Michigan State Basketball: What Will Derrick Nix's Legacy Be?
College sports are about more than athletic development, they're a vital part to personal growth as well—Michigan State Spartans senior Derrick Nix is a prime example of that.
The former Detroit Pershing High standout entered East Lansing as a tantrum-throwing boy—he will leave as a university graduate and as a man ready for the next phase of his life.
The key words there are "boy" and "man"—Nix's transformation was just as interesting as the Spartans' performance on the court. Nix's maturation was slow but sure. He was rough around the edges, but he proved during his final year with the Spartans that he was indeed worthy of being a captain and could be relied upon to give his all each time his team took the floor.
In this slideshow, we'll examine Nix's legacy. Did he underachieve or live up to expectations? Better yet, did he exceed expectations? We'll also gauge Nix's collegiate career against centers from the 2009 class, the year Nix joined Michigan State as a 4-star rated big man.
How Does Nix Stack Up Against Other 2009 Centers?
Nix was the No. 8 center of the 2009 class, so, of course, there were expectations for him to become a star from the Spartans fanbase.
In reality, Nix never became the phenomenal game changer that some thought he'd evolve into in college. His weight was a constant issue, but he shed pounds, gained strength and became a more effective weapon under the basket for the Spartans.
Nix's former 2009 classmate, Garrick Sherman, was a part of the same group of incoming Spartans. Sherman transferred to Notre Dame after struggling to find his way in the Big Ten. Nix, despite troubles with coach Tom Izzo, East Lansing police and himself, had a greater collegiate career than Sherman, the No. 10 center of 2009.
Nix was a part of the 2010 Final Four team that lost to Butler, which fell to Duke in the national championship. In 2011, Nix and the Spartans stumbled against UCLA in their opening round of March Madness play. The next season, Nix and Michigan State lost to Louisville in the Sweet 16.
A similar ending came true in 2013 for Nix, but it was a loss to Duke in the Sweet 16 that knocked the Spartans out of the Big Dance.
Now, let's look at a couple of other stars from the 2009 class of big men to see what they did compared to Nix.
Alex Oriakhi was the No. 3 center of that group. He won a national championship with UConn in 2011 before ending his career with Missouri. Of course, Oriakhi's time in college produced a national title, and that's what everyone shoots for. Nix didn't get there, but a pair of Sweet 16s and a Final Four aren't too bad—Oriakhi's title obviously trumps them, though.
Derrick Favors, the No. 1 prospect of 2009 centers, was a one-and-done player with Georgia Tech. Daniel Orton, the No. 4 prospect, spent one year with Kentucky. It's difficult to say what Favors could have accomplished in college, but Orton would have been part of a national championship team had he stuck around.
When gauging the success of classmates, Nix's career wasn't a total wash. In fact, it was quite successful.
Analyzing Nix's Potential vs. Production
There probably weren't too many Spartans followers who expected Nix to be a 15-point-per-night guy. He could have been and should have been, though.
In 2012-13, Nix's left hand took center stage and the big man posted a career-high 25 points in a win over the Texas Longhorns. The real question pertained to consistency. Nix never really found a stable scoring touch in college, despite increasing his point-per-game clip each season.
As a freshman and sophomore, Nix played sparingly and struggled to score more than about two points per night. As a junior, Nix's minutes increased to just under 19 per outing and he gave the Spartans 8.1 points per offering.
During his senior year, Nix averaged almost 10 points per game and played about 28 minutes each turn. He was unstoppable in Michigan State's 65-54 round of 64 victory over Valparaiso, scoring 23 points and converting 10-of-17 field-goal attempts.
That was the Nix that Izzo waited years for—the same Nix that tore up Texas.
Nix's potential was that of a solid, 15-point, 10-rebound-a-game player. He rarely disappointed in terms of rebounding, but he wasn't as effective when it came to scoring.
All in all, Nix fell just a fraction short of his true potential. But given the circumstances of his up-and-down career in East Lansing, his career was respectable.
Nix told SpartanMag.com (subscription required) that he enjoyed being a captain at Michigan State.
It shows you how much guys appreciate you and look up to you, believe in you being a leader. These guys gave me a chance to lead. I led as best as I could. I think they appreciated it … I think I did a pretty good job. Maybe not as good as the Draymond Green's or the Mateen Cleaves' or the Magic Johnson's of the world. But for the most part, all of these guys looked up to me and I led as best as I could. They all listened. We didn't capture any championships, but we had a good season.
Nix Leaves MSU on Tom Izzo's Good Side
Would he transfer?
Would Izzo flip out and kick him off the team?
Would Nix just quit basketball all together?
Those were questions that Spartans basketball followers asked during Nix's career with Michigan State. He was quick to lash out against teammates and even quicker to be sent to Izzo's doghouse.
Nix's problems subsided, but they reappeared this past spring when he was pulled over during a traffic stop. The East Lansing police discovered marijuana—Nix was was done, or some thought. Izzo wouldn't have it any longer.
Or some thought.
After a little soul-searching, Izzo and Nix forged an agreement. Nix stayed in East Lansing. But the 270-pounder was on the thinnest of ice.
Nix was a classic case of a kid who just couldn't seem to stay on the straight and narrow. People aren't perfect, and Izzo understood that. Keeping Nix around bettered the Spartans, and it bettered Nix.
Izzo deserves credit for sticking by him.
Nix spoke of their bond during a recent interview.
"Me and coach have a father-son relationship," Nix told SpartanMag.com. "He will be trying to help me tomorrow, a push to just try and do the little small things that will help me continue my journey in life."
Part of Nix's legacy should be based on how he eventually grew up and followed the rules set in place by Izzo. He was a whipping boy at one point, but he'll leave as part of Izzo's extended family.
Nix Wasn't Exactly Eloquent, but Spoke His Mind
Nix's way with words was...well...Nix-like.
He seldom kept thoughts to himself, and when he did voice his opinion, he often sounded rather bland and ordinary.
But hey, he's not a public speaker. He's a basketball player.
One recent quote shows how Nix's unpolished eloquence made him appear as a rough character.
"I don't get to fight with the Spartans no more, so it's pretty messed up," Nix told SpartanMag.com about the end of his career.
No more, anymore—Nix's point was clear, sure. But again, not polished.
Nix was pretty straight to the point on Twitter, too. Spelling wasn't his strong suit, but his "R.I.P to da competition" posts got rave reviews. His vernacular was indicative of his surroundings, the text message era way of spelling and the fact that 140 characters or less doesn't always allow for proper grammar.
Nix is set to graduate from MSU this spring. He's an intelligent guy—has to be in order to get his diploma. Of course, this is just meant to poke a little fun at his blunt way of explaining things, answering questions and having a good time with social media.
It'll be hard to forget Nix. He was a somewhat polarizing figure in the media—people either hated him, or they felt the need to look deeper and forgive him for his transgressions.
Whichever way you view him is up to you. But questioning his intentions isn't necessary; they were typically goodhearted and true. Nix was loyal to teammates. He was loyal to his program. He was loyal to his coach and Spartans fans.
A lesser person would have given up when times were challenging. Nix didn't. He almost did, but he didn't.
Nix's legacy will be that of a player who was his own worst enemy. Only Nix could straighten out himself, and only Nix knew himself well enough to want to do so.
A diamond in the rough. An unfinished product that, once cleaned up, looked pretty good. Nix wasn't always the best on the floor, but he undoubtedly strives each and every day to mature and become the man that Izzo knew would emerge.
In short, Nix was a typical college kid struggling with internal issues. Nix didn't always know how to deal with expectations that came with being a big-time college athlete—there have been dozens of guys like him in every sport.
As stated in the intro, Nix entered East Lansing as a boy. He leaves as a man.
Well, he evolved into a mature person that can now finally reach his potential.