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March 17, 2012

DotComp: Green now further aligned with greatness

COLUMBUS - I counted three real cool things about Draymond Green becoming just the third player in history to have multiple triple-doubles in NCAA Tournament play.

3. The third-coolest thing about DayDay's triple-double is the guys whose company he joins in this achievement - Earvin Johnson and Oscar Robertson.

The gravity of Green's achievement during Michigan State's 89-67 victory over LIU Brooklyn becomes greater when realizing that Magic and The Big O are the only other players to have done it. Johnson and Robertson are on the shortest of lists when discussing the game's all-time greats.

It's better that Green is joining two Mount Rushmore basketball figures in achieving this. It wouldn't have been quite as cool if the other two to have done it were Magic and, say, Fennis Dembo or something like that.

No, it had to be Magic and Oscar. That's monumental.

Among other things, Robertson once averaged a triple-double for an entire NBA season.

Magic popularized the triple-double.

They are synonymous with the triple-double. Now, Green is synonymous with them.

2. The second-coolest thing about DayDay's triple-double is the fact that Green is somewhat of a basketball historian. He can recite basketball history probably better than any current college basketball star. There is no player more capable of fully appreciating the special nature of this new distinction than Green.

Green has enjoyed chasing various milestones this year, and was proud to become the third player in MSU history to go for 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. He reveled in lifting MSU to its first No. 1 seed since 2001 and its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2000.

He didn't set out to win Big Ten Player of the Year. It just happened. And it humbled him.

He didn't know that only two men had ever recorded multiple triple-doubles in NCAA Tournament history. He didn't know it until last night - when his name joined the list. It's the most exclusive of his many awards and distinctions. And it blind-sided him. It blind-sided all of us.

Before tonight, I didn't know that Magic and Robertson were the only guys who had done it. Now an entire nation of basketball fans is aware of that statistic - simply because Draymond Green joined them.

The fact that he counts one of those men - Magic Johnson - as a friend, a teacher, a mentor, a confidante, a fellow Spartan Dawg, just adds to the amazing nature of this new chapter in MSU Basketball Lore.

Earlier in the year, when Green's perimeter shot wasn't falling, Magic reached out to him with a phone call.

"Just have fun, and focus on what you do well, and the rest will fall into place," Magic told him.

Friday night was all about fun and focus. The court at Nationwide Arena became Draymond's Playground.

Earlier in the week, Izzo was speaking with Magic on the phone about the ESPN documentary "The Announcement," which debuted last Sunday night. As Izzo was on the phone with Magic, Green walked by. Izzo handed the phone to Green and said, "Here, talk to Magic."

Izzo didn't suggest to Magic what he should tell Green.

Izzo didn't tell Green what topics to discuss with Magic.

It was just, "Here, talk to Magic."

Just this week.

At some point soon, there will be another phone call with Magic. And we'll ask Green about the conversation. Because that's what we do when we're reporting on major figures making history. And that's what this is.

1. The coolest thing about Green's history-making triple-double is how much he had to rely on others at the end to finish it.

First, a statistician had to care enough to bring it to the attention of assistant coach Dwayne Stephens that Green needed only one more assist to get a triple-double.

Then Stephens had to know that Izzo would care too. Stephens brought it to Izzo's attention on the sideline.

Izzo called time out.

With three minutes left? Up twenty?

For a statistic?

In Izzo's program, this is akin to stopping and smelling a rose.

And deep inside of it is a chance for more program-building, more bonding, more footprints in the sand, more confidence, more feelings of speciality. It's not about grand-standing and headline writing. It's about shared experiences. And he had a feeling this one could make Michigan State stronger. This is his month. He has a feel for each rung of the ladder, up to the rim, to cut down the nets. And it's not all about basketball. Sometimes it's about people. This was about people.

"Normally," Izzo said, "you don't care about stats.

"And I said, just like with Cleaves, I think guys that have a chance to do something that leaves a mark deserve the opportunity."

In March of 2000, during Mateen Cleaves' Senior Day bash at Michigan State, someone on the bench mentioned that Cleaves needed only four assists to become the Big Ten's all-time leader in assists.

It was decided during a time out that any time any player received a pass from Cleaves, that player had to hoist a shot at the rim in hopes of generating more Cleaves assists.

Then he only needed three. Then two. Then one more assist.

It may have looked like MSU was trying to run up the score on Michigan that day in March of 2000. In actuality, the players were just trying to ring up a record for Mateen. Michigan happened to be the bug in the way of a 114-63 windshield. Cleaves got the record.

Up by about 20 on LIU Brooklyn with about three minutes to go, Izzo didn't want to turn this into a sideshow.

"So I told him he's got one shot," Izzo said.

It's cool that Izzo cared. It's cool that Stephens knew Izzo would care.

It was also cool that Izzo went to Brandon Wood to be the guy whose shot would decide it.

Wood had a bad first half.

Wood has experienced and endured the Wrath of Izzo at various checkpoints throughout this season. Izzo has had to put the one-year transfer into a condensed version of becoming Spartanized and properly programmed. Wood has felt high-decibel persuasion.

On this night, Wood endured the March/Tournament category of the Izzo Hurricane.

Wood was a hero last weekend in Indianapolis, stringing together his best performances of the season in becoming a member of the All-Tournament team.

However, in his first NCAA Tournament game with the Spartans, the senior transfer from Valparaiso reverted to the casual habits of his past. He had two turnovers in the first five minutes, and missed his first three shots.

Izzo went forehead-to-forehead with Wood during the first TV time out. Izzo shouted some unpleasant verbal means of motivation.

When Wood continued to struggle, and missed an awkward 10-footer in transition when it would have been wiser to kick the ball back to his point guard, Izzo turned a dangerous shade of Columbus scarlet.

Izzo met Wood out on the floor during a time out and accused the senior of something truly egregious. "You're a selfish player!" Izzo said to Wood.

Izzo doesn't really believe that. But he says stuff like that as a means of button pushing, in order to get the exact opposite response from a player.

Like last week in Indy, during a crucial stretch against Ohio State, Izzo spoke out in Adreian Payne's direction after Jared Sullinger had just made a basket or two against him.

"You're afraid of that guy," Izzo said to Payne, in reference to Sullinger.

"You're afraid of him," Izzo said. "And you can't guard him."

Payne wasn't on the bench. He was on the court. Izzo was practically heckling him. He didn't sub him out. He needled him.

Sullinger was standing right there and heard the whole thing. Sullinger looked at Izzo and said, loud enough for Payne to hear, "That's right, Coach Izzo. That's right."

Five seconds later, the ball was in-bounded, Payne got post position, received an entry pass from Austin Thornton, and threw down the most hateful, richter scale dunk of his career and one of the best in recent MSU history.

Izzo adjusted his neck tie, and didn't even look at Payne as the whole crew got back on defense.

Button pushed.

So now here was Wood, catching mouthy madness from Izzo. He's been at Michigan State long enough to get used to it. And he's surrounded by the right type of guys to help him learn how to compartmentalize it, accept the message, absorb the lesson, and file it away.

At halftime, Izzo didn't rip and yell at Wood and the Spartans. He just told the truth.

"I told them, 'We're in trouble,'" Izzo said. "I said, you're only up 5 and Julian Boyd has only played nine minutes (because of foul trouble)."

It was time to do a better job of carrying out the game plan, playing to MSU's strengths.

That meant get the ball inside, score in the post, pass out of the post - with most of it going through Green.

"I didn't think Draymond started out good," Izzo said. "We wanted to go inside, and I think he realized he took a couple of shots. They weren't bad shots. They just weren't what we wanted to do.

"Boy, when he settled down, he must have hit 10 out of his next 14 shots ... and the rebounding he does, you know, it was phenomenal."

The Spartans dominated the second half. Wood began it with a steal.

Later, he gave MSU its biggest lead to that point at 66-50 when he hustled to the rim for a lay-up off a no-look pass from Keith Appling.

LIU Brooklyn tried to change tempo and alter momentum by going to a zone defense with 10:07 left.

Green answered with a 3-pointer (69-52), and then an alley-oop pass to Derrick Nix (71-54).

And then Wood nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 74-54.

LIU Brooklyn scrapped the zone idea after just three possessions.

Wood was back to good.

And then when it was legacy time for DayDay, during the time out, when Izzo drew up the play for Green's 10th assist, he called for a double pindown screen for Wood. Wood was to come off that screen, curl just so, and get ready to catch-and-shoot, get ready to make it, one chance, for Green, for the team, for another footprint in 2012.

Wood drilled the 17-footer. 87-64. The guys on the bench jumped around like children.

"I told him I was going to knock it down for him," Wood said. "I knew that I had to knock it down. He deserved that triple double. We executed the play perfectly and I shot it with confidence and it went down."

Then a few seconds later when it was time to clear the bench and bring the stars out of the game, Green stuck out his tongue and smiled. He hugged Wood and said something to him before they turned and walked to the bench. Wood chuckled and nodded.

Then Green turned and approached Izzo. Izzo stepped in front of the the pack of players on the sideline and grinned at Green.

"You owe me one," Izzo said.

"Yes I do," Green said.

Then Wood trailed a few steps behind them.

"Good job," Izzo said to Wood.

"Thanks," said Wood.

Green knew Wood was the right guy to go to.

"We knew we could get B-Wood with an open shot," Green said. "And he knocked a shot down.

"He (Wood) knew it was for me to get a triple-double," Green added. "So the pressure on him to knock that shot down was huge. And he came through for me."

Now Green owes Izzo. Green owes Wood. Green owes his teammates. They owe him for leading this team this far. Izzo is orchestrating all of this positive debt like some sort of basketball loan shark.

And somewhere in Phoenix there might be another ladder, another net with this team destined for it.

Rung number one in 2012 was about halftime focus and finding proper functionality to defeat a pretty good LIU Brooklyn team that played over its head for about 25 minutes.

In the process, rung number one provided a story about a Spartan star whose legend continues to blossom into statistics and categories that none of us anticipated. And rung number one was about a close team growing tighter, working for each other and taking great pride and pleasure in seeing their captain take another step toward MSU's head table.

They'll be stronger for rung number two, thanks to the unexpected experience and lessons gained on rung number one. And we'll remember where we were when Draymond made his latest history.


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