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11 Michigan State
Team Page | 2002-2003 Schedule | Roster

The Spartans are counting on a sophomore star who can't stomach losing -- or sometimes even playing -- to lead them back to the Final Four

By Phil Taylor

Sports Illustrated

Ballinger was the toughest of the rough-and-tumble Spartans, with a team-high 6.8 boards a game. Tom Hauck/Allsport
An opposing coach's view
"Chris Hill is a good leader, and his shooting stroke reminds me of Allan Houston's, but last year he needed work on his lefthand dribble. ... Aloysius Anagonye is the anchor down low and a solid rebounder. His problem is foul trouble....Kelvin Torbert creates matchup problems outside because of his size and quickness. He came in with a lot of hype last year and didn't meet expectations, but he should be better this year. ... Adam Ballinger is part of a long line of Michigan State big guys who've been able to set a screen, step away and hit the three. ... They remind me of an NBA team in the number of pro-type sets they run, and they have great balance between their transition and half-court games. You have to get back on defense because they run their fast break better than anyone else in the Big Ten."
The NCAA doesn't keep statistics in this category, but Spartans point guard Chris Hill surely set some kind of record last season for -- how can we put this delicately? -- tossing his cookies. As a freshman Hill had an unpleasant three-game streak in which he couldn't get through a game without throwing up. The flu caused him to vomit on the court during a game against Seton Hall, and a case of nerves got to him before he faced Stanford and Minnesota.

Hill's teammates took the opportunity to get in a little ribbing, loading him down with air-sickness bags on plane trips and nicknaming him Willie Beamen, after the Jamie Foxx character in the movie Any Given Sunday who threw up before games. But anyone who wants the ball would be wise to stay on his good side this season, because Hill will be running the offense in place of Marcus Taylor, last year's leading scorer (16.8 points per game), who left for the NBA after his sophomore season.

Fortunately for the Spartans, Taylor was the team's only key loss. They still have power forward Adam Ballinger and center Aloysius Anagonye, a pair of tough senior rebounders, and sophomore shooting guard Kelvin Torbert, the blue-chip recruit of two years ago whom coach Tom Izzo is expecting to emerge as a star. There is enough talent to give Michigan State realistic dreams of returning to the Final Four, which it reached three straight times before losing to North Carolina State in the first round of last year's tournament. The Spartans certainly appear to have their swagger back. Izzo kicked off Midnight Madness by descending from the ceiling of the Breslin Center dressed like Bruce Springsteen and dancing to a parody of Born in the U.S.A.

Michigan State's first order of business is to win the Big Ten title, which would bring a special satisfaction to Hill, an Indiana native who wasn't recruited by Indiana or Purdue. The Spartans' coaches weren't convinced that he was worth signing, either, until Izzo watched him at a 6:30 a.m. workout during Hill's senior year at Lawrence North High. "I could tell from watching him that this kid was a winner," Izzo says.

Izzo was right. The only thing that Hill loses with any regularity seems to be his lunch.

Issue date: November 25, 2002