The sole senior among head coach Tom Izzo's Michigan State basketball squad in Derrick Nix isn't doing a poor job as the team's captain by any means, but on Monday, it sounds like a decision was made that could affect that.
Izzo admittedly has had a difficult time with the big man on occasion, but he's also watched as Nix has battled back from poor performances and disappointments off the court to become a powerful leader for his No. 13-ranked Spartans this season. Even so, in the past few games it has become obvious that a natural leader has emerged in one of Tom Izzo's other starters; a versatile, young athlete who has led his team in scoring and big time plays multiple times this season. I'm speaking, of course, of none other than Keith Appling.
So when word started floating around the Spartans' camp last week that Izzo was thinking about making the young star one of the team's captains, along with senior Nix, it certainly got numerous good feelings flowing for a now-surging Michigan State team.
"I think he was excited about it and that is sometimes hard to see with Keith," Izzo said. "I told him what some of the other players said earlier and I think it made him feel good and it should. He knows that I was gonna make him earn that and for him to earn it, I think he feels real good about it."
Appling learned about the rumor last week and told reporters that he was honored and humbled by the mere thought of the new responsibility.
"I feel like any player on a Top 25 team that has an opportunity to do a lot of great things would be honored to be a captain," he said. "If I sat here and told you I wasn't, I would be lying. Of course I would be happy to be a captain."
Appling, a junior, netted the final six points in the game against Ohio State on Saturday that helped the then-No. 18 Spartans knock off the then-No. 11 Buckeyes. Now sitting pretty with a No. 13-ranking, MSU heads into a tough match up with a Big Ten opponent in Wisconsin this evening.
Izzo saw no reason to wait any longer to pull the trigger on making Appling a captain, so that's just what he did on Monday.
"Keith is getting to be a guy down the stretch that I think players feel comfortable with him, he feels comfortable, and I feel comfortable," Izzo said. "That's a pretty good deal."
As for his own personal transition into the captain's role, Appling doesn't exactly foresee much of a learning curve to have to deal with. Already a team leader on-and-off the court in many regards, the junior guard will likely slip right into his new role with an uncompromising ease.
"I feel like the rest of the guys have looked at me as a leader on the floor and in the locker room," Appling said. "Even though I didn't have the title as captain I still took on some of those roles."
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