East Lansing — Michigan State freshman guard Rocket Watts is getting closer to getting back on the court, but whether that means he’ll play Wednesday at Northwestern remains unclear.
Watts has missed the last two games because of a stress reaction in his lower left leg after starting the first eight games of the season.
"Rocket continues to make some progress,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Monday after practice. “It's been slow because we're just, we just don't want to do anything that would prolong him being out. Right now, it's big question mark for Wednesday.
“So, I'd say doubtful, but I wouldn't rule anybody out and then we have to make some big decisions after that. But he is making some progress.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound shooting guard was No. 15 Michigan State’s top recruit entering the season and was expected to play a significant role coming off the bench. However, that plan changed dramatically when it was it was announced just before the season that senior Joshua Langford would be out until at least January as he continues to recover from a broken foot suffered last year.
That immediately thrust Watts into the starting lineup, a spot where he has struggled to find offensive consistency. Through eight games, the Detroit native was playing just more than 22 minutes a game while averaging 6.5 points and shooting 27.4 percent, including only 20.7 percent from 3-point range.
In a strange way, the past two games have helped Watts see the game better than he was. At least, that’s the way Izzo sees things.
“I think getting Rocket back would help us a lot,” Izzo said. “You could get him back on a court and he’s launching step-back 3s again, but I think he's seen things a lot differently sitting. I mean, it's just amazing him at the game. I never thought I'd see the day where he was coming down telling me, ‘Coach, you gotta get Brock (Washington) and Jack (Hoiberg) in the game. You gotta get Steven in the game.’ He was so into the game. In the huddles, he was into it. I just see a whole different Rocket than the one before he was injured.
“What does that mean when you he gets on the court? I don't know, but he's done everything we've asked on his workouts. He's in there grinding it on the non-weight-bearing stuff with the bike and Versa climber, and those things are not any fun. So I'm looking forward to getting him back.”
With Watts out, the Spartans (7-3, 1-0 Big Ten) have used more of sophomore wings Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown at the same time, something that could pay dividends as shots start falling. And with fifth-year senior Kyle Ahrens playing usually no more than 20 minutes a game, it opens up time for walk-on Conner George.
“I'm not ruling out Conner George playing a little more,” Izzo said. “He seems to give us some energy gives us some offensive rebound and he can shoot the ball.”
Izzo’s weekly coaches show takes place every Monday night, and this week’s version included him playing the accordion with his players planning to sing along with a few Christmas carols.
It’s been an ongoing thing for Izzo at his last show before Christmas, and on Monday afternoon he was sure to get in a few minutes of practice.
“I'm going to practice because one year I went in just kind of really cold and I’m always bad, but I was freaking awful,” Izzo said. “It was embarrassing. So now I'll practice enough to just be bad. Hopefully my guys sing bad enough that it's worse and everybody can laugh and I can laugh at myself and put it away for another year.”
Izzo said he learned to play when he was 12, defying his mother who wanted him to play the piano.
Over the years he hasn’t mastered the instrument but joked most of the problems are because of his players.
“The problem for me is it's not that I'm that bad of a player,” Izzo said. “I'm not great, but they screw up the music and the notes and they don't stay in sync and then because of that I look bad. But I think it's like everything else, when things don't go right blame the head coach. So, I’m sitting up there and I'll take the blame even though their voices aren't very good. I hope they could just remember the words and I think I’ll have a chance.”