East Lansing – Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Tuesday senior guard Travis Trice "deserves to have a gcreat year."
At first, Trice was perplexed by the comment, but it didn't take him long to understand where it was coming from.
"Probably because of everything I've been through," Trice said.
That's a long list for a player entering his final season with the Spartans.
He's had concussions — two his sophomore season, with the first accompanied by a broken nose — a nasty blister under a blister last year and a significant ankle sprain thrown in early in his career.
But his biggest issue came the summer after his freshman season. Trice was overwhelmed with fatigue, sleeping 12 hours a day. It lingered for months, and the pounds dropped significantly off his already slight, 6-foot frame. Blood tests, MRIs and CT scans revealed little.
Doctors were perplexed.
"That one summer, I worried about his life," Izzo said.
Almost as inexplicably as it arrived, however, it disappeared. But the summer was lost and in Michigan State's first game of the 2011-12 season, Trice suffered the broken nose and concussion.
And the beat went on — until now.
That's because Trice, the senior point guard from Huber Heights, Ohio, is in the best shape of his life.
"I feel great," Trice said. "I feel 100 percent, haven't missed any practices. I'm ready to go, really."
And there's little doubt the Spartans will need him after the loss of Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling.
Trice has taken over for Appling running the point and will be counted on to pick up much of the scoring slack created by the loss of Payne and Harris.
While his minutes his first three seasons have been limited, Trice still has proven himself as an outstanding shooter. He shot 43.4 percent from 3-point range last season.
"In looking at it, Trice has been a key to our team," Izzo said. "He's had some big games when guys were out. He scored 20 points one game as a freshman and I think he's capable of doing that. We're going to miss a great defender in Keith, let's be honest, so I think him stepping up is going to be big."
It won't just come on the floor, either. Trice is now a leader on a team Izzo said is better in that capacity than last season.
He's never been loud, but Trice has been more vocal, making it a point to take freshman guard Lourawls Nairn under his wing.
The change has been evident to teammates.
"He's leading people and is more composed," junior forward Matt Costello said. "He likes stuff done the right way, so he kind of freaks out — in a good way — getting people to do the right thing. It's been a different Trav and it's been cool to watch."
He approaches the game a lot like Izzo, just not quite as fiery. Trice credits the way his relationship with Izzo has grown as one of the reasons he's in the position he is now.
"(The relationship) has grown a lot," Trice said. "Partially because some of the things we've been through together and some of the things I've been through. But I just think we have the same competitive spirit. That's one of the things where we really click. We both love to win and hate to lose. We're both on the same page."
And while Izzo knocked on his wooden podium Tuesday in a nod to the basketball gods to allow Trice a full season, he acknowledges his value to this season's team.
"He's just had a hell of a spring, summer and fall," Izzo said. "He just knows he feels good. I don't think any of us know what he went through that one summer. He deserves to have a great year."
Trice, however, said he's not trying to put too much pressure on himself or worry about the fact it's his final season at Michigan State. He also won't worry about getting hurt again.
"Doubt kills dreams," he said.
But there's little doubt his dream ends in the Final Four in Indianapolis. And while Trice will be fighting for it with the backing of his coach, it will be a team effort, one the oft-injured guard hopes to lead.
"Nobody is looking for him to do anything, nationally," Costello said. "People in the Big Ten know how good he is, but he's setting himself up very well to have a successful season."
Costello paused, then shook his head while thinking about his teammate.
"I want to get to the Final Four for him because of all the stuff he's gone through," Costello said. "I'm ready to fight for him."
Tom Izzo talks about returning players and his 20th year as head basketball coach for MSU.