Four years ago this class was supposed to look a lot different then how it ended.Â Thankfully hindsight is 20/20 and not the opposite.Â MSU said goodbye to an amazing group of seniors here in the desert this week and it will be a long time until another one as important comes along again.
In the locker room after the loss to Louisville here on Thursday I asked Austin Thornton if he could have ever seen his career reach the heights it did.Â Humbly the underrated young man from Sand Lake, Michigan said to me, â€œThis still hurts, but no, if I was honest I wouldnâ€™t have seen it like this.â€
Looking at Thornton himself and how far he came is an amazing story in and of itself.Â Later he said, â€œWell, it's tough.Â Like coach said, it's hard to feel good and hard to feel bad because we had a special year. We know we did some things at Michigan State that haven't been done in a long time. We were able to win the conference championship and then we went down to Indianapolis and won the Big Ten tournament championship and that was special. And we were able to earn ourselves the No. 1 seed. And obviously make the Sweet 16. Our ultimate goal was to make it to New Orleans to the Final Four.Â We weren't able to accomplish that.Â So it's a bittersweet feeling.â€
Draymond Green was emotional as the finality of his college career hit him.Â Always a class act he did reflect when asked.Â â€œLike Austin said, it's tough to feel good or feel bad, like them two said. But like we told the guys in the locker room, and our coaching staff, thanks for a great year.Â They couldn't have given us more than they gave us, and just from where we came from, from the beginning of the year, no one thought we was going to be anything. And for all us guys, including our coaching staff and our managers, our support staff, everybody rallied around us like the way they did, it was great.Â And we couldn't have asked for a better year. We could have asked for a better ending, but the year couldn't get any better.â€
Brandon Wood had an amazing journey that brought him to Michigan State.Â Even though he was here less than one year, it doesnâ€™t lessen his impact on the Spartan Nation.Â There is no chance that they have the year they did without him and after the game he said, â€œWe try to look at the season as a whole. We had a memorable year. We put our footprint on the Spartan program. We did things that a lot of teams in the country didnâ€™t do. Of course we wanted to win and keep it moving but they played better than us tonight. Weâ€™ve got to just reflect on the good things that happened this season.â€
Those are the big three that people think about, but the final senior was one that Draymond Green called critical.Â That would be Anthony Ianni.Â Ianni is a young man that never had anything given to him.Â He had to fight, scratch and claw every step of the way.Â In the end he has a Big Ten Championship ring, a Big Ten Tournament title, a #1 seed and a sweet sixteen in the big dance.
The amazing thing about Ianni is that better than all of that he will have a college degree.Â Not bad for a young man who had teachers in his younger years that wanted to write him off as a special ed casualty.Â His parents refused to allow him to become a statistic and he earned it all.
Greg and Jamie Ianni refused to let others speak failure over their son.Â Rather than blame others they spent countless hours at the dinner table doing homework, crying when he needed a friend, kicking his butt when he needed motivation and parents when he just need both.
Whether you found Jamie yelling at refs from her courtside seats on Thursday, or you caught the wet eyes of a proud father watching his sonâ€™s last practice the Ianni family celebrated Anthonyâ€™s career in a way most canâ€™t.
Ianni was the first off the bench to cheerlead and the most positive player on the team.Â Each time the fans in the Breslin Center called for Izzo to put him in, it choked him up and there isnâ€™t ONE player on this team who appreciated what wearing the green and white meant more than him.
Ianniâ€™s statistics wonâ€™t amaze you, but after the Big Ten Tournament Draymond Green told me something about him that will.Â â€œAnthony Ianni is the most underrated person on our team.Â When I am down, when I am not playing well he always comes up and tells me how proud he is of me, how much he believes in me.Â He will always have a special place in my heart for how inspired me and for being such a great teammate.â€
Next season a young crop of new Spartans will arrive.Â Each of them with amazing talent that makes normal people look on at God given talent.Â Each with great gifts that most can only dream of athletically.Â Each with big shoes to fill when they look at the class they will replace.Â The 2012 senior class leaves big footprints as students, as basketball players and most of all as a great group of young men.
I have had the personal privilege of getting to know them all and there isnâ€™t one of them that as men donâ€™t have my respect.Â It was a great season, and it was because of these four men that it was able to happen.
The program moves on and next year a new group of stars will emerge.Â Â It will be some time before one senior class comes along with the integrity, talent and character of this class and for that alone they are a special group.