As Keith Appling prepares to take the mantle of captain on the MSU basketball team it doesn’t mean that he is playing his best basketball. In fact he still has a very big upside. Watching him try to be a captain will be interesting, the young man has great athletic skills, but has yet to show any leadership ability. That is not a slam on the talented young man, not everyone is a leader, but his on court talent can’t be denied.
With a string of very tough games ahead of the Spartans, starting Saturday in the Breslin Center against Ohio State, Izzo knows that he needs more.
He said of what he needs from Appling, “I think we have to do a couple of things. No. 1, we’ve got to execute better. We’re not setting good screens to free Keith. We’re not doing a good enough job with our spacing. Our wings have been standing a little too much, standing in the wrong spots.”
He went on to add, “I think Keith does have to be aggressive, I talked to him early this morning about it, looked at some film and talked to him about where we were in the Kansas game and where we are now. Some of it Keith has to be both, he has to be a distributor and has to be a shooter and it’s not easy to do. So I’d say he does have to be more aggressive offensively, definitely more aggressive. But I think other guys aid that too. If you’re not executing as well, standing around more, it doesn’t bode well for that. And if guys aren’t shooting as well, if Denzel isn’t making shots or something, people are going to adjust their defense here in conference play now, so they take some things away from Keith now too that maybe they weren’t taking away in the non-conference.”
Izzo acknowledges that Appling’s upside is still far from tapped. He said, “You know, Keith has I think a lot more to give than he’s giving even, because he’s respect by other players because he works every single day. He’s got a pretty good basketball IQ. And like I told him this morning, I think he’s just got to put his will on more people. He’s got to tell people when they’re in the wrong spot of when they’re not screening well. He’s probably pound for pound the toughest guy on my team. But he doesn’t utilize that at all times. So Some of that is an area I’d like to see him grow in, because I think he’s got he other qualities to be able to tell people what to do.”
Captains must be vocal and Izzo concurs that Appling has to be a better communicator. “I think all kids it’s their background. And my favorite new phrase, ‘Why would you talk when you can tweet?’ Why should you communicate when you can text?”
As much as he hates Twitter, Izzo does at least like that the quiet Appling, unlike his teammates avoids that medium of social networking. “I know he doesn’t. He doesn’t even do that. Its one thing I do appreciate about him. But he’s just been a quiet guy and he’s been unassuming. You’ve got to appreciate that day after day after day, he is the hardest worker on my team. I couldn’t count the practices in three years where he doesn’t come to practice. I could count them on one hand, maybe on one finger. So I respect and appreciate that. But as I tell him, he’s got more to give and he’s got to do more. And I think running this team, last night there were a couple times we’re starting into something and guys aren’t set up.”
But being vocal is a foreign concept to Appling. Izzo said, “He doesn’t want to bark at them and tell them you’ve got to do that. It just goes with the position. I used the example of the quarterback going to the line and three receivers on the same side and yelling at at them, ‘Get to the other side.’ Keith’s got to do a little more of that and put people in position. And I think, we had a good film session with him and the guards early this morning and I think he saw a lot of things that we were able to just talk about. To be honest with you, it was real good for me and good for them.”
Keith Appling can’t be Draymond Green, it isn’t his nature. Frankly he doesn’t have to be Draymond Green. What he has to do is be a better Keith Appling. On a team void of leadership, any form of it will be like a drop of water in the hot desert for a team with so much talent and so little leadership.