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IF THERE is one point coach Tom Izzo wants to get across to Kalin Lucas, his sophomore guard, it's that the 6-foot dynamo—who Izzo says is the quickest player he has ever coached—has to become a better leader if the Spartans are to reach their potential this season. "I harp on it no more than 50 times a day," says Izzo, who wants to see him become more vocal on and off the court.
Lucas is getting the message. When he wasn't working on his outside shot or getting to know his teammates better this summer, Lucas was studying game film "so when I talk to guys, I know what I'm talking about." Izzo has already seen signs that Lucas will be more of a leader this season. "He's a poor man's Chris Paul," says Izzo, comparing Lucas with the former All-America point guard at Wake Forest who is now with the NBA Hornets. "[ Lucas] has a chance to be not just a good one, but a great one."
The same could be said for the group Lucas is now calling "my team." The Spartans bring back five of the top six scorers from last year's Sweet 16 squad, including slashing junior forward Raymar Morgan and senior center Goran Suton, the Big Ten's second-leading rebounder last year. Suton, a skilled big man who was criticized early in his career for being soft and insufficiently passionate about the game, has trimmed his body fat to 8% (down from 20% three years ago) and continued to evolve into a player who can—and wants to—bang in the paint.
The supporting cast is a talented collection of players who can score, provide the depth and athleticism Michigan State needs to run and have the versatility to play big or small. "We have a lot of bright spots," says Izzo, "though at this time of year I can name probably a hundred deficiencies."
One area of genuine concern is the progress of highly touted freshman Delvon Roe, a 6'8", 220-pound forward from Cleveland who hasn't played in a game since undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee a year ago. "He's probably the second- or third-best player on our team, but there's still a question about when he'll be able to practice full-go," says Izzo. "He's doing well, but it'll take time, and unfortunately the first three weeks of our schedule look like the Lakers'."
The game on Dec. 3 stands out, and not only because it's against No. 1 North Carolina. The teams will play at Ford Field in Detroit, site of the 2009 Final Four—a point Izzo doesn't need to harp on. "That's our biggest motivating factor, knowing the Final Four is only an hour and a half away," says Suton. "Making it there will be hard, but [we'd have] home court advantage. What could be better than that?"