Neitzel named MVP

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and guard Drew Neitzel acknowledge basketball is a team sport.
Both know, however, the Spartans probably won't make it past Marquette in the first round of the NCAA tournament if Neitzel doesn't play like a star.
"There's no secrets," Izzo said Monday. "We're not going to win if Drew Neitzel doesn't play well. But I'm not sure Marquette will win if (Dominic) James doesn't play well.
"When you have a dominant player that scores a lot of points he has to play well, but he's made for that. He's made for these tournaments. He's been that way since high school."
At Wyoming Park High School, Neitzel became a legend of sorts in Michigan as an ambidextrous player with the talent to take over a game.
The Mr. Basketball winner silenced those dubious of his accomplishments at the Class B school when he scored 36 points three years ago, playing against McDonald's All-Americans Malik Hairston (Oregon) and Joe Crawford (Kentucky) in a loss to Detroit Renaissance in the state semifinals.
As a freshman reserve, Neitzel helped the Spartans reach the Final Four. As a sophomore starter he experienced a one-and-out NCAA tournament with a loss to George Mason.
"I've been on both sides of the spectrum," he said.
That's true as a player, too.
Neitzel entered the season averaging 5.9 points and taking just over five shots a game while Shannon Brown, Maurice Ager and Paul Davis handled the scoring for the Spartans the previous two seasons.
This season, he accepted Izzo's challenge to be the team's go-to player by averaging 18.1 points and 13 shots a game. On Monday night at the Spartans' banquet, the junior was honored as MVP in voting by media and his teammates.
"I kind of took a back-seat role the first couple of years, and I was waiting for this opportunity," Neitzel said. "I had to make the most of it. I thought if we could make the tournament, it would be a great season. But now, we're not done yet.
"We've got more to accomplish."
To do that on Thursday against Marquette, Neitzel knows he can't have a sub-par game and expect to get another chance to play -- likely against top-seeded North Carolina in the second round.
"It's tough, but those are the expectations and the responsibility that I've taken on," he said. "That's something that every player wants, to be the guy that carries the load.
"But it's a lot more than just me. The reason we had success this year is a lot of guys stepped up, and improved tremendously."
After starting all 34 games at point guard last season, the 6-foot, 180-pound Neitzel moved to shooting guard this season because Travis Walton proved he could be a solid point guard by averaging 5 1/2 assists.
That helped the Wooden Award finalist and All-Big Ten player be as dominant in some halves as perhaps any player in the country.
Part of what makes Neitzel so difficult to stop is he can dribble in one direction, and twist his body to shoot the other way.
And, he can score with either hand.
"Ever since I was a little kid, my dad worked with me on both hands -- whether it was eating or brushing my teeth," Neitzel said. "I've been kind of ambidextrous since I was little kid. It's not natural. I work on it a lot. I'm naturally right-handed."
In two closely contested losses to No. 1 Ohio State, Neitzel scored 24 points in the half of one game and 21 points in a half of the other.
"Quite honestly, we hate preparing for him," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said.
Neitzel scored 28 in a win over then-No. 1 Wisconsin last month; made the game-winning layup against Texas; had 22 points in a victory against Brigham Young; and scored 16 points in a half of a two-point loss to Maryland.
"He's one of the most underrated players, I think, in the country," said James, who might match up with Neitzel in Winston-Salem, N.C.


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