EAST LANSING - Gary Harris could not hide his smile when
asked on Tuesday during Harris' farewell press conference from Michigan State whether he had spoken with Branden Dawson about his Dawson's pending decision.
"I have definitely talked to him," Harris said with a wide grin. "That's not my business to say what he is or isn't going to do, so I'll let you guys ask him those questions when you see him and I'm sure his decision is going to come here pretty soon."
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Actually, it came within an hour. Shortly after Harris' press conference ended, Dawson announced via a Michigan State press release that he is returning for his senior year with the Spartans.
"I'm vowing to improve my consistency and am looking forward to a great final season," Dawson said in the press release. "I was always pretty sure that I wanted to return for my senior season, but Coach Izzo said he would do what he does for all his players and gather some information. As he started making calls, my mom came up and we met with Coach. The three of us decided that as far as my basketball career, both present and future, and the chance to finish my degree, including possibly needing to take just one class during my final semester, that my initial decision was the correct one."
Izzo sought information from NBA contacts on Dawson's draft stock, but Dawson shortened the process.
"Before I could get deep into the process, B.J. and his mom came to me and expressed his desire to return for his senior season," Izzo said. "I'm excited about his decision because he expressed to me his passion to be more consistent and perform at a high level each and every night. If you look at his numbers over the last seven or eight games, including averaging 16 points and nearly nine rebounds in the NCAA Tournament, I think the outlook is very promising for his senior season. As he continues to develop as a player and perform with greater consistency, he can position himself for a successful NBA career in the future."
A 6-foot-6 guard/forward from Gary, Ind., Dawson averaged 11.2 points and a team-best 8.3 rebounds for the Spartans in 2013-14. He missed 10 games due to injury, including nine straight with a broken hand from Jan. 25 to Feb. 23.
Upon his return in March, Dawson elevated his level of play. In seven postseason games, he averaged 15.7 points, ranking second on the squad, and posted a team-best .681 field-goal percentage, while being named Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten Tournament, leading the Spartans to a tournament crown. In four NCAA Tournament games, he averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds, shooting .634 from the field.
"This last year, I made some big improvements in my game as I've worked on my shooting and ball handling," Dawson said. "I know that with another offseason of hard work that I can make even more improvement and become more consistent. After not being able to work on my game between my freshman and sophomore seasons due to an injury, I saw what a difference a summer can make last year. I'm ready to put in another summer of work and excited to see the results. I think I played some of the best basketball of my career over the last month, and I can't wait to do that every game next season."
Dawson's return will give the Spartans a strong nucleus of talent for next season, joining rising junior Denzel Valentine and senior
Dawson has played the three (small forward) in the past for the Spartans, but played primarily at the four in the last two seasons. He played exclusively at the four after returning from his hand injury in 2014.
If Dawson plays primarily at the four next season, the Spartans could start rising sophomore Alvin Ellis III in the backcourt with Valentine and Trice.
"Ellis is going to be a player," Harris said. "Mark my words, he's going to be huge for us next year. I mean, he has all the tools and he's going to work. He's not scared of anything, so he's going to play his hardest and give his all no matter what."
Dawson would be joined down low with rising junior Matt Costello.
Sophomores Kenny Kaminski Gavin Schilling were solid playing-group members in 2014 and pack strong potential to improve as sophomores.
Incoming freshmen will also be relied upon to help in the playing group. Six-foot-5 wing Javon Bess of Columbus, ohio has the strength and offensive skill to help right away.
Lourawls Nairn, a speedy, 5-foot-11 point guard, will add juice to Michigan State's transition offense. Marvin Clark, Nairn's teammate at Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kan., is a 6-foot-7 swing forward who can be characterized as a muscle three or a stretch four.
Russell Byrd and Alex Gauna are still in the picture as possibilities for next year, although Izzo indicated earlier this month that each player may consider transferring for immediate eligibility as fifth-year seniors.
"A lot of people say we're losing a lot but we actually have a lot," Harris said of next year's Spartans, still considering himself part of the program. "Because the players we have (coming back), we have so much room to get better. You can see them getting better at the end of the season and after a whole summer of work, I think it's going to be scary to see how good they're going to be next year and how surprised people are really going to be about how good the Spartans are next year."
Video of Harris' press briefing on Tuesday, Part 1: