EAST LANSING - On a Thursday night one year ago, Michigan State packed their bags, boarded a plane and flew towards the Pacific to play in the Maui Invitational. Derrick Nix was frustrated, and Derrick Nix stayed home.
Tuesday night in the Garden, Derrick Nix fouled out after the worst shooting performance of his career and walked into the lockerroom feeling solely responsible for the loss to Duke.
Thursday night while no one was watching, Derrick Nix called a graduate assistant to meet him at the practice facility. He worked for an hour and half unbeknownst to Tom Izzo. He put up one hundred free throws.
And then Friday night at the Breslin Center, the unthinkable happened. Izzo compared Derrick Nix...to Magic Johnson.
Picture this: Texas Southern - down 58-24 and losing steam - misses a jump shot. As Draymond Green pulls down the rebound, Spartan guards take off down the wing in classic Izzo push it fashion. Green throws a deep outlet pass to a shockingly down-court Derrick Nix, who dribbles towards the paint like a polished ball handler. But just when everyone south of the Red Cedar expected the 270-pound center to go rumbling towards the basket, Derrick Nix went behind-the-back with Magic-like flare right into - and out of - the hands of Branden Dawson.
"The sad part is, it was a perfect pass," Izzo said while appearing to process the play in his head in disbelief. "If it was a bad pass, I would have called him Tragic Johnson. But it was a Magic Johnson type play.
"It's one of those weird things that, I don't want him throwing those all the time, but I didn't think it was showtime. I thought it was a pass that was actually the right pass for the situation. And BJ (Dawson) just screwed up the best play that Nix ever had in his life.
"BJ said 'Honestly coach, I was surprised he threw it.' And I said 'I don't blame ya.'