Questions as to who would lead the reinvigorated Michigan State Spartans are now answered. On June 24, it was reported by Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press that coach Tom Izzo has named junior Denzel Valentine and senior Travis Trice as captains for the 2014-15 season.
Normally, such a declaration is routine for Izzo, who will look to make his 18th straight NCAA tournament appearance. But he didn’t award any player from last season’s Elite Eight team with the captainship.
Perhaps that is what was the missing ingredient: leadership.
Sure, the 2013-14 team had season-long shortcomings in multiple areas, as careless turnovers and an excess of fouls eventually led to its demise. But the absence of leadership from Michigan State’s best players also played a role.
Ideally, Keith Appling would have been the guy. As a third-year starter, point guard and defensive tone-setter, one would assume that Appling would step into the role as the team’s outright leader.
But that didn’t happen.
Adreian Payne had immense ability, and his warmhearted, selfless nature was certainly well documented. But he lacked the verbal, captivating leadership that the Mateen Cleaves and Travis Walton-type leaders embodied. Star guard Gary Harris was also cut from the same mold as Payne.
Now, Izzo has handed over the team to Trice and Valentine.
Back in April, in the wake of the team's departure from the NCAA tournament, Izzo was unsure as to which players would emerge as potential leaders. The future of the program looked obscure after surrendering arguably its top three guys to the NBA or graduation.
Valentine, though only a junior, was an ideal candidate as a captain. Aside from Branden Dawson, he is the only returning starter. And having appeared in every game last season for a team that was plagued by injuries, Valentine displayed his talents on a consistent basis.
For the junior, passion has never lacked.
He is one of the best passers in the Big Ten, and Valentine's rebounding ability makes him that much more valuable. He proved he can shoot from the outside consistently while emerging as one of Izzo's stoutest defenders.
As arguably Michigan State's best returning player and a guy who always plays with tremendous ferocity, Valentine's promotion to captain shouldn't be a big surprise.
Trice's situation is a little different.
The senior has played in 95 games as a Spartan in his three years as a backup. He will finally step into Appling's former spot as the starting point guard.
Unlike the flashy Valentine, Trice quietly goes about his business. Through experience, efficiency and a hard-working playing style, he will make a tremendous captain as well.
They are unique but will assume the same title. Valentine and Trice aren't just vital pieces to Sparty's potential success because of their skills on the court; they possess the necessary leadership that has recently been lacking in East Lansing.