Draymond Green had come back to Michigan State a couple of summers ago to work out following the end of his NBA season with Golden State. When it was time for Green to leave and head back to the West Coast, he had a message for his former head coach, Tom Izzo.
“At the end of the summer (Green) says to me, ‘You know you’ve never had a freshman captain but you might have one now,’” recalled Izzo on Thursday on the Big Ten Network. “He thought that much of him then. He hasn’t disappointed at all.”
The “he” in this case is Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr., who is now a junior. Tum Tum wasn’t a captain as a freshman but he’s going to need all of those attributes that Green once saw in him as he takes over the main role of leader for the Spartans this season.
Thursday was Big Ten basketball media day in Washington, D.C., and Nairn was there along with senior guard Eron Harris and freshman Miles Bridges and Izzo to discuss the upcoming season. Michigan State not only has to replace the all-around ability of last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year and AP national Player of the Year Denzel Valentine but the leadership he and fellow classmates Matt Costello and Bryn Forbes provided.
Izzo is confident Nairn is ready to handle that role. Nairn isn’t Michigan State’s top scorer but he will be just as important.
“We’ve got four freshmen that are going to play. We’ve got a lot of upperclassmen that are going to play but we have no big egos,” said Izzo on BTN. “Sometimes you need your best player to be your best leader. I think there’s enough respect for him that he’s going to be our leader. I don’t think there’s any question in anybody’s mind that it’s going to be him.”
Tum Tum – the nickname comes from a character in the 1992 movie 3 Ninjas – said he is “120 percent” healthy after having surgery in the offseason to deal with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. The ailment forced him to miss seven games last season and he went from starting the first 18 games and averaging 24.1 minutes per game to just 8.9 minutes over the final 10 games after he returned.
“Everybody has certain gifts. My gift from God is my leadership ability. Your gift is who you are naturally and that’s who I am naturally,” said Nairn on BTN. “For me it’s just learning from the guys that came before me – Draymond, Mateen Cleaves, Travis Trice, Denzel – just talking to them and seeing how I could lead a group of guys that we have. I’m just thankful to be in that position.”
Practice began at the beginning of the month. So far the offense is ahead of the defense, according to Izzo. That’s probably not too shocking given the complexities of playing defense and working four freshmen into the mix. Along with Bridges, shooting guard Joshua Langford, forward Nick Ward and point guard Cassius Winston are going to be in the rotation to one degree or another.
Four of the top five scorers from last season are no longer in the program. Nairn doesn’t have to be a top scorer but he will have to be a top facilitator and leader while the scoring gets figured out.
“It’s just the way he carries the team,” Bridges said on BTN. “It’s just a blessing to have him as a leader for our team because he’s so passionate for what he does and he’s going to make sure everybody is going to do what they’re supposed to do. Accountability for him is his best thing. He makes sure everybody is held accountable. He just wants to win, too. That’s everybody’s mentality.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo