What was Derrick Nix thinking?
"I was like, This can't be me, it can't be me in this car, it's got to be somebody else," Nix says. "But it was me. I got arrested."
It was last April 2, the night Kentucky beat Kansas for the national championship. Earlier in the evening Nix had spoken with coach Tom Izzo after a team meeting. They talked about the coming fall and the ways in which Nix, a 6'9" center who had averaged 8.1 points and 3.8 rebounds as a junior, could become a team leader while taking his game to an NBA-ready level—essentially filling the role of departing All-America forward Draymond Green.
Nix then joined his teammates at Green's place to watch the NCAA final but left at halftime. Just past midnight the 21-year-old was pulled over and arrested for operating a vehicle with "any presence of drugs" and for possession of marijuana. "[In jail] I was thinking about my teammates," Nix says. "I just went, Wow, I let these guys down."
Nine days later Nix pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of driving while impaired. (The marijuana possession charge was dismissed, and in May he was sentenced to 24 hours of community service and paid $853 in fines and court costs.) Since then, Nix has tried to rehabilitate his image—speaking at juvenile centers, at high schools and at youth camps, hoping to win back his teammates' trust by keeping his grades up and his weight steady (270 pounds). He logged more than 70 hours of community service and was at Izzo's beck and call all summer. ("Coach made my life hell," he says.) Last month the work paid off: The Spartans unanimously chose him as a co-captain.
"Was it a little scary to allow [the vote]?" Izzo says. "Yeah, it was. But did he deserve it? For what he did all summer, yeah." Although Nix was named preseason All--Big Ten, the past is never far from his mind. "I let a lot of people down," he says. "I don't want that to ever happen again."
ROUND OF 32
ROUND OF 64
Projected Starting Five
COACH Tom Izzo (18th season)
2011--12 RECORD 29--8
BIG TEN 13--5 (T-1st)
WHAT'S BACK Minutes: 58.6% Points: 57.6% Rebounds: 48.0%
*High school stats
6 FINAL FOUR appearances in the last 13 years for Michigan State, the most trips of any school in that period. Every four-year player recruited by Tom Izzo has appeared in at least one Final Four.
DAVID E. KLUTHO
DERRICK NIX After he found trouble in the off-season, Nix's desire to atone—and tone—has been a benefit to the Spartans.