Kalin Lucas recently told Spartan Nation that the Michigan State Spartans are primed to make a national title run in 2011.Â In fact he said they are in better shape than when they were preparing to face Butler
And Lucasâ€™ teammate, senior guard Durrell Summers, recently seconded Lucasâ€™ prediction. In fact, Summers believes his team is in better shape to win a title than it was prior to its 52-50 loss to Butler in the Final Four.
â€œI agree with that,â€ Summers said during a recent interview with Spartan Nation Radio. â€œThe dedication and the work the whole team has been putting inâ€”and then, just the players; the type of players we haveâ€”along with the young guys and just the experience. I think weâ€™re in a great situation to win it.â€
Many thought that 2010 was the year of the Spartan. Despite several off-court issues, Tom Izzoâ€™s clan remained on a quest for their third national championship in school history, until distractions face them in Indianapolis for the Final Four.
There was Lucasâ€™ ankle injury against Wisconsin, which eventually led to a ruptured Achillesâ€™ heel when the Spartans faced Gary Williamsâ€™ Maryland Terrapins in the NCAA Tournamentâ€”his practice mishap with Izzo near the beginning of the seasonâ€”Chris Allenâ€™s non-basketball related problems; and other off court issues. Each incident slowed the Spartans down, but the problems didnâ€™t derail Michigan State from reaching its sixth Final Four in the last 12 campaigns under Izzo.
Imagine if Delvon Roe was 100-percent healthy. He is this year.
Imagine if team chemistry wasnâ€™t an issue last season. By all accounts, that wonâ€™t be a roadblock now.
Imagine if Summers, who is known as one of the most athletic guards in the nation, played to his potential. What if Michigan State could count on Summers for 20 points a night?
What if Summers played like his shining moments in the 2010 NCAA Tournament all the time?
He averaged 11.3 points per game during the regular season, but showed his true talent and scoring ability during March Madness. Summers warmed up with 14 points against New Mexico State in the first round, but his point total increased to 26 against Maryland.
Summers dropped 19 on Northern Iowa in the Sweet Sixteen, and Michigan Stateâ€™s naysayers were silenced. Instead of counting the Spartans out; like so many didâ€”they started erasing their brackets and penciling in â€œMSUâ€ in the Final Four.
It was strange how so many began to jump on the Spartans bandwagon; despite an arch injury to Allen, Lucasâ€™ Achillesâ€™ tendon and Roeâ€™s knees.
Summers pushed the pedal to the metal against Tennessee and scored 21 in Michigan Stateâ€™s thrilling 71-69 over Bruce Pearlâ€™s Volunteers.
And then it happened: Just as the Spartan faithful began to believe Summers could carry their team to glory; he scored 14 points against Butler in the Final Four.Â Sadly distractions to his team saw the Spartans drop from what could have been another national title for their floor general Tom Izzo.
It was a disappointment for some, but for Summers; it was a sign of what he needs to work on: His consistency. The upside was that he showed he could take over within a blink of an eye; something he failed to do in 2009â€™s Final Four where he scored 10 points per outing.
Consistency is a word that has ran through Summersâ€™ head since the Spartans came home from Indianapolis.
And he would be the first to tell you thatâ€™s been his main focus in the off-season.
â€œOnce I set down with my coaches and my team; they told me what they thought about me and how good I could be,â€ said Summers. â€œI decided to put in the work that I needed to. I got feedback and opinionsâ€”feedback that I value. In the tournament; I saw how good I could be. I just felt like why not put in all the work and put it in everyday.
â€œItâ€™s my last season, and itâ€™s time to win a championship.â€
Summers hasnâ€™t added much to his game; heâ€™s worked on how to maintain a high level every time he steps on the court. The 6-foot-4 Detroit native has become more intelligent in regards to his craft and said he’s near his peak.
â€œI just think I added more dimensions to my game, or not really added, it was stuff I could do; just work harder at it,â€ Summers said. â€œ(Iâ€™m) just a smarter player; Iâ€™m watching a lot of film. â€¦Iâ€™ve been putting all that together and figuring stuff out. I just want to be a smarter player.â€
The question of Summersâ€™ NBA potential was never one of â€œif.â€
It was â€œwhen.â€
Many college basketball pundits thought Summersâ€™ jump to the league would be a sure thing after the 2009-10 season concluded; title or not.
He was projected to be a late-first or early-second round pick in mock drafts that graced the Internet. This year could and likely will be different for the Spartan senior. There is considerable Durrell Summers-buzz in NBA discussions, and the possibility of Summers being a mid-first rounderâ€”or earlierâ€”is probable.
And Summers realizes this year will weigh heavily on his draft stock.
â€œItâ€™s very critical,â€ Summers said. â€œPretty much the knock on my game was the inconsistency partâ€”more so for myself than the team. If Iâ€™m not consistent every night; weâ€™re not going to be as good as a team. Thatâ€™s big for the team, as well as personal.â€
Summers has proved that heâ€™s a threat from anywhere on the court. He can hurt opponents with his long-range shot and aggressiveness to the hoop.
He was more than effective against Maryland in the second round of March Madnessâ€” he was 6-for-8 from 3-point range.
The image of Summers â€œposterizingâ€ Stanley Robinson in Michigan Stateâ€™s 82-73 Final Four win over UCONN in 2009 still lingers in the minds of Spartan supporters. Itâ€™s no secret that Summers is capable of jumping out of gyms.
He just has to fine-tune his game.
Summersâ€™ ball-handling skills improved last season. However, his stats are a bit misleading to the naked eye. Summers averaged 1.4 turnovers per game as a sophomore and 1.8 as a junior. But you need to crunch numbers to truly appreciate his progress.
He played five games in which he didnâ€™t commit a turnover in 2009-10. He had six turnover-less games as a sophomore; but played nearly five minutes less per contest (21.4 compared to 26.2). Costly turnovers were down.
A further analysis shows he had three or more turnovers twice last year; Summers had four against Florida and Toledo.
He gave the ball up eight times in five tournament contests; which shows Summers has become more reliable in terms of taking care of the â€œrock.â€
One startling stat was Summersâ€™ steals. He had takeaways in just 15 of Michigan Stateâ€™s 37 games.
If there was a hole in his game, or a gripe from fans; it was his defense.
No player likes to be harped on. A guy usually knows what facets of his game need to be tweaked. So it came to surprise when Summers mentioned his dedication to defense.
In fact, itâ€™s become more than just a dedication to stopping his opposition; itâ€™s a newfound pastime.
â€œIâ€™m 200-percent committed to defense,â€ Summers said firmly. Â â€œI like defense now. Itâ€™s fun for me. â€¦Iâ€™m focused on it, and Iâ€™m going to get it done.â€
Hondo said it best on Spartan Nation Radio when Summers made the 200% comment, â€œTake that Purdue.â€
This article is reprinted from the September issue of Spartan Nation Magazine.