As a result of various injuries, the 2013-14 season was a “wait and see” kind of campaign for the Michigan State Spartans. As in, “wait and see” what the Spartans do once everyone’s available to play, with Tom Izzo’s team entering the NCAA tournament as a trendy pick to reach the Final Four on the heels of their run through the Big Ten tournament.
Ultimately the Spartans reached the Elite Eight, falling to eventual national champion UConn, but even with that achievement and the 29 wins it was hard to not think about “what could have been” for Tom Izzo’s team. With Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne all having moved on, something for Michigan State to address as the 2014-15 season approaches is who their team leaders will be.
During a speech in front of the Adraft Club of Detroit on Wednesday, Izzo stated that he knows exactly who his leaders will be: junior Denzel Valentine (8.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.8 apg) and senior Travis Trice (7.3 ppg, 3.2 apg).
Izzo was very clear that Trice and Valentine will be the leaders for the 2014-15 season. Not surprisingly he named Mateen Cleaves and Draymond Green as past leadership examples he strives for but was missing in seasons past.
“They work, but they’re not afraid to drag other people into work,” Izzo said about Trice’s and Valentine’s qualities that stand out. “They are two of my hardest workers, but I’ve got a lot of guys that work hard, but not a lot of other guys drag people with them.
“You don’t have a ton of those kind of guys. It would be nice to say you do every year, but you don’t, and neither does anybody else. They’re special guys.”
Also of note in Izzo’s appearance was the fact that he stated that those two, along with senior forward Branden Dawson (11.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg), all made improvements this offseason. With Michigan State having to account for the departure of three of their top four scorers, it’s vital that Dawson, Trice and Valentine did just that. All three have shown flashes throughout their careers, but injuries have impacted their careers from a consistency standpoint.
With one last run to make sure they don’t become the second consecutive senior class to leave East Lansing with a Final Four appearance to their credit, Michigan State’s leaders will need to step forward when it comes to both numbers and intangibles in 2014-15.