Self-motivation. It's a quality that Spartans coach Tom Izzo reveres almost as much as he venerates defense and rebounding. "If you are begging and prodding a guy to do extra things, you'll never get as much from him as when it's of his own volition," says Izzo. "I've always believed that to be a great player, you have to be self-motivated. And I'm excited that Paul has been a lot more self-motivated this year."
Paul is Paul Davis, Michigan State's All--Big Ten junior center, a potential lottery pick in next year's NBA draft and the 6'11" frame on which Izzo will try to ride his way back to the Final Four, which he last reached in 2001. Izzo has been critical of Davis in the past--for a lack of toughness, in particular--but now he comes to praise him. The pivotman spent the summer in East Lansing building his upper body (he gained 15 pounds of muscle) and working on agility drills to improve his quickness. Though he finished last season with robust averages of 15.8 points and 6.2 rebounds, Davis says he was often overwhelmed by others' expectations, as if his basketball future were hanging on every possession. Now he has expectations of himself. "It's not a secret that this is a big year for me," says Davis, who has set a goal of a double double in every game. "And I'm planning on it being a big year. I didn't feel any need to leave [for the pros] last [spring], because I had unfinished business. That's what I plan on taking care of this year."
The unfinished business is the result of the No. 7--seeded Spartans' loss to No. 10 Nevada in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Aware that players who make up the core of the program (seniors Alan Anderson, Chris Hill and Kelvin Torbert) would be entering their final season, Davis met with Izzo following the defeat and asked him what he had to do to improve. Izzo told him he needed to get stronger and boost his range and rebounding. "I think he's stepped up in all areas, and maybe one of the more crucial ones is, he's become more confident," says Izzo. "The maturation process is taking place for him. Now he has to show that in game situations. But I know I'm on the same page with Paul, and I feel comfortable he's on the same page with me. I think that's going to lead to better things for both of us."
2003--04 RECORD: 18--12 (12--4, T2 in Big Ten)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Nevada in 1st round
When the slug-it-out Spartans decide to run, Anderson, Brown & Co. can't be collared.
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
"Alan Anderson had to play the point at times last year. They'll get better on the boards if Drew Neitzel can run the team the way Tom Izzo wants, which will allow Anderson to play forward in a small lineup. Neitzel is a poised, tough kid who makes good decisions with the ball.... You have to keep Paul Davis as far from the basket as possible. I'd rather have him shooting that turnaround jumper than have him right around the rim.... They run a lot of set plays, and if you stop their initial look, you can get them deep into the shot clock and make them take tough shots--then they're not nearly as good."
Thanks to his off-season work, the pumped-up Davis has returned quicker and stronger.