The headline to my first story written about Michigan State basketball this fall should have been more telling – or in an ideal world, it would be the only time an injury would be discussed.
"Gary Harris out 4-8 weeks with ankle injury" was posted on Aug. 31 on the eve of the Spartans' first football game.
It was the first of many, many injury stories, updates and the like in a quantity that normally would be accumulated over the course of multiple seasons.
But the season and its coverage really began outside the Spartans locker room in Breslin Center on Sept. 27., filled with talk from Tom Izzo of team chemistry, hoping to live up to high expectations and whether a team would have captains or no (it didn't).
On that Friday night in September, the season kicked off with an open practice for the media and those in the Izzone campout. The groups soon parted ways as the Izzone members headed to their campout on Munn Field and the media to Izzo's basement.
In that basement, on a night designed to build relationships between media and players, the chemistry Izzo lauded a few hours earlier was evident. Dating strategies – mostly from colleague Josh Mansour – and paths to Michigan State – Colby Wollenman has an interesting story I will write sometime – were discussed until the players retreated to the campout.
Looking back on that night, it was a calm night on the eve of quite wild ride that came to an end in New York City a little more than six months later.
In between, here are some memories of this basketball season:
*Where else would this list begin but with the Kentucky game? The Michigan State team that opened that game was the one every one thought it would see all season. Harris was phenomenal. The defense was fluid and disruptive, especially with the guard play. Keith Appling was the answer late in the as he had shown he could be in the previous month during his hot start to his senior year. It seemed just the beginning.
**The ensuing No. 1 ranking that had not been seen in front of "Michigan State" in 13 years – Jan. 8, 2001 to be specific.
**Seeing Harris limited by his right ankle against North Carolina after sitting out a game – and sitting out the next two. But that was hardly the injury concern that night on Dec. 4. With 6:08 left in the first half, Appling went up to block a shot, but got under cut and hit the floor as hard as any player I can recall. Breslin went silent. Appling struggled to even sit down in the locker room after the game as his hip was too stiff.
**Ten days after the Spartans' loss to UNC, it took driving through a blizzard to The Palace of Auburn Hills to see Michigan State beat Oakland, but the spot behind the Spartans' bench is prime. For a reporter, being that close to Izzo that you can hear almost everything is as good as it gets.
**Russell Byrd having 10 points against North Florida led to my favorite quote from an opposing coach this season. The Ospreys' coach Matthew Driscoll was a riot from beginning to end – joking about his two times as a McDonald's All-American on grill and fries. His best, though, was reserved for Byrd as he talked about MSU players surprising him: "I don't even know who the Byrd kid is."
**Appling going down after driving to the hoop with 11:17 left in the second half against Indiana and coming up holding his wrist. His season – and to an extent the Spartans – would never be the same.
**An 18-1 start that Appling said was nice, but not one of the goals the team had. Later, I thought that might be the only thing this team would be remembered for (until it won a Big Ten Tournament title).
**Being at the gym and stepping off a treadmill as my Twitter timeline blew up during a press conference called for Dawson's broken hand. Having not received notice of the press conference, I was as surprised as the fan base and found out in the same way. It also reminded me again of something Driscoll said after MSU beat North Florida: "Dawson, to me, is your guy. He's your guy almost to the point where you might not be able to lose him." The Spartans went 4-5 with Dawson out of the lineup.
**Adreian Payne going from not playing to being the player of the game against Ohio State as the Spartans won the first of two back-to-back overtime games.
**That first loss to Michigan and Izzo feeling proud of his team for what they had fought through and battled. When I asked Matt Costello why, he pointed back to Appling – yes, again – saying "y'all don't know how hurt Keith is."
**The look on Byrd's face and his teammates' as he knocked down a big 3 to help the Spartans get a win at Iowa.
**With a potential nine-day break, the story focus was on whether Izzo would sit Appling against Georgetown. He didn't. Appling insisted he would play. My thought was "bad idea" then, and it remains as a point that turned the Spartans season.
**Adreian Payne returned in a big way against Penn State and after the game jokingly needed to have his sunglasses on to do his media. It was around this point that Payne turned into a bit of a diva – mostly in an amusing way.
**The return of Dawson shortly after Payne and Appling returned, but the Spartans fell flat on their faces against Illinois. After that loss, in my mind, I wrote this team off with only two more regular-season games remaining.
**Senior night and Lacey Holsworth stealing the show. Appling hitting a pair of 3s was the highlight of the game almost for sure, but Payne walking onto the court at the end of the game was as special a moment as any I have witnessed around a sports game.
**An unplanned team film session before media availability led to what one could only call "media shootaround" and it is mostly as athletic as it sounds. A half-hour later, the team returned to talk to a bunch of sweaty media members – a fitting role reversal. But it was Harris picking up a ball at halfcourt, throwing it underhand into the air and seeing it curve back and swish through the net was pretty remarkable. Unfortunately for him, no cameras were rolling.
**Eating my words as Michigan State rolled through the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Dawson played like a man possessed, the Spartans clicked and it seemed everything was clicking.
**Talking with Harris about Appling getting his swagger back after the victory over Wisconsin and he noted a time when a defender sagged off him and Appling "smacked his lips," prompting both Byrd and Harris to emulate the sound.
**Wondering what it would have looked like to see three games between a healthy Michigan State and a healthy Michigan this season. From Dawson to Payne to Appling to Mitch McGary, it could have led to three even better games.
**The Spartans finally getting that win against Michigan that eluded them in the regular season and thinking this team might have it in them after all … as every national analyst certainly felt so.
**Asking Appling after beating Michigan about him looking over to the bench and saying "it's over" after a Dawson dunk with around three minutes left. He responded with "I don't remember that." He again said he didn't remember it. So, I flipped it and asked "was there a point you felt like the game was over?" resulting in a smile and laughing as he explained that he never felt like it was over and how Michigan can come back quickly. He couldn't finish the answer without another laugh.
**Another Lacey moment, as she cut down the net with Payne in Indianapolis, setting the stage for their story to blow up during the NCAA Tournament.
**Riding back from Indianapolis crammed into a rental car with colleagues Joe Rexrode, Graham Couch and Dan Kilbridge as we were the last to leave Bankers Life. A little Wu Tang, a first McDonald's meal in almost four years and wondering if we would make it home sum up that drive.
**Payne with 41 points against Delaware in the first round. Dawson with 26 in the second round. Payne and Dawson winning the Virginia game.
**New York, New York and taking in the aura of Madison Square Garden for not one, but two games. Oh and a possible 3 a.m. stroll to Times Square and spending another night at an underground ping-pong club with numerous colleagues.
**A difficult end to a long season as Shabazz Napier was too much for the Spartans. I don't think there is a more difficult round to lose in than the Elite 8 before of how close it is to the Final Four, so it was a difficult Michigan State locker room to walk into.
**Two days later, Izzo stood at the podium back at Breslin Center and talked of retooling, not rebuilding, a text from Appling that struck him and he will never delete and an hour of off-the-record goodies that ended with him saying he wished that it would have been a week later.