After two straight losses dropped the Michigan men’s basketball team two games under .500 in its conference season, the Wolverines will face a familiar foe Tuesday night.
Last Sunday, Michigan (4-6 Big Ten, 14-9 overall) traveled to East Lansing to take on Michigan State (6-4, 14-9) and suffered a 70-62 loss. Tuesday it’s the Spartans’ turn to head on the road, as they’ll travel to Ann Arbor looking to replicate the results of their previous matchup.
Though Michigan State guard Eron Harris scored just four points in the first matchup, he averages 11.6 — the third-highest total on his team. As one of the few seniors on the roster this year, Harris will lead his team into Crisler Center to attempt a season sweep of Michigan.
The Daily sat down with Harris at Big Ten Media Day in October to talk about the expectations surrounding the program, the holes left by last year’s senior class and the experience of playing under coach Tom Izzo.
The Michigan Daily: In recent history, Michigan State has pretty much consistently been at the very top on both the conference and national level, so how do you, as a team, deal with the constant expectations to be one of the best teams in the country?
Eron Harris: We don’t think about that. We just think about being the best we can be every day and just trusting in our coaching staff. They’ve won championships, you know what I’m saying, so they have a plan. We just gotta listen to them and do what we’re supposed to do, and the rest handles itself. So no, we don’t think about the expectations and everything, you know. It shows itself just in the way the media portrays us, the fans and everybody, but we just stay grounded.
TMD: You lost a considerable number of seniors from last season’s squad, including reigning AP Player of the Year Denzel Valentine. How do you plan to be able to replace those key cogs in the machine?
EH: Well, before they became leaders, there were leaders before them, and they had to pick up right behind those leaders, and so we’re going to do the same thing. Our coaching staff is going to make sure we do that, and we stay in communication with those guys, and they make sure we know the ropes. And also, we have the type of culture where older guys just come back, veterans come back, and they just keep us in the loop, so it won’t be too hard for us.
TMD: What do you personally feel you need to do to fill that void as a leader and a key contributor?
EH: Just listen to the veterans, listen to my coaches and just embrace my role as a leader. A leader is a leader in life, so I just gotta be a leader for the younger guys and in basketball, just pick up where our older guys last year left off.
TMD: The freshman class coming in has been called one of the best recruiting classes in the conference in recent memory. How do you think they have adjusted to the college level?
EH: They’ve adjusted pretty well. I’d actually say they’ve adjusted very well. They’re already kind of used to a college level. I’d say we’ve got a couple of McDonald’s All-Americans. We’ve got other types of All-Americans, so these guys are mature players already. The learning pace for them has been so fast, so I’m impressed.
TMD: What are you expecting them, like Miles Bridges for instance, to contribute to the team on the floor and in the locker room?
EH: On the floor, I’m looking for him to compete. He’s a crazy competitor, just very athletic, looking for some dunks. He can play from the outside, he can handle the ball, just looking for an all-around game from Miles. In the locker room, I’m looking for those guys to listen to our leaders, but at the same time, be vocal in the areas they know because even our older guys are humble enough to listen to them because they know the game too.
TMD: Last month, Coach Izzo was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. What is the experience of playing under a coach who is widely regarded as one of the best college coaches in the country and possibly of all time?
EH: Well, it’s a blessing. I’ve been blessed to be in this position. Just worked hard my whole life and stayed humble, and God brought me to this spot, so I can’t say much more than that it’s a blessing. But it just raises our standards as players, raises our standards as humans, and I just gotta embrace what I’m a part of and let the story play out.
TMD: What kind of coach is he like?
EH: He’s a humble coach, but he’s very, very hard on his players. He loves his players, but he’s very, very hard on his players. He expects a lot from his players, and he’s about details. He’s a detail coach because we have to cover everything to be able to come out on top, and that’s what he wants. He wants to be able to win, and we’ve got to buy into that system if we want the same thing.