Lucas carries torch for MSU, Detroit
Kalin Lucas has evolved into another point guard in MSU's line of greats
Along with Durrell Summers, he's become the unofficial spokesman for Detroit
Thanks mostly to Lucas, Michigan State was able to speed past UConn
DETROIT -- The original point guard hiked out of the stands and into the tunnel, his wife in the crook of his right arm and the roaring crowd in his ears. Swaddled in shining Spartan green, he paused to chat up Motown's finest; acknowledged, with a grin, the mix of reporters and Michigan State faithful now chanting his name ("Magic! Magic!"); then turned as still another fan, some dude named Tom Izzo, literally sprinted after him to say hi ("Earvin! Earvin!").
"We got one more," Magic Johnson told them all. "One more!"
But in those moments after his alma mater's 82-73 win over UConn -- that margin of victory a declaration in and of itself -- it was hard to tell if Magic, now 49, was looking ahead to North Carolina or simply saluting the latest point guard in his own lineage.
Michigan State's current point guard, Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas, had just notched a game-high 21 points against the Huskies to complement five assists, the 32nd time this season that the sophomore hit double figures. "He's the key," Johnson said in the tunnel, flashing his signature Cheshire smile. "And he can play at the next level."
For now, the present level deserves our attention. The week of the Final Four, the Spartans resolved to turn the semifinal matchup against UConn into a showcase of Big Ten speed -- fully aware, they admit, of how strange that notion sounds to conference elitists who view the league as a group of Midwestern plodders. But with Lucas's foot on the pedal and what Izzo calls the six-footer's "warp speed" on demand, Michigan State outraced the Huskies and put up 22 points in transition.
"Kalin got us to that point," says assistant coach Mark Montgomery. "We told him we were going to run, and he knew exactly when to go and when to back it up and run the offense. He has that quiet confidence. He wants to make the big plays."
To wit: with UConn surging back with 3:58 remaining, Lucas pulled up to the left side of the arc. Over the previous minute and 14 seconds, freshman forward Draymond Green had missed two free throws while the Huskies' veteran point guard, A.J. Price, drained four of his own to pull within six. Lucas drilled the three to suck the air out of the comeback bid. "I think that shot said it all," Montgomery says.
On this elevated stage, Michigan State has witnessed such statements from its floor generals twice before. It's been precisely 30 years since Magic steered Sparty to a 75-64 win over Larry Bird and Indiana State for the 1979 NCAA championship. It's been nine years, too, since Mateen Cleaves trounced Florida, 89-76, to capture the school's second title in 2000. "It goes back to my oldest theory," Izzo says. "A player-coached team is better than a coach-coached team."
"Kalin's been our best player," adds senior center Goran Suton. "That's no secret."
* * *
Her apartment sits over on Mack Avenue, one part of a squat, three-story complex right across the street from Detroit Medical's ER. As ambulance sirens wailed back and forth around the neighborhood, Mae Sturdivant helped raise her grandson, Kalin, from infancy to high school as his parents worked. "I always had him around," says Sturdivant, who happened to move into the building in 1979.
"I love her to death," Lucas says. "She's like my second mom. Most people talk to their parents, but I go to my granny. She's calling me every day."
Kalin's listed hometown is Sterling Heights, about half an hour beyond the city, but only his grandmother prepared all his favorites (chicken wings, French fries and Kool Aid for dinner) and toted him to the court at nearby Spain Elementary, where he'd first test out his jumper. Not coincidentally, Lucas would learn the game in a wholly local context. The future point guard didn't even start watching basketball on television until high school.
"All I wanted to do was play," Lucas says. "Growing up, I'd rather play it than watch it." Sturdivant always obliged. A former nurse, she swears that the "biggest reason" for her retirement last year was that she wanted to attend all his games at Michigan State. "This is my gift," she says of her grandson's college career. "I feel that way. I really do."
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