An injury is never a best-case scenario, but it could have been the best thing to happen to Branden Dawson.
In March of 2012, the Michigan State Spartans' then-freshman tore his ACL. He was well on his way to establishing a reputation as one of the most explosive players in the Big Ten before falling awkwardly and tearing a ligament in his knee.
However, before all of that, Dawson said he lacked focus.
How could an incredibly gifted player nearly throw away his talent? It's not hard to do, especially for a young kid, said Dawson to Sports Illustrated. Perhaps the injury saved his career. He avoided what has been an unfortunate experience for many college athletes. He said:
It changed me in a lot of ways. My freshman year, I was just taking basketball for granted. I wasn't going to the gym, I was just messing around, messing around in school, messing around with a lot of girls. Just doing things a normal teenage freshman does. I was just taking the game for granted. [The injury] made me realize it can be taken from you in the blink of an eye. I just looked in the mirror, and I told myself I really need to change my ways and change my attitude and change my approach to the game. It can be taken from you.
Dawson later added in the same interview with SI:
It's a blessing (the injury). It was an eye opener for me. It was sending a message: You really need to focus, you really need to change yourself and the people around you. It made me realize, this is serious. It's not just a game.
Teams typically don't benefit from a star player's injury. If severe enough, one break or tear can decimate an athlete's confidence—and a coach's confidence in an athlete.
In extreme cases, an injury can totally alter a player's personality and game to the point of no return.
Dawson was going to be a star whether his morale and dedication were boosted by a setback or not. However, Michigan State needed some type of force not totally confined to the court to re-energize the team after Draymond Green's graduation.
Maybe Dawson's situation was just that?
Often, personal issues are the driving causes behind a player's emergence. Turning something negative into a positive is always a sure sign of progress. Dawson made that progress seem easy, recovering much faster than anticipated.
Dawson's comments to SI make perfect sense. Basketball could have been erased from his life. But he proved that he wanted nothing more than to play for Tom Izzo's Spartans.
Maturity brings about leadership. If Dawson really loves the game as much as he says, then it's safe to say that he loves his team just as much. The Spartans need passionate leaders. Replacing Green is one of the most challenging tasks Izzo has faced during his coaching career.
How do you replace one of the greats? It's never easy. And in Green's case, it's nearly impossible.
Dawson has played like he wants to have a significant say in the way his team operates. He's taking charge in his own way. The Spartans need more of that. With just one senior, they certainly lack the "grown-up" feel other Izzo teams have had.
Izzo Needs To See the Proof
Appreciating basketball again is a plus for Dawson. So was his boomerang-like recovery. There he was, injured, only to bounce back quickly and hit the gym.
But the knee could still be an issue. Izzo voiced a concern about it during a recent interview with the Detroit Free Press.
I've talked to him a little bit, is that a concern? I just don't feel he's playing at the same level yet as far as aggressively. I don't think he's scared, I know that, but I do think subconsciously (that) he used to go in, spin dribble and dunk it. Now he's going in, spin dribble and sometimes getting it blocked. It's just part of the process to get him on track. Unfortunately for us, it's going to be a process...
In the long run, Dawson should be able to prove to Izzo that his mindset hasn't changed since falling to the floor March 4 at the Breslin Center during Michigan State's 72-20 loss to Ohio State.
It'll take time, but Dawson is already the Spartans' biggest big-play threat. His dunks change the tempo and ignite the competitive fire of his teammates.
The 6'6", 230-pound sophomore has developed into pickpocket defender. His 1.9 steals per game complement a line of nearly 10 points and six rebounds a night.
During a press conference last season, Izzo said that Dawson had the "star" quality.
Had there been no injury, Dawson's old habits could have claimed his career at Michigan State.
It's funny how staring down an alternate destiny causes major life changes. For Dawson, it took a torn ACL to realize that he was flushing his talent down the drain. Now, once fully recovered, he has the chance to heavily influence the Spartans' run toward March.
Injuries are never welcome. But a positive outcome isn't out of the realm of possibility for guys who are willing to work for it, like Dawson.
Follow Bleacher Report's Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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