East Lansing — When a college basketball team plans a 12-day trip to another continent, it’s a big deal.
It’s even bigger for a player when you know you’re a big part of the reason that trip was planned.
That’s the position Michigan State junior Eron Harris is in, although he won’t play in any of the four exhibitions.
Coach Tom Izzo said Wednesday, as the Spartans practiced before heading for Italy on Friday, that Harris and fellow junior Alvin Ellis would accompany the team but not play.
“These are two good kids, one gets it a little more than the other right now,” Izzo said. “And the other is gonna get it, or he’s still not gonna see the light of day here, and that’s the way it’s gonna be. … They’re going to have to sit there every day and figure out that they let their teammates down.
“So what I did is what I thought was right. ... This has not been a fun thing for me. For the players, this has not been fun. They’ve been embarrassed. Their families have been embarrassed. The social media does another thing for you — it makes sure everybody in the world remembers.”
Harris, a transfer from West Virginia who sat out last season, pleaded guilty to reckless driving this month after he was pulled over and charged with operating while intoxicated July 1. Ellis twice this offseason has been cited for being a minor in possession of alcohol.
The one player who does get it is Harris.
The 6-foot-3 guard is expected to take on a large role for the Spartans, and Izzo said the big reason for the trip was to allow Harris and sophomore Javon Bess, who was hampered by injuries last season, to get extra time on the court and become more comfortable with the team.
“It’s definitely a situation you don’t want to be in,” Harris said. “I made a mistake, a really stupid mistake. I apologized to my teammates for it. I apologized to my coaches for it, and I look forward to getting better from it. Better as a person from it, and even helping other people out who haven’t made that mistake who are doing the same things I did.”
Izzo, however, said there will be plenty for the two players to do in Italy.
“We’ve got a huge community service thing they gotta do … and then we’re doing a couple other things,” Izzo said.
Ellis believes his quiet nature makes it seem like isn’t as remorseful. He said, however, he’s committed to getting back in Izzo’s good graces.
“It’s been kind of tough,” Ellis said. “Just in the doghouse with the coaching staff and trying to do everything right around here. Just trying to stay out of the way and stay out of trouble. I’ve been doing a good job of that the past few weeks and months.”
As for the team, Izzo feels good about where they stand.
Denzel Valentine is coming off a summer with the U.S. national team while the freshmen — Deyonta Davis, Kyle Ahrens and Matt McQuaid — are coming along. Izzo also praised senior Bryn Forbes.
“He’s got arms now,” Izzo said. “He doesn’t have toothpicks sticking out of his shoulders. He’s got arms. He gained the 12-15 pounds. He has been, as we listed him yesterday, he has been our MVP of the summer. He has been our most improved and most consistent player this summer.”
The Spartans also have been working on some zone defense, something Izzo has avoided throughout his career.
“We have worked on, five of the 10 days we’ve played a little zone,” Izzo said. “We did work on a little bit of a 2-2-1 press. Hey I’m getting older, I’m getting wilder. I’m going for the wild side of things.”
Michigan State leaves for Rome on Friday and plays a pro team from Florence on Tuesday. It faces the Russian national team Aug. 28, the Italian national team Aug. 29 and the Georgian national team Aug. 30 — all played in Trieste.