March 24, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - From 1997-2000, Michigan State had "The Club."
In 2005, the Spartans had "The Hammer."
Will 2013 be the year of "The Towel"?
The CBS announcing team was all but apoplectic and the Twittersphere went viral with accounts of a dust-up between Spartan guard Keith Appling and center Derrick Nix during MSU's 70-48 NCAA Tournament Round-of-32 victory over Memphis at The Palace.
As the Spartans gathered in a huddle midway through the second half, Nix barked at Appling while snapping him with a towel, and Appling retaliated by throwing his towel at Nix. Tempers flared for only a second before coach Tom Izzo gaveled the meeting to order with his felt-tip marker, but rash conclusions were quickly jumped at across the country.
Afterward, Izzo not only wasn't defensive or apologetic about Nix and Appling's feistiness, he celebrated it.
"That's what I meant about a player-coached team," Izzo said. "I need players to get on players sometimes, and Nix doesn't know exactly how. He's trying to please me, and he doesn't know exactly how.
"But trust me. It was fun. Players were a lot more vocal today. I just loved that. You know, this has been the greatest weekend we've had all year because I bagged those (cell) phones a little bit, and I listened to the guys talk like magpies on the bus and I listen to them in the film sessions.
"I told them today I'm really proud of them. I really enjoyed it."
Nix and Appling are former Detroit Pershing High School teammates who share an apartment in East Lansing. They're such good friends, they refer to each other "brother."
Izzo compared the incident to the way Mateen Cleaves inspired his best friend from Flint, Morris Peterson, to play better by roughing him up behind closed doors during halftime of the 2000 regional final at The Palace. But, that was before news could spread around the world in a nanosecond on social media.
Nix dismissed the incident as a brotherly altercation.
"It was just a miscommunication on a ball screen," Nix said. "But he's my best friend, and I love him to death. Coach (Izzo) says that a player-coached team is better than a coach-coached team. It was over with in two seconds." The affair was so silly Appling, he wouldn't even address it.
"It was nothing, really," he said. "Nothing happened."
In 1997-98, Peterson was such a woeful defender, Izzo had a hard time keeping him in games. However, after breaking his right (non-shooting) wrist and missing three early season games, the only way Peterson could get playing time while wearing a cast was if he buckled down on defense.
Then, after having the cast, which became known as The Club, cut off, Peterson was such a potent defender and scorer, he led MSU to a Big Ten championship in '98 and the national championship in 2000. The Club remained in his locker throughout his career as an inspirational symbol.
In 2005, Izzo was so disgusted by MSU's performance during a loss to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament, he used a hammer to smash a videotape of the game in front of the team on Selection Sunday. The Spartans responded with four straight NCAA Tournament wins before losing to North Carolina in the Final Four.
Now, the Spartans have a towel.
Appling left the game for good with 8:35 remaining after reinjuring his left (non-shooting) shoulder. He originally hurt his arm late in the game against Minnesota 12 games earlier on Feb. 6.
"It still was very painful, but I could have played," Appling said. "But the game was pretty much wrapped up so there was no need for me to go back in there. It's nothing too serious. I'm a pretty fast healer, so it's nothing icing it and a little ibuprofen won't take care of.
"There's no doubt in my mind I'll be able to play (on Friday)."
The Spartans will play the winner of Sunday's Duke-Creighton game in the Sweet 16 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.