EAST LANSING - Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo announced after Thursday's practice that sophomore center Derrick Nix would not be accompanying the team to Hawaii for this weekend's Maui Invitational.
Nix also did not practice on Tuesday night, but Izzo said this measure is not a suspension and not the result of a disciplinary issue.
"Nix has got some personal issues," Izzo said. "He is not suspended."
Izzo said Nix approached him Wednesday night and Thursday morning with concerns about an apparent decreasing role. Nix played just four minutes during Tuesday's 82-73 victory over South Carolina. He was 0-for-2 from the foul line in that game.
"We just elected, between him and I, not to go Maui," Izzo said. "He is going to have to figure out what those are and what he wants to do and what he's going to do. I think, like always, it's tough to get into everything and this kind of took me by surprise today. So that's about all I can tell you to be honest with you."
On Tuesday night, Izzo said he held Nix and fellow sophomore center Garrick Sherman out of the South Carolina game for most of the second half due to their problems at the foul line. Sherman, who started at center, played 15 minutes and scored six points on 3-of-3 shooting.
Nix averaged 7.8 minutes per game last year while starting 16 contests. He started in MSU's last nine games of the 2009-10 season, but played five minutes or less in three of MSU's last five games.
Nix has dropped 70 pounds since topping out at 340 pounds while at Detroit Pershing High School, where he was named Michigan's Mr. Basketball in 2009. Despite his success with a state championship team in high school, Nix's immediate emergence as a functional role player for a Final Four team at Michigan State surprised many basketball observers. However, seeing his playing time decreased for one week was apparently a problem.
Izzo was asked pointedly after Thursday's practice if playing time was an issue for Nix.
"It could be, for him," Izzo said. "I don't know that. It didn't seem to be. I think he is just wondering where he fits in and what he's doing, and he just has a lot of things to think about. But we are going to win a tournament, that's what we're going for."
Michigan State will begin play at the Maui Invitational at 9:30 p.m., (Eastern time), Monday against Chaminade.
Izzo was asked if Nix might begin looking to transfer when the Spartans return.
"That's kind of completely up to him," Izzo said, raising his eyebrows. "That's not what I want, but that's completely up to him, however he feels."
Izzo was asked if he saw this issue arising.
"Not at all," Izzo said. "It just happened today. He came into my office last night and talked to me a little bit, but I did not think that it would escalate to this, and it did. I feel good about it for him. I think he needs to do this and that's important to him."
COMP'S TAKE: Izzo was composed and upbeat when talking about the new Nix issue after Thursday's practice, strikingly similar to his demeanor when discussing various suspensions a year ago. No one could argue with the fact that Izzo handled last year's problems well, as the Spartans on their second straight Big Ten title and advanced to a second straight Final Four.
The thing that must irritate Izzo is that he took measures to outwardly state a desire to reduce and/or eliminate off-field distractions as the Spartans banded together pursue the school's third basketball National Championship. Just three games in, a sophomore center who should feel indebted for the honor of starting 13 times last year for a Final Four team says he is concerned about playing time? Not cool. Not a good distraction.
Nix is a good guy who has been very emotional in his short time at Michigan State thus far, almost all of it positive emotion. He bonded with Izzo last year, became an Izzo favorite. Nix has been a diligent worker. Remember that Nix teared up last summer when attending the vigil outside of Breslin Center while Izzo was considering a job offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But now we're seeing the negative depths of the Nix roller coaster.
Nix needs to take this opportunity to mature, reboot, get back to work, lose some of the weight that he regained over the last two weeks, embrace the opportunity to work with and against talented pivots such as Sherman and Adreian Payne every day. Easy for me to say. Easy for all of us to see it that way. The key is for Nix to grow up and gain a realistic grasp on things.
I asked Izzo if he would direct anyone to call Nix and help in the communication process. Don't be surprised if former MSU and Pershing star Steve Smith reaches out to Nix, with whom Smith has forged a little bit of a relationship in recent years. Nix needs someone outside of the coaching staff to tell him it's time to become a man.
Nix reached out positively to Izzo before practice on Thursday. Izzo and the team will be fine with or without Nix. I'm not sure Nix would be fine without MSU basketball.
Izzo isn't going to hang around and wait and try to babysit distractions for more than a short period of time. He doesn't need a soap opera from an 8-minute-per-game player when so much work needs to be done, and there is so much for 13 other team members to gain.
Back in December of 1995, in the first year of the Izzo era, 15 years ago this month, Izzo left Morris Peterson at home rather than take him to Maui, because of conduct unbecoming of a Spartan. Peterson said it was one of the lowest points of his athletic life. But he, and the program, responded positively. Peterson also had a strong support group around him. Nix might not be quite as fortunate. MSU needs to teach Nix a lesson here, but also be careful to make sure Nix doesn't end up feeling abandoned over the next few days.
MSU can use much of what Nix has to offer, in the near term and especially in the long term. But not at the high cost of a lengthy distraction, after Izzo spent the entire offseason preaching to the team the importance of everyone being all in for one goal.
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