Five years ago, I attended my first Moneyball Pro-Am in the gym at Lansing Sexton. Despite the big name participants like Draymond Green, Derrick Nix, Trey Zeigler, Dwaun Anderson, and others, my first experience at Moneyball began with a sparsely populated gym of a couple dozen fans. I still remember one of my all-time "look test" moments seeing Branden Dawson walk in. He hadn’t played a minute for Michigan State yet but immediately commanded attention with a physical presence that said "pro athlete."
Since then, the Moneyball Pro-Am has continued to grow into a big event, regularly filling the capacity of its venue, currently Aim High in Dimondale. Far from a negligible exhibition of unstructured nonchalance, the games are filled with not only MSU players but local standouts at other colleges, former NBA players, and professionals active overseas. Add in rockstars like Draymond still willing to play, and this is a serious event.
As I've said before, no, you can't make a direct one-to-one correlation between a Spartan's summer play and his upcoming season. However, Moneyball is a great place to see athletes work on developing new skills and stretching their roles in a game. Last summer, anyone who attended the Pro-Am walked away expecting Eron Harris to be a major contributor once eligible. Moneyball let him display his exceptional athleticism, lithe attack style, and solid shooting. Attendees also knew that Denzel Valentine was ready to take a forward leap as a junior. Not only was his shot falling from everywhere, but Denzel played with an obvious confidence and lead-dog attitude fitting of a player who would help propel MSU to a surprise Final Four.
In addition to the kick of seeing MSU stars (past, present, and future) in a proximity you probably couldn’t buy at Breslin if you wanted to, the Moneyball Pro-Am features other players who local basketball enthusiasts have enjoyed watching as part of the scene. With rosters now public for Tuesday’s start, I’m going to breakdown each squad and highlight the active Spartans and other players to watch. Of course, this is a summer pro-am so whoever shows up on a given night is uncertain. Most evenings, though, enough MSU players attend to make it well worth the trip for the casual fan.
Your Spartans on Black, playing alongside event organizer and former NBA player Desmond Ferguson, are Javon Bess and Gavin Schilling. Schilling’s athleticism really shines in the open format of Moneyball, while Bess grabbed attention last summer as a versatile talent who looked D1-ready. The buzz confirmed that Tom Izzo had a late steal in Bess.
Another familiar name is Carlton Brundidge, the 6’1" former Southfield High star who left the University of Michigan after his freshman year. Now entering his senior season at Detroit, Brundidge won’t have to worry about the "2-guard in a point’s body" rep to thrive at Moneyball. Kahlil Felder, junior PG at Oakland, is another nice component but also won’t help with backcourt size at 5’9". On paper, this doesn’t look like the strongest team in the field but crazy things can happen.
The last two remaining members of the 2012 class, seniors Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine, represent MSU here. Expect Valentine to go into full alpha-dog mode late in games. His matchups against Draymond Green a year ago were epic contests.
Brad Brechting appears on this roster to supplement size at 6’10". After a strong high school career the left him a composite Top 175 player according to 24/7, Brechting will begin college at Oakland next season. One of the all-time "should have been a Spartan" guys, Lansing legend LaDontae Henton is written in for Purple but he’s likely to be occupied with an invitation to the Golden State Warriors’ own summer team.
Marvin Clark came to Moneyball a mystery man last year, inspiring me to try and grab some footage, any footage, of Clark’s game on a cheap digital camera. He’s back as a proven player in the Michigan State system who could really benefit from a sophomore leap, especially after the loss of Branden Dawson and the recruiting "snafu" with Caleb Swanigan. He’s joined on Royal Blue by one of MSU’s most exciting additions to the court, Eron Harris. As I said before, Harris was big-time last summer and another standout campaign would be an excellent preview for this fall.
10-years removed Spartan Kelvin Torbert is scheduled to join the team. KT is still physical and a strong, big-bodied contest for any smaller guard. The team also has former prep standouts. In this case, two players who were long rumored to be potential Spartans, Tommie McCune and Cha Cha Tucker, are going to suit up. McCune has had a bumpy ride since leaving Saginaw for West Virginia. After being dismissed and reinstated at Oakland (stop #2), his junior season was a career highlight, and McCune can use this summer to build a capstone final college year. As for Cha Cha, his prep rep never quite developed into a high D1 game, but he has found a home at Tennessee State and gained "Freshman of the Week" honors last year during a hot stretch. Lastly, Draymond Green might return to Lansing to play summer ball in Royal Blue. I would normally tell you that the idea of an NBA champion, soon-to-be multimillionaire, eight-figure salary guy walking around playing at Moneyball is ludicrous. However, if anyone is going to do it out of love for all things Michigan State, it’s Day Day.
Let the two freshman wings figure it out. The active Spartan representatives on this team are newcomers Kyle Ahrens and Matt McQuaid. Since many people have speculated that one of them could redshirt, sizing these two up next to each other begins now. Is Ahren’s physical readiness more important than McQuaid’s shooting? How versatile is McQuaid as more than a shooter? If defense is going to be a major decider, well, you probably won’t get much of that at the Pro-AM.
As a roster addition, Tyrin Wade is absolutely fun to watch. A former state champion at Sexton, Wade is basically a hefty, 6’5" stretch-5. At most levels of basketball, that doesn’t make any sense, but it works at Moneyball to great effect.
This is a team of size. About half a dozen players stand at 6’8 and a few members push 7-foot. They get one of the Michigan State’s own posts, Deyonta Davis, to add rim presence. Along with Lourawls Nairn, this may not be the most high-usage rate of MSU combos at Moneyball. Yet, the summer league might be a nice opportunity for Nairn to try out a larger role including attacking the basket and hitting jumpshots.
A very interesting player on Orange is center Seth Dugan. The 7’0" post from Otsego was once thought of as a player who might be worth a roll of the dice by Tom Izzo. He worked himself to a Purdue offer and serious interest from Oregon, yet signed to play for Western Michigan University. His college career in the MAC and continued development will be compelling to follow. This team also has two representatives of the Emmet County-to-Bucknell pipepline, Cory Starkey and Chris Haas. They are both formidable players who don’t get intimidated matching up against anyone. Overall, the long running relationships and AAU/ACB Bank Hoops familiarity on Team Orange make them no one to sleep on. This includes 6’8" Ben Simons of Cadillac, a Drake graduate and active Euroball player, and Traverse City’s Sean Sheldon, a senior at William & Mary, two names familiar on the local hoops scene.
Tom Izzo says that Bryn Forbes’ summer is already one of the most impressive on the team and that he has put on about 15 lbs. That would be great to see confirmed as Forbes arrived last summer with a beautiful shot but also with a body needing mass to reach Big Ten potential. Plenty of players return to Moneyball each year with clear signs of physical transformation. Here’s to a new look Forbes! NCAA regulations require that each team only have two players from a college so that second man on Green is Colby Wollenman. This has caused some speculation and controversy. Where is Alvin Ellis III? First, I don’t know the story there. It could be any number of things. Perhaps Ellis has plans at home, or maybe he is quietly banged up. It could simply be, though, that Wollenman’s ppg and mpg were almost identical to Ellis III and the staff sees more benefit to getting Wolly this experience. At the same time, this is Moneyball. Don’t be shocked if Alvin Ellis cameos with yet another haircut.
The Green Team also has one of Moneyball’s stars and most exciting players, Fredrick "Boo-man" Edmond. After a detour at Sourthern Idaho, Edmond is set to play at Western Kentucky in Conference USA. Watching him, you can see why. He has no problem getting elevation to attack the rim and can pull up to score as well. On a hot night, he can be one of the best scorers out there. Really, Green is a Moneyball classics team with players like Cameron Sanchez and Melvin White onboard. With Sanchez’s affiliation listed as LCC and Melvin White’s as Grand Valley (in 2004!), you might not know these names. If you show up, expect the live announcing to acknowledge them frequently as scorers and playmakers with games bigger than the scope of their reputations.
Tom Izzo says that players are made in the summer, and believe or not, Moneyball is a significant part of that. It allows players to scrimmage together within the NCAA regulations, helps freshmen acclimate, and keeps everyone in game shape. With a trip overseas coming at the end of August, the Michigan State basketball team should be experienced in playing together and prepared for another successful season.
If you want more information on the Pro-Am itself (which starts tomorrow at 6:30pm at Aim High in Dimondale), you can visit their website at http://moneyballsportswear.com/moneyball-pro-am/