All last week and leading up to Friday’s MSU season opener against McNeese State, I’m breaking down every scholarship player on the Spartans’ roster. (Previous player primers listed below after the jump).
Next up on the numerical list is No. 22 Branden Dawson, who recovered from a torn ACL suffered late in his freshman season to play in every game last season for the Spartans.
PLAYER: Branden Dawson
POSITION: Shooting guard/small forward
HOMETOWN/HIGH SCHOOL: Gary Ind./Lew Wallace HS
HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-6, 225
2012-13 TOTALS: 36 games (35 starts), 8.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.9 bpg, 26.9 mpg, 53.1 pct. FG, 0.0 pct. 3-pointers, 53.8 pct. FT
STRENGTH: Athletic ability
WEAKNESS: Jump shot
ROLE: Rim-attacking wing runner
NON-WOUNDED KNEE: When Dawson tore his left ACL during MSU’s loss to Ohio State in 2012, he finally had shed the freshman stigma and was playing with the confidence of an upperclassman. Few could have expected or predicted him to return to the court so quickly after that injury, and Dawson didn’t miss a game or a practice last season, according to coach Tom Izzo.
Yet it was clear that Dawson didn’t possess the same swagger and athleticism he’d shown prior to that knee injury. He didn’t go to the basket with the same ferocity and showed some limitations moving quickly laterally. By the end of the season, Dawson embraced and thrived in more of a role player way by focusing on defense, rebounding and looking for garbage points.
“He wasn’t the dynamic, fierce dunker like a Shannon Brown or guys like that, where he did it with strength and power,” Izzo said. “I remember sitting on the bench and him going down for a dunk and he’d lay it in, and I’d look at my staff and say, ‘He’s not healthy yet.’ I think he was healthy physically, but I’m not sure he was healthy mentally. Even though he’s a tough kid, I think his subconscious was getting to him a lot of times.”
Izzo – who has likened Dawson’s quick recovery from an ACL tear to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson – said he’s seen more of the player recruited since this summer rather than the tentative post-op player from last season.
“The term ‘freak’ sometimes can be used positively and negatively, but he was a positive freak of nature. He just did some things that were incredible,” Izzo said. “But I don’t think mentally he was where he needed to be to do some things. He had a good, I guess a solid year, but nothing compared to the kid I recruited – that I think I’ll get out of him this year.”
SUMMER GROWTH: Izzo said Dawson continues to develop an outside shot in the offseason. Playing center in high school stunted some of the growth time he needed for repeating his jumper as a future college swingman.
Dawson shot 53.1 percent but missed all five of his 3-point attempts, not really a major facet of his game but something that every paint-driving wing needs to some degree so defenders won’t sag off.
Another aspect Dawson worked on this summer was his ball-handling ability. Both that and the outside shot were areas Izzo said that would have been honed between his freshman and sophomore seasons, had the knee injury not wiped out that summer.
“Of all the things he had to improve on,” Izzo said, “it was skill development. And he had just no time to do it.”
OFF AND RUNNING: And then there’s the obvious physical effect on Dawson’s knee. It prevented the Spartans from being more of the up-tempo type of team Izzo hoped it would be last season.
“We couldn’t run as much because he didn’t run very well,” Izzo said. “(Derrick) Nix didn’t run well, either, but BJ didn’t run nearly how he’d been running.
Izzo believes MSU’s transition game has shown marked improvement with having Dawson, Gary Harris and Travis Trice all back to 100 percent health. He also thinks that should help improve Keith Appling’s production as well.
“As I told (Appling), if you have a great quarterback and bad receivers, you don’t have a good passing game. If you have great receivers and a bad quarterback, you don’t have a good passing game – or running game for us. They have to go hand in hand,” Izzo said. “I think with the guys we’ve got and the fact that we can play at a faster pace because of the depth we have, I think it’s going to benefit Keith a lot.”
And as for how this benefits Dawson’s style of play?
“I think you’re gonna see a lot different kid this year,” Izzo said.
PREVIOUS PLAYER PROFILES
Quick hits from Tom Izzo on the Spartans.