Saturday, March 3, 2012

Will Draymond Green's number be retired? (And other Senior Night stuff)

A year ago, the question of whether or not Kalin Lucas' No. 1 deserved to be in the Breslin Center one day was a hot topic.

It wasn't quite a consensus, but the majority believed that Lucas's number would go up there some time. A year later, we're not really hearing that question regarding Draymond Green and No. 23.

Why is this? Is it a no-brainer? Are there other storylines right now that are more important? This year, senior leadership is the biggest reason the Spartans are being described as Final Four-caliber. A year ago, it was the lack of senior leadership that had MSU on the bubble.

Green's stats give him a chance. He currently is fourth all-time in rebounds at MSU, and likely will finish second. The current top two — Greg Kelser and Johnny Green — both have their numbers in the rafters. As for scoring, he's currently at 18th, but likely won't get into the top 15.

His versatility is obviously something that can't be measured, but he's on pace to become the first player to average 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists since Tim Duncan. Green's skill and versatility are likely going to get him the Big Ten Player of the Year award and All-America honors. Six different Spartans have won conference player of the year, and five of them have their number in the rafters — the other being Kalin Lucas in 2009.

(Vote on the right side of this page)

But why do you play the game? To win, of course. Green, along with fellow senior Austin Thornton, has three Big Ten championships and two Final Fours. A win Sunday would make Green and Thornton the first Spartans ever to win two outright titles. Even the 2001 class, which had four titles, didn't have two outright.

And then there's the leadership. Oh, the leadership we've heard so much about. A few years ago, Tom Izzo said Travis Walton's leadership was comparable to that of Mateen Cleaves and Magic Johnson. Izzo may have spoken too soon. Walton never had to carry a team, since he wasn't a scorer. But neither Walton, Cleaves nor Johnson did was Green has done: Taken a team with six newcomers to a Big Ten championship and top-10 ranking.

Earlier this week, I asked the question as to why Draymond Green wasn't really in the player of the year race. If this was an MVP award, Green would undoubtedly be the winner. To me, there's no doubt Green's number should hang up there one day, even if they're starting to run out of numbers. (Maybe MSU will do with hoops what it did with football).

Green wasn't even supposed to be a Spartan. He had committed to Kentucky and head coach Tubby Smith. But when Smith left Kentucky, Green's recruitment continued. When he committed to MSU, he was seen as a role player to some, with the real victory being the prevention him from joining John Beilein's building Michigan program.

But like all players, Green controlled his own destiny. On a team full of depth, Green earned himself 11.4 minutes per game as a freshman, as MSU won the Big Ten outright and reached the national championship game. The following year, Green's leadership began to blossom. As a sophomore, he averaged 9.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and three assists in 25.5 minutes, eventually being named Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year. The Spartans won another Big Ten championship and reached another Final Four. There against Butler, Green was fouled on his game-winning shot attempt, but no call was made, and the Spartans fell to the Bulldogs.

As a junior, drama surrounded the Spartans. Despite Chris Allen being dismissed in the summer, MSU entered the season ranked No. 2. Coming off back-to-back Final Fours, Green proclaimed that anything less than a national championship would be a failure. Individual Spartans had their own drama, and MSU struggled to start the season. Then Korie Lucious was booted off the team, and MSU went into its Senior Day with an NCAA tournament berth in doubt. MSU scrapped together two wins in the Big Ten tournament, but lost to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament, ending a tumultuous season. Over the season, Green had added a three-point shot to his skill set, averaged 12.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists and was named to the All-Big Ten third team.

But then Lucas and Durrell Summers graduated, Garrick Sherman transferred and Delvon Roe retired in the offseason, leaving more questions than answers heading into this season. Pretty much the only thing we knew was that Green would be one of the top players in the Big Ten. But what makes Green great is his ability to make those around him better. With five freshmen and the transfer Brandon Wood making their MSU debuts this season, Green made the Spartans a player-coached team, something Izzo's best teams have always had.

But the story is far from over. While Senior Night is supposed to ceremoniously mark the end of a player's career, there is so much more yet to be done. Cleaves had only made one Final Four by his Senior Night, Walton hadn't yet made his one. In a sport where so few players make it to their fourth year, Green has shown why playing four years in college is not always a bad thing. He's gotten better each year. He'll probably get drafted into the NBA, where he'll have to prove himself all over again.

But before professional basketball, before another attempt at a March run, there is a game Sunday. One of the biggest in the history of Breslin Center. Green turns 22 on Sunday, while Ohio State's Jared Sullinger turns 20. Both players and their teams seem to be trending in opposite directions. Only one will have a happy birthday.

Here are some quality Senior Day stories:

Joe Rexrode's annual quiz bowl is always great. This year, it's Green against Roe.

Speaking of Roe, don't feel too bad for him, MSU fans. His acting career already has taken off.

Pat Evans from The State News looks at Green's development as a leader.

I mentioned that not a lot of players stay for four years. Austin Thornton was at MSU for five. Jeremy Warnemuende from The State News writes that Thornton finally found success after four years of hard work.

Graham Couch from MLive writes that Thornton finally became more than just a calming voice in the locker room.

Rexrode looks back on the career of Anthony Ianni, who went from Izzo camps, to Grand Valley State and back to MSU.

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