Future stars keep watch on Final Four teams
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Michigan State recruit Keith Appling couldn’t hide his excitement about his future team’s return to the Final Four.
Too bad he didn’t actually get to watch the Spartans earn their trip to Indianapolis.
Appling, a 6-foot-3 guard from Detroit Pershing, was participating in a McDonald’s All-America Game practice Sunday while the Spartans were squeaking past Tennessee 70-69 in the Midwest Regional championship. He did receive periodic game updates during the workout.
“Every time something happened, somebody ran over to the court where we were to tell me what had happened and what the score was,” Appling said Tuesday. “I found out [they won] at the end of practice, when I was getting dressed.”
McDonald’s All-American Game commitments Sunday also prevented future Duke guard Kyrie Irving from watching most of the Blue Devils’ 78-71 triumph over Baylor in the South Regional final. Irving, a 6-2 guard from Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick, will play for the East team and Appling will suit up for the West team Wednesday night at Value City Arena.
“I caught probably like two minutes, literally,” Irvin said. “They were down by one at that point in the first half. I was a little nervous. I got a little jittery, but I’m glad they pulled out the win.”
Michigan State’s victory continued a recent run of good fortune for Appling. Last week, he won Michigan’s Mr. Basketball award. The 2009 Mr. Basketball winner was Michigan State center Derrick Nix, who played alongside Appling at Pershing High a year ago. Appling also won the skills competition Monday at the Powerade Jam Fest, an event held two days before the McDonald’s game.
“It’s a big week for me,” Appling said. “All I can do is thank God, first and foremost.”
Though Appling and Irving didn’t actually watch the regional championships, they still managed to engage in some teasing about the results.
Appling capitalized on some friendly wagers he made before the Michigan State game. Before any NCAA authorities get involved, let’s point out that no money changed hands.
“They were just friendly bets – a couple of push-ups,” said Appling, the nation’s No. 34 prospect.
Irving didn’t hesitate to mention Duke’s presence in the Final Four to North Carolina commitments Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall.
“I had to,” said Irving, the No. 9 prospect in the nation. “We’re in the Final Four this year, and [UNC] didn’t have the best of seasons. … I’m always trash-talking with them.”
Irving isn’t the only person associated with the McDonald’s game to have reason to cheer for Duke this weekend. Thirty of the past 31 national champions have included at least one McDonald’s All-American on their roster, but that trend won’t continue unless Duke wins the title. Duke features six former McDonald’s All-Americans (Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Lance Thomas), but none of the other teams in the Final Four have any McDonald’s alumni.
Butler, Michigan State or West Virginia could join the 2002 Maryland squad as the only team since 1979 to win a national title without the benefit of any McDonald’s All-Americans.