Spartans’ freshmen feel loss of Eron Harris

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — As Eron Harris  was on the floor at Mackey Arena on Saturday, his right leg not moving as the senior screamed in pain, the moment hit hard for Michigan State’s freshmen on the floor.

Miles Bridges was fighting back tears, as was Nick Ward as the Spartans huddled around the senior guard who had just suffered a knee injury that will require surgery and keep him out for the rest of the season.

It was in that moment, for the first time, Tom Izzo truly started to understand Harris’ impact on the team, his young players especially. And on Sunday night, as the team met, Harris hammered home to everyone in the room how they need to live in the moment and take nothing for granted.

“For him to say, ‘I went into the game thinking that, man, I only got six games left,’” Izzo recalled on Monday. “And then he said, ‘I was leaving on the stretcher, I realized my career is over.’ That was hard.”

That last sentence was almost as hard for Izzo to get out. He stopped to collect himself in the middle of it on Monday, his eyes getting a bit glassy as he recalled the moment. It was in that meeting Harris’ true character showed — a senior who lives the game in the last few weeks realized how important it was to help the young players along.

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From on the court to off, Harris has been there for them all. One by one on Monday after practice, nearly everyone echoed the same thoughts on Harris.

“He’s like a brother,” sophomore Matt McQuaid said.

Added Bridges, “We really looked up to him as a big brother to us and you saw our emotions once he went down. That’s how much he meant to us.”

Alvin Ellis, one of two seniors left on the roster healthy enough to play along with former walk-on Matt Van Dyk and the most likely to replace Harris in the starting lineup, even felt the impact of Harris’ words.

“It was definitely emotional and a couple of guys were tearing up,” Ellis recalled. “He said some real stuff about just never knowing when your last opportunity to play is.

“You can never take it for granted. He said he’ll always stick with us and he’ll be a Spartan Dawg for life.”

How that will impact the Spartans (16-11, 8-6 Big Ten) as they face the final two weeks of the regular season remains to be seen. They all say it can be something to rally around as they push to make the NCAA Tournament for the 20th straight season.

It begins Thursday night when Nebraska visits Breslin Center and really ramps up on Sunday when Wisconsin comes to town.

“Definitely we will,” junior Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn said. “We have no choice and we’ve still got a lot of basketball left. We’ve still got a lot to play for. We’ll play for him and play for the other seniors and continue to get better and try and find a way to win these games.”

But there’s little doubt, regardless of how the final few weeks of the season play out, the loss of Harris is significant. Maybe not as much in the box score, but certainly in the presence around the team.

Harris will still be around as doctors wait 3-4 weeks before performing surgery. It’s not easy for Harris, who must keep his leg straight. He can’t drive or do much else and McQuaid, his roommate, has already been his chauffeur. But just being around the team will help, the Spartans believe.

His message in the meeting on Sunday night, alone, will stick with Izzo and the program. The coach said he plans to take some of the quotes and put them on the wall in that room, along with some of the program’s biggest names like Magic Johnson and Steve Smith.

“There are guys that like the game, there’s guys that love the game, and then there’s guys that live the game,” Izzo said. “And he was a guy that lived the game. In other words, there wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t come in this building. There wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t talk about what he wanted to do in life, and it wasn’t just to get into the NBA, it was he wanted to play basketball somewhere.

“Sometimes, as we all say the real world can be cruel. Here’s a kid — I have some guys that like the game, and that’s OK, and I have some guys that love the game. There weren’t a ton of guys who live, eat and sleep it. He was one.”