East Lansing — Michigan State has plenty of explosive players on its basketball team, but at Midnight Madness to unofficially kick off the season Friday, it was the coach that was blasting off in front of a packed house at the Breslin Center.
Tom Izzo, who has rappelled from the ceiling, ridden a horse, driven a race car and played Iron Man at past versions of Midnight Madness, upped the ante this year and was shot out of a cannon into a massive net stretched across the court...
Well, somebody was blasted out of the truck-mounted cannon labeled, "Izzo Cannon." It's just that it wasn't really Izzo, though the production made it seem that way. Izzo ended any speculation quickly, introducing the real flyer, "Jennifer," who was disguised in a cheerleading outfit, as the basketball team and other cheerleaders surrounded her when she came down from the net.
The performance was preceded by introductions of each player on the team and a short video showing how the idea of the cannon came about. Izzo, athletic director Mark Hollis, associate head coach Dwayne Stephens, assistant coach Dane Fife and mascot Sparty all surrounded a conference room table, trying to come up with ideas. When they all were shot down by Izzo, he said he's "done everything but be shot out of cannon."
At that point, the camera zoomed in on Hollis and a light bulb went off above his head.
Izzo's family played the scene up well with his wife, Lupe, saying she had been trying to talk her husband out of the stunt. His daughter, Raquel, feigned concern while his son, Steven, said his dad should just suck it up and do it.
With the show over, Izzo addressed the crowd concerning his team that is ranked No. 2 in the nation in the preseason coaches poll.
"Hang with us because it's a long season," he said. "We have an incredible schedule and we made it so you all could be proud of what we do and could follow us from our first game with McNeese State, to Kentucky, to bringing North Carolina to the Breslin Center; we're at Texas and Georgetown in New York and all the other places we'll play this year."
The expectations are high for the Spartans, who bowed out of last year's NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 against Duke.
In addition to the solid nonconference slate, Michigan State plays home-and-home games with Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State and Illinois. The Spartans play single road games at Purdue and Wisconsin with single home games against Nebraska and Minnesota.
The men's team capped the night with a spirited scrimmage.
"We're gonna play hard tonight," Izzo said. "We picked teams and we're going to go for real."
Coming off a 25-9 season in 2012-13, the women's team went with a military theme, the idea that they go to war every time they step on the court and were introduced in camouflage outfits. Coach Suzy Merchant entering on a Humvee.
Merchant made a point of singling out junior Madison Williams, the Detroit Country Day grad who has suffered three ACL injuries and is planning to play this season.
"She's gonna give it one more try," Merchant said as the crowd gave Williams a standing ovation. "This kid has given so much to this program and has given so much to her teammates."
The Spartans women, who reached the Big Ten Tournament championship game and the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, open 2013-14 on Nov. 11 at Notre Dame.