EAST LANSING - Senior center Derrick Nix has had his ups and downs, both literally and figuratively.
Despite those past troubles, Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo was confident when he announced that the Detroit native would share team captains' duties with redshirt sophomore guard Russell Byrd, as voted on by their teammates.
And no matter what anyone else thinks of the choice, after the 6-foot-9, 270-pound former Mr. Basketball winner made maybe his biggest mistake by being arrested early in April of this year on suspicion of operating a vehicle with any presence of drugs and possession of marijuana, Izzo was comfortable with his team's choice of Nix as one of its captains.
"Personally I think the players did a good job. There was not one coach that had a vote in it. I decided this year since we talked about it early in the summer we were going to wait until the last day of preseason camp, and everybody was going to try to earn the right to be one. So that is going to be a lot of responsibility. (Nix) has got big enough shoulders to handle it, but he's got some things to do to make sure that he is deserving.''
Izzo's words on Tuesday were a far cry from the statement released after Nix's arrest: ". . . his future with our program is uncertain," Izzo said in a statement. "He made an irresponsible decision that has put his future with our program in serious jeopardy."
Despite those previously strong words, Izzo revealed on Tuesday during the team's annual media that he wasn't ready to or about to give up on Nix.
"We all grow up at different times, and sometimes the more that's placed on you it helps you grow up,'' Izzo said. "I think he's a valuable member. I think he kind of stands for what this University is about, giving everybody an opportunity to make a mistake. I don't know how many times in my career here I have had a unanimous vote for a captain. I mean, I know there's been a few, but it's not been like it's been handfuls. So somebody else sees the same thing as I do.''
It was a decision Nix said he appreciated and would do everything in his power to honor with class, dignity and an unwavering committment to his coach, his teammates and the program in his last season in a Spartan uniform.
"A lot of people say what they want about Izzo but you never know how much somebody cares about you until your in a situation where your career is on the line. He could have easily have given me the, 'alright Derrick, this is your third strike or your second strike and you've got to go go,' but he fought for me to stay here and that meant a lot. I could easily be back at home in the streets doing whatever or at some Division II or junior college with my carrer going off the deep end but he came through and fought for me. That meant a lot to me more than anything. Just that alone, blew me away. The program, I didn't feel like it saved me. I feel like Tom Izzo the person saved me.''
That's why Nix, who averaged 8.1 points and 3.8 rebounds last season, vowed to make the best of his last go round at Michigan State.
"I've got no room for error, no more mistakes, no more letdowns, no more parties, no more nothing,'' said Nix, who reached out to last year's captain Draymond Green for guidance. "It's just a straight line for here on out. It's just as simple as that. That's what it is and that's how I look at it.
"It's just about being a leader like Draymond Green did. He made sure he knew where everybody was at and when he called a team meeting everybody had to be there. So it's just the little stuff so the big stuff won't happen.''
Of course, it wasn't like Izzo, who will enter his 18th season as MSU's head coach, made Nix's return to the team to be in a position to be its captain an easy one.
"(It's) a difficult job to be a coach or a parent or a teacher when you've got to deal with 17 to 22 year olds and figure out what is right and what is wrong,'' Izzo said. "But you know, you go with a hunch, and I've gone with a hunch. I could have vetoed his captainship. (But) when you get as many votes as he's got, there was no reason to veto it.
"I could have done other things. I put him through hell last summer, and that kid went to more charities, more community service things than most of my guys go to in four years. And at the end he not only enjoyed it, he respected it.''
Despite Nix's promises to make his last season a success story in all areas, Izzo acknowledged the risk of providing his big man with another chance - probably his last chance.
"I'm not selling him to you, I'm just trying to tell you that this kid has made incredible progress, and he's done . . . he's made his mistakes, which could help you be a great captain. He's either going to be a huge, huge success story or egg on my face. For me, I think it's going to be a huge, huge success story or I wouldn't put him in the position he's in.''
From Nix's point of view, he said there's another reason he doesn't want to let his coach and his team down.
"He brought in to a meeting by myself and just told me, 'I stuck my head out on the line for you,' like he does all players and I feel like he doesn't get enough credit for that,'' Nix said. "People on the outside looking in they always say Izzo will get them out of it or Izzo will do this or they will get out of it because they're celebrities or their players and they've got everything but I feel like the next incident that happens here when dealing with a basketball player he could lose his job. I just feel like that real because with the dumb stuff we do, we put his job in jeopardy. I know this might not be anything that wants to talk about but I feel like I owe this much. So my job, as a senior leader is to make sure that nobody on this team does ignorant stuff that I did or players in the past did.''
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial