Pentecost Practice Facility

East Lansing, MI

The #6 Michigan State Spartans 23-5 (9-5) have had to find a way this season without their point guard LouRawls Tum Tum Nairn. Out for a few games and now hindered in his minutes for the remainder of the season, the Spartans are different without their point man, vocal leader, and best defender.

This summer no one worked harder than Nairn, but plantar fasciitis made it so he couldn’t even practice soon after the season started and eventually held him out completely. Physically Nair will not return to 100% this season, but the guts it takes to continue playing are amazing.

Izzo said after practice, “We are trying to get him a little more practice time which we did today. It is so unfair to try to play in a game and not practice when you are not a super star and he isn’t. The pain is a little better than it was; it’s a lot like it was in November. I think he is just learning how to deal with it better. We are going to get him a little more time; he is not going to hurt it anymore. If it works out it works out, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. That is the decision that the doctors, Tum and myself have made. When I put Denzel (Valentine) at the two a little bit, there is just some things we see that we are missing. His rebounding we are missing a little bit. His feeding the post because you do it more from the wing than that point. There are so many things and people just think it is an easy decision and everyone thinks we are better in this way and better in that way. It’s not always that way.”

What excited Izzo was, “He’s actually starting to do better because mentally I think he is starting to do better. More so than physically.”

But what stood out to me watching practice today was how vocal Nairn remained. Tom Izzo has often bemoaned that, “When a player is out you not only lose their play on the court, but if they are a leader it is doubly bad because it is hard for guys to lead when they aren’t playing, or playing many minutes.”

Today I saw Nairn stop practice to correct a mistake, run down the court and put his arm around freshman star Deyonta “DD” Davis and teach him about a defensive technique, and when practice was winding down he led the final huddle imploring his teammates to play with fire and spit.

I asked Izzo about what I saw. “Very good picking that up because Tum and I met the other day. If you saw him down here with DD (Deyonta Davis) when he wasn’t playing because we still keep him out of some drills. I said to him that you haven’t done enough and I understand why. But with your personality it doesn’t matter if you are dead, you are going to be motivating people. It is very rewarding to me and that is why when it is all said and done he is going to be real special because he has the ability to do that. When he is on the floor with Denzel, Zel is a much better player. Different, more exciting. Denzel loves having Tum on the floor. That says it all.”

After talking to Izzo he asked me to talk to Tum about what I saw. The affable Bahamian appreciated that I noticed his effort. Tum said, “Me and him (Coach Izzo) had a long talk yesterday what he thinks I can continue to do for the team. He thinks my best attribute right now is my leadership. I really appreciated him talking to me about that because in my mind I have a long ways to go in the leadership realm. So when he takes time to talk to me about being myself and wanting more out of me from the leadership realm. That was definitely me being myself (calling out teammates) and me responding to coach and our talk.”

So when most players are just learning how to understand Izzo, let alone being a captain and embracing defensive intensity like Nairn does, what makes Tum Tum tick? “We know that defense wins championships and that is what this program is all about. It is fun to be able to stop somebody.”

So as you watch Tum Tum on the bench coaching or on the court playing, remember that he isn’t allowing the physical pain to make him quit. 100% healthy or not, MSU can’t win Izzo a second national title without him.

So, I had to ask just how healthy is he? “In my mind I am 100%. Mentally I am 100%. Physically it is what it is, but I am at peace in my mind.” No matter the percentage, he is 100% Spartan and that means everything.

The Spartans tip off with Penn State at Noon on Sunday and you can see that game on BTN.