By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – In one of Michigan State’s biggest pre-March games of the season, star sophomore Gary Harris, who missed Friday’s game for an ankle injury, is expected to play against the North Carolina Tar Heels when they visit East Lansing on Wednesday night.
“Will he play Wednesday? I’m 99 percent sure he will,” head coach Tom Izzo said in a press conference Monday, “but I’m trying to get that thing healed so he has the freedom to play like he wants to play.”
Harris had started the first six games of the season and leads the team in scoring with 17.7 points per game. He averages 30.7 minutes and has hit on 21 of 24 attempts from the free throw line. What Harris contributes, though, is more than can be measured with numbers.
“We’ve got a lot of good players right now, but where he is different than all those other ones is he’s a game-changer on both ends, maybe all three spots,” Izzo said. “He can score on one end, he can defend on the other and the in-between is he can run the court both in transition offense and transition defense. He’s probably our most all-around important guy because of the impact he can have on both ends of the floor.
“That’s what’s so important about getting him not only back but getting him back where he can do those things,” Izzo continued. “Keith [Appling] is the best defensive player we have, but Gary is an eyelash below him, and I don’t think he’s been able to do those things on a consistent basis.”
The Spartans clobbered Saturday’s opponent, Mount St. Mary’s, by a score of 98-65. Perennial contender North Carolina will prove more of a challenge. In advance of that, Harris has been in rehab rather than in practice.
“I haven’t let him do a thing,” Izzo said. “He’s rehabbing. That’s all he’s doing. Today he may practice. We’re going to see how he feels after a little bit more stringent rehab yesterday.
“We might give him one more day,” Izzo added later, “which isn’t all good either because you don’t miss four or five days and come back and be the same player, but it’s what’s best for the long haul for me, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
As far as what kind of progress Harris has made, the coach declined to give any specifics but made it clear he wants Harris back at full capacity and is willing to have him miss some time early in the season to make that happen.
“He says it’s getting better, but it wasn’t like it’s all swollen up because it’s not,” Izzo said. “It’s not like it’s something that – it’s hard to explain.
“He’s probably at an 80 percent level, but we need him at 100 percent level,” Izzo continued, “and I’m afraid if I don’t get it taken care of now, I don’t want this thing lingering for him for a month. That’s why I’ve kind of made the decisions I’ve made on it.”