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A few observations from the last weekend of the Moneyball Pro-Am

Former Michigan State player Thomas Kelley has had an impressive professional career overseason.
Former Michigan State player Thomas Kelley has had an impressive professional career overseason.

I made it out to the Saturday's semifinal games in the last weekend of this summer's Moneyball Pro-Am and have some observations down below the jump, but first, I had an opportunity to talk to former MSU player Thomas Kelley.

Kelley was a reserve guard with Michigan State in the late 1990s and played on the 1999 Final Four team. Since, he's carved out a nice professional career for himself overseas. Here's an excerpt from the story I wrote about him for BallinMichigan:

Kelley appeared in 115 games at Michigan State, averaging 5.3 points per game for his career, including a career-best 8.1 points per game during the 1996-97 season. He played with several great guards at MSU, so he settled in and filled roles in the backcourt on some very good teams, but his career blossomed as a professional.

"Growing up, I never thought I’d be in Turkey, Israel, Austria, Amsterdam, Hungary, like this," Kelley said. "The NBA is everyone’s dream. Going through college, I had a lot of injuries. But I knew once I got healthy, I would play basketball. I was kind of able to reinvent myself in Europe. I was back to doing what I do, playing the point, scoring a little bit, passing. Europe fit my game better. I just found my niche."

I love hearing stories about guys who keep working after college and blossom into successful pros, and Kelley is a perfect example. Now, some thoughts on some current MSU guys after the jump.

Unfortunately, I went to games on Saturday instead of the championship game Sunday. My reasoning was basically that all four teams would be in action on Saturday, thus I'd get a chance to see all of the MSU players in one day. Only a few played, though, so my plan was a bit of a failure. Still though, Matt Costello and Derrick Nix were both there and, due to the fact that their teams were depleted, both played a lot.

Interestingly, though, the player who might've been most impressive at Moneyball didn't even step onto the court. Branden Dawson walked through the door with Derrick Nix, wearing basketball gear, no knee brace, walking fine and looking like he's been hitting the weight room hard -- his upper body looks a lot bigger and stronger than last year already. The Moneyball announcer asked during the game, 'BD, how much time you got before you step on that court?' Dawson smiled and just said, 'Not long.'

Diamond Leung of MLive talked to Dawson:

Speaking while on the sideline of a Moneyball Pro-Am Summer League game, Dawson said he thought he could get up and down the floor had coaches not prevented him from making a full return to the court to play five-on-five. Still, Dawson said he would listen to those who have encouraged him not to hurry his comeback. While the team’s top returning rebounder said he has been on the court running, doing agility drills during practice and working on his shot, he has yet to be cleared for physical contact.

"My trainer, Q(uinton Sawyer), he told me to take my time, don’t rush it," Dawson said. "Guys like Kalin Lucas have been in the gym, Durrell Summers have told me don’t rush it…I’m just holding back right now."

I'm glad they're being extra cautious with Dawson, but seeing him over the weekend, the reports that his knee is responding and healing quickly seem accurate. That's a great sign, obviously, for Michigan State next season.

As far as on the court at Moneyball, Costello was the clear star of the early game. I covered Costello a handful of times during his high school career and I've long felt that he's going to be a fan favorite at MSU, not only because he's really talented, but because he's super competitive. This sequence late in his team's Saturday win best encapsulate everything Costello brings to the table:

* After a steal, Costello ran the floor for an uncontested dunk. But it wasn't just any dunk ... he did a full 360. He was dunking in traffic the entire game and looks stronger in just the few months since he has been out of high school, but still has underrated athleticism as well.

* A couple of possessions later, Costello had the ball about three feet behind the 3-point line. He'd been beating people off the dribble most of the game, so the defender backed off a bit and as soon as he did, Costello launched a three and made it.

* With his team up by roughly 30 points and less than 20 seconds remaining, Costello drove inside and finished while clearly being fouled. The referees, just trying to let the game end, didn't blow the whistle. I wouldn't say Costello threw a fit or anything, but he made it very clear that he wanted that call.

I'm not exactly sure what role he'll play at Michigan State as a freshman. His rebounding or shooting could very well get him him on the court early. But whatever the role, it's his toughness and competitiveness that will keep him playing regular minutes.

As for Nix, I don't want to try and overstate this because it has kind of been the preseason story with him every year he's been at Michigan State, but it appears that he's lost a fairly significant amount of weight again. He looked slimmer and, it seems like a weird thing to notice, but he wasn't wearing a t-shirt under his jersey. He probably has played minus the t-shirt in the past, but I don't remember him doing it very often. He had more definition and once again, he appears to be putting in necessary work in the gym during the offseason.

As far as his on-court performance, as intrpdtrvlr pointed out in his earlier scouting report from Moneyball, there's not much to analyze with Nix that we haven't really seen. A couple of plays that stood out to me though:

* Nix hit the offensive glass after a teammate missed a jumper and got three really quick jumps and tips at the ball, getting off the ground much quicker than the smaller opponent he was fighting for the ball against.

* On defense, he switched onto a guard, who obviously tried to take Nix off the dribble. Nix, though, beat the guard to the baseline, surprising him and forcing him into a travel.

And, just to conclude here, the Moneyball Pro-Am is a really amazing even that the Lansing area is lucky to have each summer. Desmond Ferguson (read more about him here) does a fantastic job organizing it and it's free (though donations are accepted), high quality basketball on the weekends. There are great pro and college players in attendance and, best of all, they are in close proximity to fans. It's a laid back setting, the players take it seriously but also have fun doing it and there are plenty of opportunities to meet and talk to players. It's really worth your time to check out in the summers if you love basketball.