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October 31, 2011
The following story appears in the NOVEMBER issue of SPARTAN Magazine. This story is just one of the twelve player features in SPARTAN Magazine's annual basketball preview. To purchase a digital version of the magazine, or to subscribe, go here.
EAST LANSING - When Delvon Roe tearfully announced his retirement from basketball in late September, it took some time before even the most steely-reserved basketball analysts felt comfortable discussing the x's and o's of how Michigan State would replace him. It was that emotional.
But the show must go on, and eventually, we all had to confront how the Spartans would split up the 23 minute-hole left in Roe's absence and remain competitive in the paint.
While Alex Gauna's increased contributions will take the most obvious jump, Michigan State's best chance of maintaining in-the-paint competitiveness lies in the hands of Derrick Nix, whose offseason makeover - and his coach's confidence that he
will maintain it - should give Spartan fans hope.
"It's crazy," Nix said when asked about the events leading to his new role. "I mean, nobody ever wants to look at it as a man down, but that's kind of an opportunity for me."
If this had all happened last March, when a 307-pound Nix walked head-down off the court in Tampa after playing only five minutes in the Spartans' first round NCAA Tournament loss to UCLA, there would be major concerns throughout East Lansing. But Tuesday October 18, in front of hoards of media on the main floor of Breslin, Derrick Nix stepped onto a scale like a boxing at a championship weigh-in in Vegas.
"267," said Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Vorkapich. Flash bulbs popped. Tweets flew out.
"All I can tell you is, where we were last year, we're miles ahead," Izzo said.
Nix weighed 287 heading into last season, but ballooned well past 300 during the winter when Nix sulked about reduced playing time and considered a transfer.
"And at this time last year we were in pretty good shape," Izzo said. "He was better with his body, which causes 80 percent of his pluses or minuses.
"He had some goals we set. And I'll be honest, I'm going to go out on a limb here, this kid has matured. I talked to Morris Peterson and I told him to talk to Nix because I see a maturation process of the same magnitude."
When Izzo says MoPete, people listen. He doesn't use the name lightly.
"His ability to get up and down the court has quadzippled from what it was," Izzo said. "I know that's not a word, but it is in the U.P., so to hell with you guys."
Michigan State is counting on Nix 3.0 to drastically increase his ability to go for longer stretches. Last season, he averaged just 8.2 minutes a game and only saw double-digit minutes three times from
"I feel like I can get up the floor quicker," Nix said. "And as far as dunks, nobody ever sees me dunk, but, I got a few dunks at Midnight Madness. I was excited about that, the fans were excited. I rebound better. That's what I see the most. I can play for longer stretches, like I can go maybe a whole practice and probably won't get tired.
"I feel like as far as my body and bodying people, I'm always going to be able to do that because that's all I ever was you know, I'm a banger. So (I worked more) on my jump hooks. My skill set has always been good but no one ever got a chance to see it because I never had to play against nobody bigger than me. I always just overpowered them with post-power moves. I always felt like I was a good defender, so I don't really feel like this weight-loss helped me defensively, I take pride in defense.
"I'm pretty sure I'll average a double-double this year. And I know I'll get assists because I'm a good passer. Just pretty much averaging a double-double and doing everything I can to help our team
win. I'm ready to play North Carolina. I'm ready to beat North Carolina and I'm ready to beat Duke. That's the two college teams that I dislike the most."
When Morris Peterson returned to East Lansing to watch his number be raised high into the Breslin rafters, Izzo carried with him a dusty cast that he had kept in some lock-box for a decade, envisioning such a moment. It was the cast Peterson wore when he broke a bone in his arm during his sophomore year, an occurrence which forced Peterson to improve his defense, and eventually may have been the positive turning point of his career.
Perhaps if Derrick Nix ever returns to Breslin, a decade from now, Izzo will wheel out a dusty scale and commemorate the summer when Derrick Nix finally got it.
"With all the problems I've had in the past here, you get sick of it," Nix said. "(Izzo) told me when you do the same stuff, you get the same results. And that's pretty much what I've been doing. So I (slacked) off for one year. Last year wasn't a good year for me and I'm halfway through college now. Somethin' gotta give."