this season at a team dinner "like a bunch of 4-year-olds."
Izzo's affection may know no bounds for a multitude of players he's coached over the years, but there's something that sets this group as a whole apart. Izzo has told the Spartans he's had more talented teams, and Green pointed out that "nobody's crazy" enough to dispute him on that point.
"But it's the camaraderie of our team," Green said. "We love being together. At the beginning part of the year, coach didn't really know how to handle us because we used to joke so much with each other.
"You have Branden Dawson joking all the time and (Izzo) just really didn't know how to handle it. It was something new. He just realized that that's the way we act with each other. That's how we embrace each other. He started embracing it."
At the same time, Izzo got the players to buy into understanding that there's a time to play around and a time to be serious and disciplined.
"I think that's really what makes us so enjoyable to coach because everybody listened," Green said. "There's nobody on this team who feels like they're bigger than another person or bigger than the program."