Des Moines, Iowa — So much was going through Kyle Ahrens’ mind Sunday as he lay on the court at United Center, the pain piercing his left ankle.
The Michigan State junior had gone up for a rebound and landed on another player's foot, forcing his left ankle to roll over and leaving Ahrens in a heap. A veteran of a couple broken legs, Ahrens felt a pop and figured he was headed down a familiar path.
He wondered about playing again and how he wasn’t going to be able to help seniors Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins in their final games at Michigan State.
But as Ahrens was loaded on a stretcher, his foot stabilized by a temporary cast, and taken to have X-rays done, his mind started to wander off the ramifications that had anything to do with basketball. That’s because Ahrens got engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Janelle Mangen, last summer and they plan to be married in late July.
“That was one of my questions when I was getting X-rays, ‘Will I be able to walk there?’” Ahrens said Wednesday, as his fellow Spartans were preparing for Thursday night's NCAA Tournament opener against Bradley. “Just to make sure. I’m good to go.”
As for basketball, it will take a little more time.
Ahrens said he was diagnosed with a grade 3 ankle sprain, a much better result than he imagined as he lay on the court a few days ago. He was able to walk briefly on it Wednesday and has ditched the crutches for a walking boot.
A red-shirt junior who was part of the same recruiting class with McQuaid, Ahrens says he will be back for his final season at Michigan State.
“Absolutely,” Ahrens said. “I’m here. This is where I want to be. Finish what I started. I couldn’t pick a better program than this one.”
Not long after Bradley won the Missouri Valley Conference title to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the program quickly became clouded in controversy after limiting access to a local sportswriter they said wasn’t “promoting the brand.”
The athletic department restricted access to Dave Reynolds, the basketball reporter for the Peoria Journal Star for almost three decades. It was met with plenty of backlash from around the country.
On Wednesday, it was addressed by Bradley coach Brian Wardle.
“Well, I had a great talk with Dave face-to-face on Sunday, and I apologized to him for not handling the situation very well,” Wardle said. “One of the things you teach your kids a lot is what's hard for them is when you make a mistake you've gotta admit it.
"You gotta own it and then you've got to teach a lot of young men now if apology is necessary then you've got to apologize and own it and then you've got to learn from it and grow and move on.
“That lesson, I tell my kids all the time, I've done it before and I did it on Sunday again. I think hopefully we've all learned that you own things, you move on, you learn and you grow and you keep moving forward and you try not to repeat mistakes.”
The university publicly apologized Saturday.
That looks familiar
If Michigan State were a mid-major, it might be Bradley. The Braves play a similar style to the Spartans, a tough, gritty team that likes to get out and run.
“I would say we mirror Michigan State in a way,” Wardle said. “A lot of what we do is man-to-man, rebounding is an emphasis for us. We like to get up and down when the opportunities are there and push it and then we will try to execute in the half court.”
It’s the sort of challenge Michigan State has relished all season.
“They’re pretty good in transition, but I feel like transition is our game, that’s what we’re best at,” Michigan State guard Cassius Winston said. “If we’re playing our best basketball I don’t see a lot of teams that can beat us.”
Michigan State didn’t have much time to relax at home after Sunday afternoon’s win over Michigan in the Big Ten tournament championship game in Chicago.
“It was a quick turnaround,” Izzo said. “We got back around 11, 11:30 Sunday night. We couldn’t do much Monday, but we had a very good practice Tuesday and a little practice this morning to go over some last-minute details.
"We’ll get some shots up today and be ready to go.”
… Michigan State associate head coach Dwayne Stephens was an assistant at Marquette from 1999-2003. Wardle played at Marquette from 1997-2001.
… Bradley is 25-50 all-time against teams from the Big Ten. The Braves defeated Penn State, 59-56, this season in the Cancun Challenge in November.