Gary Harris Proud to be Part of Tradition-Rich Michigan State Sports History

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - Probably the first athlete you think of associated with Michigan State University is Magic Johnson, a five-time NBA champion, 12-time All-Star and three-time league MVP. But Johnson isn’t the only former Spartan to have NBA success, albeit with far fewer accolades and notoriety.

It’s somewhat of a subjective topic, but arguably no school has produced more “overachievers” in NBA history than Michigan State. “Overachievers” in this context represents players that exceeded external expectations during their NBA careers. Usually, the draft slot players are selected at determines the expectations others have of them.

Going all the way back to Ralph Simpson, the 11th pick in the 1972 NBA Draft who made five All-Star appearances in the ABA, there have been several former Spartans outperform those peripheral expectations.

Some of them spent a portion of their professional careers with the Orlando Magic. Scott Skiles and Sam Vincent each played at Michigan State and were Magic members in the team’s early years. Skiles, who later became the 12th head coach in team history, played with the franchise for five seasons. Vincent was with him in Orlando for three of them.

Jason Richardson, although maybe unjust to claim he was an overachiever considering he was a fifth overall pick, played 1 ½ seasons with the Magic toward the end of his career. Richardson was a freshman the year Michigan State captured their second NCAA hoops championship in school history.

Other former Spartans who had terrific NBA careers include Kevin Willis, Zach Randolph, and Steve Smith. Active players having success out of that program include Draymond Green, Jaren Jackson Jr., Miles Bridges, Bryn Forbes, and the Magic’s Gary Harris.

Harris, who has been on a roll lately scoring in double figures in six of his last seven games, played two seasons under basketball hall of famer Tom Izzo at Michigan State before getting drafted 19th overall in 2014. In his second college season, he helped lead the Spartans to the Elite 8, where they lost to eventual champion UConn despite Harris scoring 22 points in that game.

“I got so many memories,” Harris said of his time at Michigan State. “Just being with the guys, my teammates, just memories we had on campus, traveling to different Big Ten schools and playing them on the road. Just the overall camaraderie with the guys at Michigan State.”

Izzo, now in his 27th season as head coach of the Spartans after serving as an assistant under the previous coach Jud Heathcote for 12 years, has guided Michigan State to a winning season every year he’s been at the helm of that program. They’re currently 7-2 this season with important resume wins over UConn, Louisville, and Butler.

Harris stays connected to the program and in touch with the legendary college coach. He’s proud of what they continue to accomplish and believes more greatness is around the corner.

“He was great for me and my basketball career,” Harris said of Izzo. “He taught me so much, on the court (and) off the court. He’s a guy I still communicate with now. He’s a great guy and he understands that program.”

Also interesting to know about Michigan State is that they excel at many sports. In addition to the two men’s basketball titles, they’ve won multiple championships in men’s cross country (eight), football (six), hockey (three), men’s soccer (two) and boxing (two).

One of the best running backs in the country this college football season has been Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III. The 10-2 Mel Tucker-led Spartans will be playing in the Peach Bowl against Pittsburgh on Dec. 30 in Atlanta.

“The guys before us are the reason why everyone goes to Michigan State,” Harris said. “Just to be mentioned with those guys and to look back and see the influence you had on the guys that are there now, that’s what it’s all about.”

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