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The Spartan Nation Basketball Weekly

With the Spartan on track for their 14th straight NCAA dance, the Spartan Nation has reason to stand and shout.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

With the Spartan on track for their 14th straight NCAA dance, the Spartan Nation has reason to stand and shout. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

The Walk on to Elevated Roles for Mike Kebler and Austin Thornton

Two Guards, two different roles, but one common goal: contribute significantly coming down the stretch run. Austin Thornton (Rs.-Jr. G/F) and Mike Kebler (Sr. G) will once again be counted on heavily as Michigan State makes a run to a 14th straight NCAA Tournament bid. Last year, this walk-on duo factored extensively in the Dance after injuries had thinned the Spartans roster down. Coming into this year, that wasn’t expected to become such an issue, but how much of 2011 has gone anywhere near as expected?

Tom Izzo told Spartan Nation earlier this week that both former walk-ons will probably continue to see expanding roles. “You’ve gotta have some role players that can play a role,” he began. “(Thornton) just hasn’t been able to make a shot in a game and his defense is not as good, whereas Kebler is a much, much better defensive player, but not as good of an offensive player.” Both guys have also shown a knack for mixing it up and chasing after loose balls, which is still a fundamental part of Spartan Basketball.

“I was very disappointed with Kebler for a while,” Izzo admitted. “I didn’t think he was guarding, but he wasn’t playing many minutes, in fairness to him.” Yet, while Kebler has come on throughout the winter, Izzo is still waiting for the blonde haired sharp shooter to once again find his form. Thorton’s shooting struggles, yet again, seem to be based in the long “lost summer” of 2010.

“(He) was shooting the ball so good this summer, then he had the three cracked vertebrae, and he missed two months,” Izzo recalled. “I don’t know if he ever got his confidence back.” Though it looks like Thornton might not regain his stroke until the summer, it often takes only one good game, or even just a half, to get a shooter back on track (see Durell Summers, 2010). “He’s (Thornton) still going to have to play more minutes for us,” Izzo concluded.

Success with walk-ons isn’t an exclusive property to Spartan Basketball, however. Two of the conference’s current top teams this year have consistently worked in walk-ons on a regular basis. “We have to use them like Matt Painter (Purdue) has used some of his subs in a role…and definitely Wisconsin has.”

Kebler and Thornton both performed pretty well in the clutch during last year’s Final Four run. This year, they’re realistically expected to contribute even more, and should be ready to excel after last year’s primetime experience. “They’re going to be critical for us down the stretch.”

Much More Than Just a “Coach’s Wife”

College Basketball is hardly the game it was before 1979. As Spartan Nation knows (thanks again, Magic), the modern day game began to take shape in that year with the expanded tournament and a fledgling 24-hour cable sports network that has since become the World Wide Leader. Thanks to powerful combination of March Madness and ESPN, College ball has grown exponentially, arguably passed through its “golden era,” and now exists as a 24/7, 365 day passionate grind.

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Players and coaches technically have an “off season,” but it’s hardly much of a break these days. In some ways, “the summer” might even be busier than the regular season. As a result of the game’s evolution into an all year-every day operation, coach’s wives are also playing a bigger and bigger role.

“I think wives are important, especially if you’re going to try to run a family type atmosphere,” Tom Izzo said, to Spartan Nation. “It’s the recruiting weekends…it’s the (events),” and much more. Lupe Izzo’s role has grown during the Izzo’s time at Michigan St. as she’s become widely involved in different charities and organizations, including efforts with other Big Ten Coaches’ wives, and nationwide campaigns like Coaches Versus Cancer.

In fact, one of Izzo’s favorite program events (featured on last year’s HBO Real Sports profile) probably wouldn’t even have come together without the help of his now well known wife. “We started a thing a few years ago where the (past) parents and players come back, and we have a little function at my house after one game, and she’s been very instrumental in that.” Not only are wives important to special events like the reunion at the Izzo’s house, they’re also critically important on an ongoing basis to the current players on the roster.

“When kids are recruited, (they want) a Mom figure,” Izzo explained.  “We always talk about a Dad figure for the Head Coach, but I think the Moms of these players want to have someone around, and she does that very well.”

Across major College Basketball each program has its own unique wrinkles, but at MSU, there’s little doubt of the importance to Spartan Basketball’s numerous human resources. “I think everybody uses their people differently, but here, our Managers, our Secretaries, and definitely our families, especially my wife, are very critical to the program from a player’s standpoint.”

Izzo knows that you probably can’t have a great program without great support from all the Coaches’ wives and families. “It’s one of the things that’s very important in the program…you’ve gotta have everyone on the same page, especially with the hours that we have to work.”


The Spot Up 3: Three Quick Basketball Points to Ponder

  1. Will the NCAA finally wake up and reinstate the jump ball, move back the 3-point line to the International distance, and drop in the “no-charge” semi-circle under the basket? Why does it always seem to take the NCAA so long to do so little?
  2. Is anyone else sick of the term “Bigs”? I think it’s getting over used. What was wrong with “Big Men”? Are we now so lazy that we can’t even say two words? Let’s bring back the term “Big Men” a little bit. I’m not totally against “Bigs,” but I completely oppose its exclusive usage.
  3. It should only take another year or two before the NCAA completes what they started last year in Tournament expansion. There should be 2 sets of play in games, which would require 4 more teams, and all conference tournaments to end on Saturday. Selection Sunday would need to be moved to Saturday to get all the play-ins organized (think: travel). 72 seems to be the right number, and would allow more “little guys” to play the “big guys” on Monday and Tuesday night of the Tournament’s opening week.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JPSpartan or Interact with him Inside the Phalanx Forum