Pentecost Practice Facility
East Lansing, MI
Sitting here watching MSU basketball practice, it was fascinating to watch Spartan freshman Matt McQuaid. Since he arrived on campus this summer from Duncanville, Texas the Spartan youngster has had his entire coaching staff and teammates’ attention. Don’t be fooled by the awe shucks boy next door look, he is a stone cold killer with as much passion for the game as anyone.
McQuaid can shoot like a machine and plays defense with passion, but even better than that, he is a super teammate. Way back in November Denzel Valentine told me, “I really like the passion that Matt brings to this team and the way he doesn’t play the game, but attacks it. He’s impressive.”
As I sat in practice, most freshmen have hit a wall by now. The pressure of being at a top level school, a demanding coach, school, being away from home and so much more, often simply drains the energy from young players. Not McQuaid.
Tom Izzo tore into McQuaid pushing him for more defensive intensity today and on the next play the pride of Duncanville made an amazing stop that halted practice and had senior star Denzel Valentine run over to hug is young protégé. As soon as McQuaid emerged from the scrum of teammates showing appreciation for his effort, he ran to hug his head coach.
It was in that moment that the emotional Izzo beamed from ear to ear. While so many young players shrink in the presence of a future Hall of Fame head man who demands more out of a player with each extra drop of effort he gets, McQuaid showed the same signs we saw in Denzel Valentine his freshman year.
As soon as practiced ended I asked Izzo about that moment and he was still thrilled with McQuaid. Izzo said of his young guard, “He is a sponge. His dad was a coach like Denzel, so there is some of that in him. He puts so much pressure on himself to be perfect that he is his own worst enemy right now. It makes him robotic at times because he wants to do things so right. It’s moments like that (the hug) that really make my day because I know he gets it, I know he is receptive to it. There’s been meetings enough and other times that you develop those things. I think that is what a lot of people outside the program do not realize. Whatever we say or do, our respect has got to be earned too. They (current players) aint just giving it (respect) to you. I promise this day and age they aint just giving it to you and I think McQuaid is going to be a helluva player.”
Izzo shared some additional insight to me about McQuaid’s love of the game. He informed me that, “We are going to meet after this, just because of what you said. He wants to talk about how he can get a little better. I think that is the coach’s son in him. I think that is how important basketball is to him.”
Hearing Izzo perspective is fun, but he perked my attention when he shared how much he sees Valentine in McQuaid. One man knows what it is to be a star, from a coach’s family and the insatiable hunger to get better. That is Izzo assistant Dane Fife. He has harvested a Mr. Basketball award and went on to glory on the Big Ten hardcourt playing for the legendary Bobby Knight.
Dane Fife said on Spartan Nation radio today about McQuaid, “That kid is a big competitor. He is tough, he wants to be great and there is some similarities from Matt McQuaid and Denzel (Valentine) from a standpoint that they are both going through the same types of freshman woes, freshman ups and downs. In the end you can’t help but notice his desire to be a great player and his desire to win when you talk about him and Denzel in comparison. They both have it. Matt McQuaid is driven to achieve his goals and nothing is going to get in his way and that is the way Denzel is. Matt McQuaid is going to be a great Spartan, he already is a great Spartan, but I think he has the ability to potentially be up in the Denzel category of guys who just had incredible careers here. Both numbers wise and winning wise and we expect great things out of Matt McQuaid in the future. He’s already a very good contributor to this team and we have high expectations for him.”
The Spartans have a high ceiling this year, but McQuaid and his passion confirm for us that the future remains bright as well. Remember when you hear comparisons to Valentine that the Denzel of today is NOT what he was as a freshman. I think the McQuaid you see as a senior won’t look as the young player today. That has to excite Spartan Nation.
The #6 Spartans 23-5 (9-5) return to action on Sunday when they host the Penn State Nittany Lions. That game tips off at Noon on BTN.