Michigan State Basketball: Why Alvin Ellis Will Be MSU's Unsung Hero in 2014-15

Adam BiggersSenior Analyst IIAugust 28, 2014

Tom Izzo once said that he'd "go to war" with Alvin Ellis. That means the HOFer likes what he sees in his rising star.
Tom Izzo once said that he'd "go to war" with Alvin Ellis. That means the HOFer likes what he sees in his rising star.Al Goldis/Associated Press

Alvin Ellis III averaged all of 7.9 minutes and 1.9 points per game during his freshman year at Michigan State. 

Today, he's preparing for his sophomore year with the Spartans, who will absolutely need every bit the 6'4", 195-pound shooter out of Chicagoland has to offer. Here's a hint: It's much more than a shade under eight and two per outing. 

Coach Tom Izzo is known for makeovers. He can mold an unheralded 3-star, which Ellis was, into a cornerstone; he can nurture a player discarded by many into one that most would love to have, which Ellis should be in time.  

Given his track record, it's logical to assume that the seasoned future Hall of Famer will squeeze every ounce of production from Ellis. 

But what will that be? 

Fifteen minutes and six points? Nah, that's a low-ball estimate. If Izzo pulls off what he usually pulls off, as described above, then somewhere in the range of 20 and 10 per night is possible. 

Lofty goal? Sure. 

But it's attainable, especially for Ellis, who seems all but destined for the patented Izzo treatment during what should be a respectable four-year career in East Lansing. However, before that's to happen, he needs to find a niche. 

This year, the role of unsung hero has a nice ring to it. 



In 2013, Ellis shot .462 from three-point range, the second-best average on the team behind Kenny Kaminski, who finished the year with a clip of .494. But Kaminski isn't an option because he was recently dismissed.

So consider that as an open window for Ellis to slide through. 

A year ago, Ellis played in 36 games, which is a considerable amount for a freshman. That proved that Izzo had trust in him. Well, that and the fact that the Spartans had a lot of big leads that created ample mop-up time for the bench team. 

Either way, Ellis got his feet wet.



Now that Gary Harris is no longer available, the Spartans need more from the outside. Bryn Forbes, a transfer from Cleveland State, will be eligible to play this season, so he's the obvious candidate to perform such a task. 

However, everyone expects him to be one of the top players, not necessarily an underdog.

In all likelihood, Ellis could end up bringing Harris-and-Forbes-like scoring, near 15ish per night, to the table in spurts in 2014-15 and be more consistent with it next year. In the meantime, think of him as a Gary or Bryn in training. 

Harris' departure hurts, but so does the absence of Keith Appling, who wowed as a freshman before turning into a great four-year contributor for Izzo. Once known as a scorer, he was asked to alter his style for the betterment of the team. 

He flourished as a set-up man and scorer en route to becoming a more complete and well-rounded athlete. 

Michigan State needs that type of guard this season, and Ellis could be the one to offer such flexibility. Say Forbes fits in from the jump, which he should, and joins Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice and Branden Dawson as the leading scorers. At that point, Izzo may not require that type of game from Ellis.

Instead, Izzo could ask him to develop his overall skill by running with freshman point guard Lourawls "Tum-Tum" Nairn, frosh winger Javon Bess and first-year forward Marvin Clark. 

That quartet needs time to develop, and since he already has a year under his belt, Ellis could serve as an ideal sparring partner, playing as a distributor for Bess and Clark while receiving from Nairn. Once they click, they'll be a productive second line with first-line tendencies. 

Confusing? That's a lot of back-and-forth.

In essence, Ellis could serve as a set of training wheels for the youngsters once Izzo lets go of the back of the seat. The combination of Izzo's coaching and Ellis' ability to learn will benefit the entire program, not just one player. 

Unsung heroes/'tweeners do a lot, and they're not always recognized. Lighting up the scoreboard is about a year away for Ellis, but becoming a glue guy is right around the corner. 


Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81