Golden State forward Draymond Green (23), says Michigan remains a 'green state,' despite Michigan State's recent struggles in the rivalry. (Jose Luis Villegas / Sacramento Bee)
Auburn Hills — Michigan has replaced Michigan State as the premier basketball program in the state. Those words make former Michigan State standout Draymond Green chuckle, because he doesn’t believe it.
“Who is debating that,” Green asked. “Michigan fans? Oh, that makes sense.”
Green is a second-year player with Golden State, which takes on the Pistons Monday at The Palace. Green played for the Spartans from 2008-2012 and was NABC National Player of the Year and the Big Ten Player of the Year his senior season, when Michigan State was the program in the state.
But the Wolverines swept the Spartans this season with a 79-70 victory Sunday at Crisler Center. Michigan has won six of the last eight games in the series, and played for the national title last spring against Louisville.
Green, however, said this remains a green state.
“They (the Wolverines) got to hang some banners,” said Green, a Saginaw product. “They did it last year, but we do that on a regular beat, know what I mean? Until they start hanging some banners, we run this state. They beat us a couple times but I am sure that is their national championship. Until then it is a green state and it is going to stay a green state.”
Michigan is in position to hang another championship banner. The win over the Spartans placed it a half-game up on Michigan State with four games to play, while Michigan State has three remaining. But Green says the Spartans remain king because of the six Final Four banners under Tom Izzo and the 2000 national championship.
“Michigan fans are going to say they are taking over. I expect that after they get a few wins the last three years after they didn’t the previous 10 years,” Green said. “But deep down, not even deep down, they got to know it is a Michigan State state. We run the state. Once they hang a few banners they can come and talk to us. Until then they got to play catch up.”
Izzo attended Monday night’s game. They did not speak before the game and that in itself told Green that Izzo is still steaming from the loss.
“He hates losing and it is tenfold after he loses to Michigan,” Green said. “I know he is pretty upset because he would have called me last night instead of texting me. The fact that he sent me that long text message, I know he is upset.”
Green is upset also. He missed the game because the team was flying from Brooklyn to Detroit.
“I am glad I didn’t see it,” said Green, who averages 5.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in about 20 minutes per game for the Warriors. He had 6 points and 5 rebounds while playing 20 minutes in the Warriors’ 104-96 victory over the Pistons. “I would have been so disgusted. It’s a tough one but we will be fine. A lot of people are doubting us and they are saying what they got to say but I still think we are the best team in the country.”
Green played with emotion as a player and often gave fiery halftime speeches. He continued a tradition Mateen Cleaves and Maurice Peterson began.
So what speech would Green give this team if he were in the dressing room?
“At this time everybody has to come together,” Green said. “The most important people are those guys working every single day. They got to know that. They are not healthy, but we are not an excuse team. One guy goes down the next guy steps up. We just have to put it all together. We are not trying to be the best team in February. We are trying to be the best team in March. Everybody has got to stick together because we got a lot of outsiders saying you cant win, that Michigan is the best team now, which we know is not true. We will be fine.”
Green predicts the Spartans’ health issues — which included time missed by starters Adreian Payne, Keith Appling, Branden Dawson and Gary Harris, among others — will be behind them and that they will make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
“There is no ceiling with a healthy team,” Green said. “It is definitely a national championship team. And everyone will be healthy before the end of the season. Even if not, we still have the pieces to go out and make a run for it. It’s that time of year where everything needs to come together. A disappointing loss like the one (to Michigan) will even help fuel that. There is a turning point in every season. I think a loss like (Sunday) can be taken in the right way and be a turning point of the season.”