MSU seniors reflect on basketball success, friendship

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Aug. 4, 2010 — a day of celebration around the Michigan State basketball program.

Coming off two straight Final Four appearances and aspirations for another, the Spartans had just landed their top targeted recruit for the 2011 class — five-star forward Branden Dawson from Lew Wallace High in Gary, Indiana.

But that was just one part of the day that would go a long way in making up the future of the program. Because just a few hours later, Huber Heights, Ohio, point guard Travis Trice announced he, too, was heading to Michigan State.

While Dawson was the blue-chipper, Trice was the unknown.

More than four years later, Dawson and Trice play their final game at Breslin Center tonight against Purdue.

"It is definitely hard to believe," Dawson said. "Travis and I were talking about it before practice, just the four years and watching other guys on their senior nights and now it's our turn. It is definitely surreal, and we've had a long journey. A lot of memories in this place. … It's hard to believe."

Those four years included a share of the Big Ten championship and a victory in the conference tournament as freshmen, followed by another Big Ten tournament title last season.

It was a stretch that also included games on an aircraft carrier, an airbase in Germany and nearly everywhere in between.

"It's been fun; life-changing," Trice said. "I just look back on some of the things I got to do. I got to play in Madison Square Garden five or six times … lost count. Played on an aircraft carrier, played overseas in Germany, met the president, had countless big games, played in every venue you can think of. It's been enjoyable, and I'm definitely gonna miss it."

It hasn't all been easy for the duo who became friends in seventh grade when they became AAU teammates.

Dawson tore his ACL in the final regular-season game his freshman season, an injury Michigan State coach Tom Izzo still shakes his head over.

"I still think we win the Big Ten outright if he hadn't have gotten hurt in that last game," Izzo said. "I think we've got a shot to go to the Final Four if he doesn't get hurt."

The injury lingered through his sophomore season, and as a junior, a broken hand sidelined him for nine games. He returned to spark a run to the Elite Eight, but the injury bug hit again this year with a broken wrist that kept him out of two games.

Trice has had his problems, too.

Concussions hampered his sophomore season, and that was after a summer when he suffered from a mysterious illness that nearly threatened his life.

"We've gotten a lot out of Trav, maximizing his talent with the injuries, with the illnesses," Izzo said. "I mean, there was a time I was worried for his life. We don't even think about that now, but I swear to God I was. The headaches, the things he was going through, the lost 20 pounds of weight. ... And the way he's bounced back and hung in there is remarkable."

But Trice insists he's a better person for having been through the last four years.

"I've changed a lot," he said. "It's been a roller coaster, but I've enjoyed every bit of it. I wouldn't change a thing."

The tandem has yet to accomplish everything they had hoped when they came to Michigan State. The only thing missing is a Final Four appearance and a shot at a national title.

A victory tonight would go a long way to locking up a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and it comes against a team Dawson typically plays well against.

"I hope (Purdue) brings all the people they can," Trice joked. "They can have some of my tickets if they need."

However the game and the next few weeks play out, Dawson and Trice will cherish their time at Michigan State.

"It's definitely been a long journey," Dawson said. "There are a lot of memories in this place with coach Izzo, my teammates, the coaching staff. They definitely taught me a lot being here. I've grown up. When I first came here I was immature and made silly mistakes. Now I'm more mature and I've definitely grown into a young man."

The fact they've made the journey together has been all the more satisfying.

"It means a lot," Trice said. "Me and BJ are super close, really good friends. It means a lot to go through this with someone you've known for a while and been with the whole time. I'm happy we finally made it, but at the same time I'm kind of sad it is over with."

Purdue at Michigan State

Tip-off: 8 Wednesday, Breslen Center, East Lansing

TV/radio: BTN/WJR

Records: Purdue 19-10 (11-5 Big Ten), Michigan State 19-10 (10-6)

Outlook: It's the final home game for seniors Branden Dawson, Travis Trice and KeenanWetzel. Over the last three-plus seasons, the Spartans are 104-36 and have advanced to three straight NCAA Tournaments, captured two Big Ten Tournament championships (2012, 2014) and the 2012 Big Ten regular-season title. Dawson is in the top 10 in school history in rebounds, blocks and steals, while Trice is on pace to join Dawson as a career 1,000-point scorer. Wetzel has appeared in 43 career games. The Spartans seniors are 56-10 at home during their career.