Stepping Out Of The Shadows?

New York Yankees' CC Sabathia winds up to pitch during the first inning of Game 1 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009, in New York. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Adam Ballinger and Aloysius Anagonye were on Michigan State's 2000 national championship team as seldom-used reserves.

Sophomores Kelvin Torbert, Alan Anderson and Chris Hill have not won any sort of championship as Spartans, who won four straight Big Ten titles and advanced to three straight Final Fours before they arrived.

In this NCAA tournament, the Spartans are motivated to create their own legacy.

"What players like Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson did, and back in the day what Magic Johnson and Steve Smith did for this program was great," Anderson said Tuesday. "But it's time for us to win our own championship so that we can be a part of the great tradition here."

The seventh-seeded Spartans (19-12) play 10th-seeded Colorado (20-11) on Friday in Tampa, Fla. If they win, they could play second-seeded Florida in a rematch of the 2000 national championship game.

Advancing to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six years would seem like an accomplishment to some. The Spartans have dealt with a slew of injuries this season and have lost three underclassmen to the NBA draft over the past two years, including point guard Marcus Taylor last summer.

But Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, whose winning percentage of 80 percent in the NCAA tournament leads all active coaches, wants to do more than just survive the first weekend.

"I hope we aren't thinking small,'' Izzo bristled. "That wouldn't do it for me. I think you don't have to win games to make your own name, you have to win championships.

"Winning the first weekend would be a great feat for this team in some ways, but I hope they're not measuring themselves on that, because I'm not.''

They're not.

"You don't get anything for getting to the Sweet 16, besides maybe a button," Anderson said. "It's all about getting the hardware you get if you win it all."

Torbert said he came to Michigan State to win championships — period.

"Winning a few games won't do much for us,'' he said. "If we don't win a championship, we will not be happy."

While it may seem presumptuous for the Spartans to have such high hopes, they did beat top-seeded Kentucky on its home court and lost to Oklahoma, another No. 1 seed, by just two points in Oklahoma City. Michigan State, which played one of the nation's toughest schedules, is 7-6 against NCAA tournament teams, and four of those losses were by three or fewer points.

"Playing that schedule showed us that if we play well, we can beat anybody in the tournament, like we showed at Kentucky,'' said Anagonye. "I feel a real sense of urgency to win another championship, because this is it for the seniors. The trick is to make sure our sophomores and freshmen also play with a sense of urgency."

Hill said he and his fellow underclassmen will.

"We have a great opportunity right now to earn a championship and establish our own legacy, and we don't want it to slip away," Hill said. "We really want to get this program where we want it to be, and where it should be.''
  • Rome Neal

Comments