EAST LANSING-September 23, 2006 was a day that many on the campus of Michigan State University were anticipating but maybe not for the right reasons.
John L. Smith's Spartan football team was set for a primetime, national television kickoff against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The entire MSU fan base had its focus set on the football game, but little did they know the best news of the weekend would come from the basketball program.
The Spartans came up short on the gridiron, but Tom Izzo's basketball program was in the midst of its annual reunion weekend, where many former Spartan greats were back on campus to reminisce about their former playing days.
Having Spartan basketball legends back in East Lansing, coupled with the electric atmosphere surrounding the football game, Coach Tom Izzo viewed the weekend as a prime opportunity to have a big recruiting weekend.
One of those recruits he planned to host that weekend was a 5-foot-11 point guard from Milwaukee named Korie Lucious. Lucious was one of the top 100 high school basketball players in the country, and viewed by most as the best player in Wisconsin.
Lucious, a junior at the time, was able to play pick-up games in the Breslin Center with the likes of, Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Steve Smith, Jason Richardson and the current Spartans.
Having an opportunity like that, witnessing the spirit on campus and the camaraderie of those associated with the basketball program, Lucious felt that it was time for him to end his recruitment. He was "just sold."
The next morning, Tom Izzo's hard work paid off. The young man, who was first contacted by Izzo while in the eighth grade, walked into the coach's office and informed him that he was going to don the green and white, and the reasons were quite clear.
"Basically Izzo (is the reason I'm here)," Lucious said. "The tradition here, the great guards (of the past). [And I knew that Coach]Izzo would push me and help me get to the league."
Arriving in East Lansing
Two years later, in the summer of 2008, Lucious would arrive on campus in a freshman class that featured two players that were more familiar names to Spartan fans. Delvon Roe was considered one of the top 20 recruits in the nation, and had huge expectations. Draymond Green's Saginaw Trojans dominated high school basketball in the state winning back-to-back state championships.
Lucious quickly made a statement in summer workouts. His nifty passes and quick feet caught the eyes of his teammates, but the real test would come when camp started in the fall, not only on the court, but off of it as well.
Aside from getting used to the speed of the game, learning how to be on the floor with four other players that are as highly regarded as him, and the constant sound of Coach Izzo in his ear, Lucious had to worry about adjusting to college life.
Dealing With Pressures of Being a Student-Atlete
He had to juggle a full class schedule, basketball workouts and practices, not to mention other distractions like females and fanatics. A college athlete's social life can hinder his or her performance and overall college experience if it is not handled with maturity.
"I handled that pretty well. I knew it was going to be distractions," Lucious said. "Girls and other fans that are trying to be in your face. I just lay low and stay in my room actually. I don't really do too much, just so I can stay out of trouble."
Getting Playing Time
Once pick-up games were over and camp started, Korie pretty much looked like a freshman. He showed flashes of ability, but he made far too many mistakes. Two of the team's key upperclassmen on the roster immediately noticed that Lucious had talent, but needed to improve on his decision making.
Travis Walton and Goran Suton pulled the rookie aside and told him to just make the simple play and not always go for the "home run". Risky plays result in turnovers, and the former St. Pius XI star was committing a lot of them.
It took Lucious a while to break some of the habits that he had in high school. And there were a couple in particular that were difficult for him to shake according to Coach Izzo.
"I think the casualness. Korie's a very casual guy, he'd be the first to tell you," Izzo said. "He could get away with a lot of things because he had that lightning quickness. Also maybe learning that every possession counts. I think that those two things would be the hardest."
The turnovers turned the risk taker into an apprehensive ball player. He became afraid of making a mistake, which can ultimately result in more mistakes. Lucious had to adjust to the speed of the game and his new role.
He did not receive a great deal of meaningful minutes early in the season, so he had to figure out what he had to do in order to help the team even if it meant doing things that he really never had to do in high school.
Finding a Role
Initially he admitted that he had trouble finding his niche on a team that has a stable of talented guards, but he knew that Izzo wanted to push that ball and that's two things he knew he could do, handle the ball in transition and get it up the floor quickly.
The freshman's play has steadily improved, thanks to continued support from his teammates and frequent conversations with Coach Izzo, who stressed to Lucious that he needed to just relax.
Through the grind of the Big Ten season, players will get banged up and different situations will arise that call for teams to use their bench extensively. This season, Michigan State has played several teams that play smaller lineups which requires more guards to be on the floor, and that is when Lucious became extremely vital.
Combining that with the Spartans' fast breaking style, starting guards Kalin Lucas and Travis Walton would need frequent rests in order to keep them fresh, opening up time for the improving Lucious.
"He's deserved it," said Izzo. "He was never a guy to watch film. He was never a guy to work extra on his own. He just didn't have to do that, now he's starting to do that."
Putting it all together
In the Spartans' last game, a victory over Michigan, Lucious contributed 13 well played minutes and did not commit a single turnover in a hostile environment at Crisler Arena.
His first season has yet to be completed, and we have already observed two different Korie Lucious', with the latte being more steady and impressive. If that trend continues, Spartan fans should be excited by what they may see in March and beyond.
"He's got explosiveness like Kalin and he's got the ability to shoot it even better," Izzo explained. "So, I think Korie's still going to keep rising up the ladder here."
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