EAST LANSING - Fans at Breslin Center tonight will say goodbye to one of the best players in Spartan basketball history. Kalin Lucas will play what is expected to be his final game in East Lansing, along with fellow seniors Durrell Summers and Mike Kebler.
In a season of unexpected twists and script changes, one must consider the possibility that tonight might not actually serve as the seniors' final home game. If the unthinkable happens, and Michigan State ends the season on a sour note, fails to make the NCAA Tournament, then the Spartans may have to endure more home games in the NIT. That's a possibility, as the Spartans are 8-8 in Big Ten play heading into the final two games of the regular season.
But Lucas, the school's No. 6 all-time scorer (and rising), and soon to be the school record holder in free throws made, and the 2009 Big Ten Most Valuable Player, is accustomed to playing in Final Fours and vying for a National Championship.
He has helped lead Michigan State to at least the Sweet 16 in each of his first three seasons as a Spartan. As a senior, he wants to help deliver Michigan State into its 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament, a quest which will require a victory tonight against Iowa in order to stay somewhat on course.
Lucas reminisced about his career thus far at Michigan State with a court-side interview following practice on Monday night:
Lucas on his best moment at MSU:
"Definitely when we went to the Final Four, my sophomore year. That whole road trip, going to the Final Four, the games we played in at the NCAA, playing USC, Kansas, Louisville, UConn. Just that whole run was just crazy, man. It was like a dream come true, man. Us going to Somerset (Mall) for the pep rally, that is something that will always stick with me. There were so many fans."
"There are some great memories, some bad ones as well. But it's been a fun ride, with all the things we have accomplished as a team. There has been some lows, like my injury. But it's been a great experience at Michigan State. We just want to go out with a bang these next two games."
On the challenge of coming back from injury this year:
"Trying to come back from the injury, when we were playing teams like Duke and Syracuse I was thinking, 'Man, this is a long process. I might not ever get back to being the person I was last year and the year before.' I just tried to keep my faith in God and keep working and try to get back to playing some great basketball.
"The injury made me more humble. It made me work harder. It made me come to reality that basketball could end. If I hadn't gotten injured, I probably would have went (to the NBA). But I think I have become a better player because I came back."
How does he want to be remembered?:
"As a warrior. Someone who when he steps out on the floor is going to give it his all."
Lucas on Keebler:
"He's got a good shot. And as he was getting more minutes, he would get an open shot, and I had to yell to a few times, 'Keebs, shoot the damn ball! Shoot the ball!'
"But now Keebs has found his rhythm and he is more comfortable out there. Now if he has an open shot he is definitely going to knock it down. He has a great jumper. If they are dee-ing me up and they send two at me or something and I kick it to the wing, I pretty much know it is going to go in."
Lucas on Summers:
"He's like a brother. I've known him since seventh grade. My family knows his family. My cousins know his cousins. We're close.
"Durrell is really silly, but sometimes you can tell in his body language that it (his slump) is bothering him. So we are going to keep supporting him, and I will try to get him more shots and get him the ball in the offense a little more and hopefully he will be fine. I would love to see him come out in these last two games and finish big. It's Senior Night on Wednesday. I think he is going to have a breakout game. He definitely practiced well on Monday and he just needs to go out there and have fun. Basketball is supposed to be fun. He needs to play hard and keep his confidence up.
"It is frustrating because he has been in the gym. He is doing the little things like working on his game and watching film. He just has to bring it. It's tough. I definitely want to see my best friend, my brother, whatever you want to call it, I want to see him do his thing."
LUCAS AND IZZO
On playing for Tom Izzo:
"When I was getting recruited, everybody said how tough and crazy he was and just how crazy he was. But he's not really crazy. He's not crazy at all, really. He expects a lot from his players. He just wants us to go out there and give it our all. It's been fun playing for Izzo. I have definitely had crazier coaches than Izzo. My one coach when I was in AAU, when I was like 10- or 12-years old, now he was crazy. He used to get techs all the time, cuss everybody out, try to fight people on the team. Trying to fight 12-year-olds. He didn't try to fight me. He was kind of crazy. With Izzo, he is yelling, more kind of demanding. You just have to listen to him and do what he wants and it's fine.
"Some players you can do that to, and some you can't. As far as me, I was used to yelling and all that stuff. It was fine with me. Some players can't really take it."
On recent conversations with Izzo:
"We've been trying to figure out what's wrong. That's pretty much the page we are on right now, just trying to figure out whatever it takes to win. We have been talking on the phone here and there. I'm finding guys and trying to get guys shots and just making sure guys knock down shots.
"If someone had told me that (we would be struggling to get into the tournament), I would have bet my life against it. But things happen. There were injuries and people dismissed. It is what it is. You just have to overcome it and somehow still get in the tournament and go from there. If we get in the tournament, it is definitely going to be trouble for teams."
Do you think your No. 1 jersey will get hung in the rafters some day?
"I hope so. When I first came here as a freshman and I first touched the court at Breslin, that's the first thing I did. I looked up in the rafters and I said when I leave here I want my jersey to be retired. That would definitely be an honor and a blessing."
Izzo on Lucas, and whether he deserves to get his jersey hung in the rafters:
"He is putting himself in that position. I think he has had an incredible last six, eight, 10 games. It's a shame that probably our season has been a little bit crippled by his injury through a lot of the year. I've been critical of some things and complementary of others but as far as a guy to coach in the last eight to 10 games, I have really enjoyed what he has brought. Even Sunday he was so into things. He is so much a better communicator than he was.
"He will have some stats that are worthy of a lot of those kind of things. He is putting himself, statistically and wins-and-loss wise, to be one of those guys."
Will Lucas kiss the new Spartan head at midcourt?
"Man, I was thinking. I have to change the tradition or do something different. It's a Spartan head now. It's not even an S. I have to think of something. We might kiss the Spartan head. Or we might change it up. You just have to wait and see."
Lucas, on emotions. Does he think Izzo will cry?
"He probably is. I might cry too. I haven't cried in a while, but I might cry. I know my mom is going to cry, and my granny might. So if I see them cry, I might shed a couple of tears."