EAST LANSING, Mich — Michigan State is searching for new leaders after losing the likes of Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello to the NBA, and while the team is young, two players have stepped up to take over as leaders of the team.
“All of the upperclassmen have been good with us — just taking us under their wing,” said freshman guard, Joshua Langford. “Two guys that have been very pivotal in my growth as a player and a person have been Eron Harris and Tum Tum Nairn. Those guys have been in my corner since I got here this summer just teaching me different things.”
Nairn was a captain last season, but Harris was not. As a senior, Harris has embraced his role as a leader on the team. Last season, Harris and Nairn could rely on Valentine and Costello to shoulder the leadership role, but with such a young team this season, these guys have had to step up and take control.
“I’ve embraced my role,” said Harris. “It’s what I gotta hold myself to. I’m a leader naturally and I’m a leader by position — and I gotta lead these guys.”
One of the closest relationships on the team is between Nairn and freshman point guard Cassius Winston. Nairn has been criticized for his lack of offense and Winston could eventually take his starting job, but head coach Tom Izzo is happy with Nairn’s ability to lead while competing for minutes.
“I’m impressed that Tum is taking Cassius under his wing like he has,” said Izzo.
“We have a great relationship,” said Narin, when asked about Winston. “He’s a great kid. I love being around him. I love playing with him. I learn a lot from him every day — just the way he sees the game and sees the floor is such a special thing. When I’m watching film on myself, I also watch film on him to see what he’s doing — to see what I can get better at.”
Winston also had high praise for Nairn as a leader and as a defender. Winston believes both of them will play significant minutes for the Spartans and says their main goal is to win games.
“Tum Tum has the aspect of the game that I need to take me to the next level. That leadership, the defensive ability, things like that,” said Winston. “We’re both going to play big, contributing minutes to the team and we both have it made up in our head that whatever the team needs to do to win, we’re gonna do as much as we can.”
Nairn and Harris have had tremendous impact on the young guards, but for freshman big man Nick Ward, Gavin Schilling, Matt Van Dyk, Kenny Goins and Ben Carter have helped him get adjusted to the collegiate game. Ward is expected to have an increased role on the team because of injuries to Schilling and Carter.
“Gavin, MVD, Kenny — all the ‘bigs’ like Ben — have all been helping me out on and off the court,” said Ward.
In addition to current players helping the freshmen and younger players get adjusted, former Spartan players have been helping out as well. Izzo said that Costello was back in town working with the team — and players have also heard from guys like Draymond Green.
“I talk to Draymond a lot. I talk to Gary Harris and Mateen Cleaves. All those guys — they help me and they give me advice for the season and they tell me just to give it my all,” said freshman big man Miles Bridges.
MSU players have a close relationship on and off the court and with the help of new leaders, the Spartans will look to win yet another Big Ten Title.
MSU will open their season on Oct. 27 in an exhibition game against Northwood University at 7 p.m. at the Breslin Center. The Spartans’ first regular season game is Nov. 11 against Arizona in Hawaii. That game is set to start at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
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