Season changes for Summers
INDIANAPOLIS – Durrell Summers isn’t finished.
Practice has been over for about a half hour and his teammates have scattered to conduct media interviews.
But there is Summers, launching and swishing 3-pointer after 3-pointer as a team manager feeds him the ball.
He looks to be in a zone that he hasn’t seen before.
“I want to win this game as bad as anyone in here,” he says.
Who could doubt him after the roll he’s been on the past three weeks?
Summers’ ability to stay sizzling and remain at attention will be a key when Michigan State faces Butler in a national semifinal game Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Spartans’ surprising run to the Final Four has been a study in toughness – physical and mental. No one better embodies the latter than Summers, who has emerged as a dominant scorer for Tom Izzo’s banged-up, overachieving squad.
Sent to the bench during the regular season and in the Big Ten tournament for a lack of focus, he is now locked in. He has led MSU in scoring in its last three NCAA tournament wins. He’s also stepped up his defense and contributed as a rebounder, picking up for others who aren’t as able-bodied.
Summers said his turning point might have come when he sat for the brunt of the second half and overtime in the conference tournament loss to Minnesota. He requested a meeting with coaches, then asked his teammates what he could do to get better. While no one ever doubted his ability on the court, getting his mind right and bonding with his peers after the feedback proved pivotal.
“I needed to hurry up and get back and figure out what I was doing wrong and what I could do better,” Summers said. “I figured things out and it’s been working for me.”
Izzo believes the solution was a lot more simple. Summers, who turned 21 on Friday, needed to grow up.
“You grow up by going through tough times,” Izzo said. “I’m not coaching him any different and we’re not running anything necessarily more for him. He is more focused and is a better player because he is concentrating and doing the things you have to do.
“I think his teammates have played a big part in that, I think I have played a small part in that and I think Durrell has played a large part in that.”
When star point guard and leading scorer Kalin Lucas tore an Achilles tendon in the NCAA second-round win over Maryland, ending his season, Izzo required a spark. As Delvon Roe grinded on a gimpy knee and Chris Allen limped on a sore foot, points had to be found somewhere. Summers has obliged in bunches.
He struck for 26 points and four rebounds to seal the win over the Terps. His confidence and momentum grew with a 19-point, seven-rebound effort against Northern Iowa. Then came a 21-point, four-board outing against Tennessee in the Midwest Regional final.
Lost in those boxscores has been his steady and improved performance on the defensive end, fighting through screens and getting in his man’s face at the catch. You can’t play for Izzo if you don’t do those things. Suddenly, Summers has shown he can.
“I needed to pick up my defense to help my team,” Summers said. “I wanted to do it. I think anybody can be a decent defender, it’s just something you need to work through.
“I just looked within myself and decided that’s going to help us win games. Everybody is on the same page, everybody is playing defense. I was just trying to focus on not being the weakest link.”
His confidence and candor are at their apex after an amazing March. His relationship with the coaching staff and players is better than ever.
The issue was never effort, it was understanding.
“It was more internal than physical work,” Summers said. “I needed to get some things off my chest and be completely focused on basketball.”
The next target: Stopping Butler’s diverse offense. The Bulldogs feature four double-figure scorers in Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and Willie Veasley.
“They’re a hard-nosed team, like a Big Ten team,” Summers said. “They play pretty hard, regardless of size. I don’t think they are going to give up regardless of what happens.”
Summers hasn’t quit either, even after being benched. Some may have questioned Izzo’s strategy, but it’s hard to argue with the results.
“He has just been dynamite,” Izzo said. “He’s done everything that’s been asked and then some. He’s really learned to have some fun with it. I enjoy watching somebody grow and get better and fulfill the things he wants to fulfill.
With his head straight and his resolve reinvigorated, Durrell Summers isn’t done yet.