AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Michigan State center Derrick Nix believes that the cleaner he leaves his hotel room before an NCAA tournament game, the better he’ll play. “I’m superstitious,” Nix said Thursday before outlining the cleaning ritual he and freshman forward Matt Costello undertook before leaving Nix’s room to head to the Palace of Auburn Hills on Thursday.
Nix’s room must have been utterly spotless.
The Spartans’ lone senior, who entered Thursday with only four career double-doubles, led Michigan State with 23 points and 15 rebounds as the Spartans beat Valparaiso, 65-54. Valpo’s post players were no match for the 6-foot-9, 270-pound Nix, who muscled them out of way for nine offensive rebounds.
Nix has had an up-and-down career at Michigan State. He started 11 of the final 12 games of his freshman season, but he spent his sophomore and junior seasons as a backup as he struggled with weight and conditioning issues. (In high school, the Detroit native at one point weighed 340 pounds.) Last April, Nix was arrested on a marijuana possession charge. After the arrest, Nix resolved to not blow his chance at a memorable senior season. His teammates elected him a co-captain, and he averaged 9.5 points and 6.2 rebounds.
Nix also passed along some valuable lessons. For instance, he taught Costello to immediately lay out his uniform when he arrives at the hotel. He also taught his freshman apprentice how to properly clean to ensure a quality performance. “Tournament time, I call the people and make sure they clean the room when we leave for our walk-through in the lobby,” Nix said Thursday. “That’s just how I am. It’s rubbed off on Costello. … We make sure our bathroom’s clean before we leave and make our beds and throw away all our trash.” Nix’s teammates may want to present him with a new bottle of Windex before the Spartans play in the round of 32. They believe that when he plays well, they play their best. “His play,” guard Keith Appling said, “really dictates how we go as a team.” If that’s the case, the Spartans will want Nix’s hotel room gleaming.