MSU Sports Journalism loves to do real world opportunities at every turn, so it was a no-brainer that we HAD to cover the Pistons-Cavaliers game at the Breslin Center on Oct. 12. Seven MSU Sports Journalism students, plus former NBA beat writer/Prof. Joanne Gerstner, went through pre-game interviews; met with Detroit Free Press beat writer Vince Ellis, and then MSU JRN alumni/Cavs Chief of Staff Jason Hillman; covered the game; then did the post-game media interviews.
A big thank you to the Cleveland Cavaliers media relations staff and front office for helping to make this happen, and also a BIG thank you to the Pistons and all the media members for stopping by and saying hi to the MSU Sports JRN crew.
It was a full experience, and included some homework. Here are the stories and photos our Sports JRN crew produced:
Collin Sexton finds his new life
By Brandon Rothenberg
The average American nineteen-year-old spends the majority of their time cramming for college exams, waking up early for class, and balancing their diet of ramen noodles and frozen pizzas. For Collin Sexton, those days are now a thing of the past.
Sitting at his locker at the Breslin Center, Sexton softly sings out loud the song he is jamming to as he gets ready to tackle his final pre-season game as a Rookie for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In just a matter of days, he will transition into a hectic lifestyle of hotel hopping and traveling on the road nearly every week. He’s got quite a lot ahead of him, but for Sexton, he is more than ready to take on the challenge.
“It’s really cool, and honestly I’ve been preparing for this all of my life,” said Sexton. “I feel like I’m ready to go.”
He was the eighth pick in the first round of the 2018 NBA draft, and his quickness and ball-handling skills are closely mirrored to former Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. During his freshman season at Alabama, he averaged 19.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in just 33 games. As an added bonus, he walked away with the SEC Freshman of the Year Award to add to his rather impressive resume.
For Sexton, he’s going to have to find his groove coming off the bench, as it was announced that veteran George Hill will start at the point this season for the Cavaliers. The two have spent quite a lot of time with each other, and Sexton has taken in a plethora of wise words from the 11-year veteran.
“I’m trying to tell him the things that I struggled with in my career that he could be excellent at,” said Hill. “I’ve told him they drafted you for a reason, and that’s to drive this ship. The time is going to come where they put you in that starter’s seat to drive the ship, and when it does, you take full advantage of that opportunity. Being put in that seat is a chance to learn, mature, and get ready to take over this organization and be the point guard of the future.”
Hill isn’t the only veteran on the team with high praise for the young newcomer.
“He’s a guy that loves the game so much,” said power forward Kevin Love. “At 19-years-old, you can see that sometimes but he’s figuring out the game, putting in the time and putting in the work. He’s just a sponge and listens to all the vets and is constantly watching film. We’re just going to keep him focused and keep making it happen for him.”
Pistons work on getting chemistry
By Casey Harrison
EAST LANSING, Mich. — The lineup was far from conventional, yet it was effective.
With just under seven minutes until halftime, point guards Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith spread the floor for the Pistons, leaving Blake Griffin, Stanley Johnson and Andre Drummond to find a shot.
Jackson drove in, then kicked it to Griffin at the left elbow for a 25-foot 3. First-year coach Dwayne Casey played two point guards for much of the night and opened the playbook to defeat the Cavaliers 129-110 at Michigan State’s Breslin Center on Friday to conclude the regular season.
“I’m not gonna put myself in a corner and say that’s what we want to do, but that lineup was pretty good,” said Casey, who frequently used two point guard lineups when coaching the Raptors last season. “I think that’s when we took off. When there were two ball-handlers in there. I think it’s gonna be a different lineup a different night, depending on who we’re playing. It’s personnel driven.”
Griffin finished with a game-high 29 points as the Pistons (2-3) emphasized heavy perimeter shooting and made 46.7 (21-for-45) percent from beyond the arc. Jackson and Smith finished with 30 combined points Drummond scored 21 points and 15 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the postseason.
“It went well,” said Jackson, who scored 14 points (12 from deep) and issued five of the team’s 31 assists. “I don’t know if it’s what we envisioned, but it went well. … I think we did a good job getting shots out. Coach wants good shot selection.”
Casey said the reason for deploying multiple ballhandlers is to break defenses down, making it easier to spread the ball and create more manageable shots.
“Finally, we made the shots we were willing to take,” Casey said.
Should Casey continue to use similar lineups, it may allow Jackson to better work into shape after spending the offseason rehabbing his right ankle, while also allowing Smith, who started on the bench, to get critical touches.
Smith finished with 16 points, shooting 4-of-6 from 3 to go with nine assists and a rebound.
Griffin said the willingness to use a lineup with two or more ballhandlers creates confusion for the defense, which can be used to catalyze the offense.
“I love his willingness to mix it up and have lineups that aren’t necessarily traditional,” Griffin said. “The thing about lineups like that, as long as you can guard you’re good.
“I don’t care if you have three post players and two guards if you can sit down and guard on the other end it doesn’t matter to me. Then at the other end, they’ll have to play to your strengths.”
Pistons feel at home in East Lansing, beat Cavaliers in final preseason game
By Lauren Gewirtz
EAST LANSING — The Detroit Pistons beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 129-110 Friday night in their final preseason game at the Breslin Center as Michigan State hosted its class of 1983 alumnus Dan Gilbert. Gilbert is the owner of the Cavaliers and a large donor at the university.
While it was considered an away game for the Pistons, the mileage between cities was enough to prove otherwise.
“We’re close to home and Pistons’ fans are all over the state of Michigan,” said Luke Kennard. “And I think they travel well.”
Looking around, it appeared that Pistons’ fans had an edge in the number of fans, but when Ish Smith hit a 3-pointer from the corner to beat the buzzer at the end of the third quarter, it sounded like it, too.
This ‘neutral site game’ felt even less like it for one Pistons’ player in particular – Glenn Robinson III. Robinson has vivid memories of the Breslin Center as he played for the in-state rivals, the University of Michigan Wolverines, before he was drafted in 2014.
“It was fun to be back here,” said Robinson. “We had a lot of good memories in here, good and bad memories of coming in here and playing.”
As a bonus this time he did not have to wear the maize and blue, which made him feel a little more welcomed in green and white country. Robinson said this was by far his favorite memory in the building.
“Nobody booed me,” said Robinson with a chuckle. “So it was even better.”
Regardless of who was rooting for what team, it was a night that the players and fans seemed to enjoy because it is not often that the NBA comes to a college town.
“The crowd was awesome tonight,” said Blake Griffin. “It’s always fun to kind of switch up the atmosphere.”
Pistons players come back to a college town
By Rachel Hyams
To come back to play in a college arena is something most NBA players do not expect years after their college days. Reminiscing on elite eight runs, standing ovations as a college player, and nostalgia hit many players while playing at the Breslin Center on Saturday for the Pistons vs.Cavaliers preseason game.
One year out of college basketball and former Duke player Luke Kennard is optimistic and anticipating the start of the NBA regular season.
“It’s a change and it’s different but I am excited for it. I have had a lot of fun playing in the NBA but it is good to be back.” said Kennard.
However, it was not the first time Kennard visited Michigan State.
“I have been here when I was getting recruited back in high school and have a good friend playing here right now.” said Kennard.
Blake Griffin was asked how it feels coming back to play at a college arena.
“It is cool the arena is different, the rims are different, and the crowd was awesome tonight,” Griffin said. “It’s always fun to switch up the atmosphere.”
Griffin was asked what his favorite memory was playing at Oklahoma.
“My sophomore year we went to the elite eight, lost to North Carolina. College basketball is one of the most fun tight knit group you could be around so I’ll always remember those years,” said Griffin.
Pistons guard “Ish Smith” was asked how playing in a college atmosphere brings him back to his days at Wake Forest. Smith has been with the Pistons since 2016.
“It’s fun everything is on top of each other, the atmosphere is crazy and the fans are crazy. The Detroit Pistons fans are amazing all through the State of Michigan.” Smith said.
The Pistons won 129-110 over the Cavaliers.
Coming back to Michigan State brings back college memories for players
By Stephanie McCullum
The Breslin Center, home of the Michigan State Spartans, welcomed NBA teams Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers last Friday. The teams’ last preseason game gave MSU students and East Lansing residents a glimpse of the NBA. While players like Luke Kennard are entering their second year in the league can remember their last college practice, veterans like Blake Griffin vaguely remember a college shoot a round. As the players adapted to Breslin as their home away from home the feeling they once felt as college players rushed back.
As seen on Detroit Pistons’ center Andre Drummond Instastory, there were all smiles are everyone shared lockers with women’s team play, giving the players nostalgia.
Kennard, who played at Duke, has a strong connection to Michigan State, as he almost chose to play basketball for the Spartans.
“It feels good to be here, I can feel the energy. I came on a visit when I was getting recruited so I’m familiar with the area. I have a friend that plays for Michigan State, so it feels good to be back.” Kennard said.
Griffin has been in the NBA for a decade, meaning it has been a while since he played on a college court. Entering his 10th season, Blake is considered to be the veteran of the Detroit Pistons. It has been 9 years since Griffin stepped foot on to a college court.
“It’s cool, the arena is different, the rims are different, the crowd was amazing to night, the atmosphere is different,” Griffin said. “It’s kind of fun to switch it up.” When asked about his favorite memory about college he said it was his sophomore year, when the Sooners made a deep NCAA tournament run.
Breslin Center Brings NBA Players Back to Their Roots
By Renae Weaver
Some kids grow up dreaming about making it big and becoming a member of an NBA team. They dedicate their lives to their craft, sacrificing nights out with their friends for the ability to get extra hours in the gym. Every step they take helping them get closer to achieving that goal. This is where they plant their roots in basketball.
Choosing the right college with the best program that will help them succeed is part of the process. Its where they go to perfect their skills and gain the attention from scouts nationwide. Then it’s time to leave for the next level of play. However, for many of these athletes, the experiences and allegiance they have for their school never leaves them completely.
Sam Dekker, a Cleveland Cavaliers forward, being back at the Breslin Center on Oct. 12 had a sense of familiarity. As a former Wisconsin star, Dekker is the only player on the Cavaliers roster who has played in front of Big Ten crowds.
“It’s good to be back. Detroit has a few Big Ten guys as well so it will be fun to be out there and play for a familiar crowd,” Dekker said.
The excitement of being back in a college town, and playing at the Breslin Center was evident in both the Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons. For some, it was the first time playing in a college town, and for others, the first time playing in a big university’s arena.
“It’s the same game, but definitely a different feel to be back,” Dekker said. “It’s good to be back on a campus and see a Big Ten school and play against some great Big Ten guys.”