For MSU head coach Tom Izzo he finds himself being more than a coach, he is now officially a juggler. When your two best players have both sustained major injuries, sometimes it can be more of an anticipation of what is going to go wrong next.
In fact earlier this week when Izzo was reflecting back on the win over Nebraska this past weekend, his initial comments were centered on Gary Harris and Branden Dawson and how those injuries impacted that game. Izzo said, “Gary Harris have never been 1 for 11 in his life and he missed some shots. The rest of the guys missed some decent shots. I thought a couple of times when we could have blown it open we missed some free throws, B.J.’s play would have been a thunderous dunk and then we go from not getting the dunk and the excitement of the crowd to missing two free throws.”
Harris who is recovering from popping his shoulder out on both sides (one of them twice) started 0-10 shooting against the Huskers. High flying super sophomore Branden Dawson came down on the court hard with a knee sprain (thought to be much worse at the time)after blowing out a knee that has since been surgically repaired.
Dawson had the 14 thousand plus fans, plus a national TV audience stunned as he was lying on the court in visible pain. He also left them ecstatic when he came running out of the locker room on to the court. Izzo put fears to rest quickly about the severity of the injury.
He said, “Dawson, I guess we will get that out in the open now, he has been evaluated a little more now. Nothing seems to be, it was just a tweak and a scare. A tweak and a scare for him and when I looked in his face I thought it was a lot more than that, that’s for sure.”
He continued, “He is a tough enough kid. There seems to be nothing, nothing mechanism, nothing wrong in any way shape or form. He came back in and didn’t play quit the same, but didn’t show any limping of any way. I talked with him this morning and he said, ‘It feels pretty good now, no really any problems.’
I certainly am not a doctor, but when I speak to orthopedic surgeons about the injuries Harris has sustained, there is great concern. I asked Izzo what kind of feedback he is getting from his doctors in the case of Harris.
“In fact it’s really a lot more positive. His strength is good. I don’t understand this all. But there’s going to be some sloppiness in your shoulder when you pop it out, where you have some movement. But it all comes down to the strength. And I guess when he first did his left (shoulder) he couldn’t put this (recorder) on it and raise it two inches. But his strength has been really good even when he does it. So he hasn’t lost his strength and I think that’s a big key to everything. And last week he had no issues in the game. He had no issues. At Iowa he had an issue, but I mean from practice and the last game, he had no issues. They’re just continuously trying to get everything around it stronger. But there’s been no talk, and I’ve talked to some different coaches and guys that played through it. It’s just playing through it and getting the confidence with what you’re doing and playing 35 minutes a game like he’s playing are the hard parts.”
So is Dawson having any mental residual set back from the injury? Is it going to hold him back from the all-important mental side of basketball? Izzo doesn’t see it. ““He was in this morning watching film on his own. I think BJ the last four games has been better. I think his energy level has been a lot better, his practice level has been a lot better. Talking to Tubby when I was up there, Mbakwe is just feeling more comfortable.”
Izzo expounded by saying, “BJ said something to me this morning that I thought was interesting. I mean I looked at his face, I don’t know many of you could see his face. To me, it was 99 percent blown again. When I looked at his face. And he’s a tough kid and he said to me this morning, I said, ‘What did you think?’ He said, ‘Coach, I was scared to death because of the feeling.’ Well that makes me laugh because he was scared to death. I could put him in with 10 lions and I don’t think he’d be scared to death.”
Izzo is happy with what he sees. “So it kind of proves your point on, you can be tough enough, but what are you subconsciously? I don’t think, I think the way he was able to come back right away, I don’t think that will change him. Being here this morning and being so bright-eyed and ready to go, I think he’s feeling more comfortable. Making a couple shots, he’s seeing some of the work pay off. I don’t think that will happen but you never know. Never had an injury like that.”
From my seat on the court at the Breslin Center the Dawson accident happened right in front of me. The bigger story was when Tom Izzo looked my way when Dawson came running out of the tunnel. If the old adage is true (and I do believe it) that a picture is worth a thousand words, his face told the story. I asked Izzo earlier this week to talk about his mental state of mind when he saw Dawson coming back?
“Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. That was like the, they say when Magic was here he came out at the Ohio State game. When Cleaves came out I saw it on the big screen. You know? Enjoyed that time too. The only problem is he was limping hard. BJ was running out. There’s a big difference between those two things.”
If Michigan State is going to have the type of season ending power move through the NCAA dance there is NO DOUBT that their two best players, Gary Harris and Branden Dawson will have to lead them. They just hope not from the bench. Both young men are fighting through major medical issues, now it is more wait and see.