MSU's Suzy Merchant back but 'not 100 percent'

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Suzy Merchant couldn’t be happier to be on the sidelines and getting her Michigan State women’s basketball team ready to take on Ohio State on Tuesday night, the team that leads the Big Ten and is unbeaten in conference play.

It’s something that she might have taken for granted in the past, but a little more than a week after she collapsed on the sidelines during the second half of a game against Illinois at the Breslin Center on Jan. 1, Merchant is glad to be back doing what she loves.

It kept her from traveling with the team when it played at Purdue on Jan. 4 but she was back on the bench when Michigan State beat Nebraska on Saturday.

“I’m feeling OK,” Merchant said on Monday. “I’m not 100 percent, but I’ll get there. I hated not going on that Purdue trip and it felt like you let people down, especially your team. There’s nobody you want to fight more for as a coach then the kids that play for you, so I felt kinda bad about that.

“It was hard to sit there just watching the game rocking back and forth on the couch like a crazy person. It was good to get back on the sidelines and have an opportunity to coach a team that you really appreciate and love.”

Merchant, who spent a night at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, said there still aren’t any real answers as to why everything happened and is still undergoing some tests. What she has been able to do is reflect on how she approaches life as a Division I basketball coach.

Instead of “going 100 miles an hour” as she and so many other coaches do on a regular basis, making some changes might not be the worst thing, even if it isn’t the easiest thing.

“This is how I’ve always done it,” Merchant said. “I guess I have to re-evaluate and do a better job of taking care of myself I guess. Twenty-three years as a head coach just catching up with me I guess. I really don’t know what happened. Still trying to figure it out. Everybody tells me I need to eat more, stay hydrated more, I need to sleep more. But that really doesn’t always coincide with coaching. So, I have to make a concerted effort to do a better job that way for sure.”

She’ll do so not only for her, but for her team and her family.

The mother of two boys, Merchant said the fact they had to be in the arena and see her go through what she did has been difficult.

“I have two little guys I have to think about that quite honestly were traumatized watching their mom go through that,” Merchant said. “That’s the hardest part for me. I’ve seen my kids cry. I’ve never seen them really terrified and traumatized like that.”

While Merchant tries to adjust how she does things, the season goes on for Michigan State (12-4, 2-1 Big Ten). The Spartans get a crack at the top team in the Big Ten on Tuesday night as Ohio State (14-4, 4-0).

Last year, the Spartans beat the Buckeyes in a three-overtime thriller at the Breslin Center before knocking off then No. 5 Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament.

Merchant believes the Buckeyes are even better this season and relishes the opportunity for another shot at a big win.

She’ll do so with the support of plenty of folks around the community, including football coach Mark Dantonio and his wife, Becky.

“That’s the best thing about Michigan State. I didn’t have to reach out to him,” Merchant said. “A couple hours after it happened my phone was blowing up, clearly, but he was one of the first people that reached out to me and him and Becky both. Then couple days later, the day of the Purdue game actually, he reached out to me, him and Becky both, and really offered support and understanding and perspective. When things like this happen taking care of yourself is more important than other things because if you’re not there you’re not going to be able to coach your team anyway.”

Men’s coach Tom Izzo is glad to see his colleague back around the building and after joking with her got a bit more serious, saying it could be a chance for everyone to take a look at how they do things.

“I told her maybe she has to look just like players do, like every one of us do and she was trying to make excuses for what she was doing,” Izzo said. “I said, ‘You gotta get more rest, you gotta do this, you gotta do that.’ I think she will. She’s a hell of a coach and a good person, and I think she’ll recover fine.”