Does Spartans' Tommy Herzog Have What it Takes to Become Starting Center?

Hondo S. Carpenter

Austin, Texas


Coming into the 2009-2010 basketball season, the biggest question on the minds of Tom Izzo and the Spartan Nation was who would step up and be the team’s leading big man. 


Many thought and hoped it would be the 7 foot 250 pound red-shirt junior Tom Herzog. Heading into his fourth year in the program there was widespread optimism that this well-liked big man from Flint would step up and seize the opportunity.


It hasn’t happened yet. Izzo is battling in his mind whether or not to start Herzog or one of his two true freshman centers (Sherman or Nix), or whether the man he calls his “best player” Draymond Green should force him to neglect the bigs position entirely in his starting rotation. Izzo ideally has admitted it is easier to get his three bigs playing time at the beginning than necessarily at the end of a game. 


Coming off what Izzo called “a great summer” for Herzog, many thought with his tremendous work ethic and commitment to getting better that this would be his year. But, as the Spartans sit at the halfway point of the season, Izzo admits, “the strength thing is an issue.”    

At a big time college program like Michigan State very few players ever red-shirt. Based upon the type of talent Tom Izzo brings in, it is one selling point in recruiting that he uses as a tremendous tool. Almost always when someone does red-shirt it is simply because they need the time to develop a Big Ten body. It is amazing to think a 250 pound man (like Herzog) could be considered small or even lack strength, but when the 250 pounds is spread over a 7 foot frame it often times leads Herzog to being pushed around and unable to compete against stronger big men. 

At this point in most players’ careers, while at MSU, when the realization of the amount of work expected does not begin to pay off in minutes played they would become discouraged and transfer. That does not describe Herzog.

To a man, coaches, players, managers, trainers, secretaries, and anyone else that is around him on a daily basis, Herzog’s effort has won their respect and admiration. In fact, recently when a reporter asked Tom Izzo if he would give up on Herzog, Izzo gave his strongest endorsement of him yet, “Do I give up? No! As much faith? No! If you think they are doing all they can, that is all you can ask as a coach. It is not a lack of effort or work. I am not going to give up on him. If a pro scout came in and watched an individual workout (of Herzog) he would say Wow!” 

If ballots were handed out in the Spartan Basketball Program and Spartan players were asked who works the hardest in practice, no doubt Herzog would poll well. He is one of the most hardworking and liked people in the program. Izzo put it this way, “The hardest thing with Tommy is that he is a big kid that works and there are not a lot of them around. I’m not ready to give up! I also can’t keep him in there a lot.”

As the Spartans approach the second half of the season, including tonight’s big game with Texas, nothing would make life better for Izzo and Spartan Nation basketball than for Herzog to emerge as the number one center. 

Izzo doesn’t expect, or for that matter need, twenty-five points and twenty rebounds out of Herzog let alone Herzog, Nix, and Sherman. What he does need is one of them to step up and seize the position. Nix and Sherman have a lot more basketball ahead of them and many more lessons to learn. With three and a half years in the program and only a season and a half left, ideally Herzog would be the man. 

Nix, Sherman, and Herzog are all great kids. Herzog has never given up, never taken a practice off, has spent time in the weight room and the training table, and has put the time and effort in to get better. There isn’t one person that questions his heart, and there isn’t one person in the program that is ready to give up. 

Any proof you need of the content of the character of Herzog and his game should be taken from the words of Tom Izzo, “I don’t want to give up.” The only one that wants Herzog to do better than Herzog is his Head Coach Tom Izzo. Unlike some players who have come through the program whose heart you could honestly question, Herzog isn’t one of them. It’s there for him to take. With effort and heart not being in question, the only one left is ability. Here in Austin, tonight, would be a great coming out party for the Spartan Nation’s latest Flintstone.