Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
9/05/2007 11:28:00 AM
Blog Q&A With ... Michigan State's Drew Neitzel
Drew Neitzel returns to Michigan State for his senior season after a summer of international play at the Pan Am games.
Mark Cowan/Icon SMI
For the latest edition of the Blog Q&A series, I chatted with Michigan State point guard Drew Neitzel, who returns to lead the Spartans after averaging 18.1 points and 4.3 assists as a junior in 2006-07. This summer, Neitzel was one of 12 college stars to be named to the U.S. Pan American Games team, which finished fifth in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The conversation below is an edited compilation of two interviews: the first was conducted in person at the Pam Am trials in July, and the second was by phone last week.
Luke Winn: You've been around the Big Ten for a pretty long time now, since 2004. What's the toughest road place to play in the league?
Drew Neitzel: It's a tough conference to play on the road. Every place is unique, and sometimes it depends on what kind of a year a team is having. Illinois is tough. Indiana might be No. 1, though. It's not just their student section; it's their whole fan base. They love basketball. The arena [Assembly Hall] is huge. It's like a theater -- it goes up really high on both sides, and the sound seems to echo in there. It feels like the fans are right on top of you, and they get pretty loud.
LW: What's been the most memorable harassment you've received from a Big Ten student section?
DN: It usually happens at the free-throw line. Kids will start chanting "Marshall Mathers" or "Slim Shady," for Eminem. Last year, when Britney shaved her head, and we played at Wisconsin, they were calling me Britney Spears.
LW: How long has the shaved head been your style?
DN: It's been like that since I can remember. Since elementary school. I grew it out for a month and a half at the end of [the '06-07] season, but I had to cut it. It was thick and nasty. It got to the point where a lot of people didn't recognize me.
LW: I assume you'd prefer to avoid Britney comparisons, but what about Eminem? Are you a fan?
DN: That's fine. He's one of my favorite rappers; he's on my pre-game list on my iPod, with Young Jeezy and Nas. I don't really want to be like Eminem, but it doesn't bother me at all. My teammates get more laughs out of that stuff than I do. After games they'll be making fun of me on the bus.
LW: What about basketball players that you admire? Do you have a favorite lefty shooter?
DN: As far as lefties, I don't know. Right now I like to watch Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich. They're probably my two favorite players. Arenas, because he can hit shots from anywhere, plus create off the dribble and score in a lot of different ways. Hinrich, I like the way he plays the point, sort of similar to the way I do. He's a point guard but he looks to score a lot as well as get his teammates involved.
LW: I guess you shouldn't be limited to lefties; aside from shooting you're known as somewhat of an ambidextrous player. How did that come about?
DN: My dad [Craig] worked with me since I was little -- probably starting at 8 or 9 -- and it gradually happened. On the court, we'd do different kinds of ballhandling drills, especially two-ball dribbling. [Neitzel was the two-ball national champ at age 12]. Off the court, I'd do things like eating or brushing my teeth with both hands. I've always worked both hands equally.
LW: Are there any players you've tried to emulate from watching YouTube clips?
DN: That site is pretty cool; I go on and look up a lot of different guys. Pistol Pete highlight tapes. Jason Williams highlight tapes. I think there's about four of his that I have saved. There are a couple of highlight videos our fans at Michigan State made, too.
LW: We weren't able to see any of the action from [the Pan-Am games in] Brazil this summer. How was that experience for you? And how did the team handle the shock of losing its first two games, to Uruguay and Panama, and finishing fifth?
DN: I took a lot of good things from it. It was my first experience with the international game, and to get to hang out with some of the other top college guys around the country was a lot of fun. When I watched the Olympic team [the U.S. senior men's squad] play in Las Vegas, I saw lot of the same guys we played against down in Brazil.
Losing early on was hard; we didn't get a whole lot of practice time before we played our first game, and we struggled with two close losses. We improved throughout the whole tourney, though, and by the end, we ended up beating a team -- Panama -- that we lost to earlier in the tournament. That showed our progress.
LW: Which players did you end up living with in Rio?
DN: We lived in suites of six in an Olympic Village-type place. My actual roommate was Maarty Leunen [of Oregon], and there were four other guys in the two other bedrooms: Roy Hibbert [of Georgetown] and Shan Foster [of Vanderbilt] were in one, and Scottie Reynolds [of Villanova] and James Gist [of Maryland] were in the other. It was a pretty tight living situation.
LW: What will you remember most about Brazil, off the court?
DN: We played five games in five days, so it was tough to do much; we got to see the city and some of the sights once we were done playing. The thing that surprised me most was the security. Everywhere you went there were armed security guards, or armed military people. You couldn't go anywhere without showing your ID. When you entered and exited the village, they'd search the bus. I think they said there were 5,000 athletes and 25,000 security and military people.
LW: On the Michigan State front, you're welcoming in two new, four-star guards [freshmen Chris Allen and Kalin Lucas] to a backcourt that was extremely thin last year. How much will that help, especially having a second point guard in Lucas?
DN: It's going to be really nice to have some depth this year. As a player, you always want to play 40 minutes a game and never come off the court. But a couple of minutes here and a couple there really make a difference for me as far as my body. I think I'll be more effective [with Lucas spelling him]. Having more options on the wing, too, is going to open up the floor. Teams won't be able to double me as much.
LW: Is this going to be a breakout year for [sophomore forward] Raymar Morgan? He showed flashes of being a future star last year, and you desperately need another quality scorer.
DN: Raymar had a great season as a freshman, even if he was injured for a lot of the year. This summer he went to Serbia with the Under-19 [World Championship] team and played well. He's improved his jump shot a lot. I can remember a year ago, before he even started school, he'd come up and shoot and he couldn't hit anything. Now you can't leave him open, because he'll knock it down. That's going to be a big step in his game, because people are going to have to pressure up on him, and then he can go by them on the dribble.
LW: I've heard you have an interest in coaching when your playing days are over ...
DN: I would like to get into coaching. I want to do something with basketball. That's my love, my passion. Hopefully it would be for a college team; I could work my way up to that level.
LW: Should we expect to see you back on the Michigan State bench down the road?
DN: I don't know. A couple of [Spartans] assistants said maybe I could work for them if they got a head-coaching job. It'd be interesting. But I'm not trying to get into coaching yet. I want to keep playing until my legs fall off, and then I'll think about that.