A FEW DOS AND DON’TS ON TALKING WITH MSU

Whenever the nation’s media come to Detroit — and let’s face it, that’s only if a police car is on fire, if a police car might be on fire, or if there is a rumor that someone might, if enough media members showed up, actually set a police car on fire just to keep them happy — whenever that happens, I like to help out. Not with the fire. With the media.

You see, having been an out-of-towner too many times in my sportswriting career, I know it is possible to ask a stupid question of a local player, while thinking, all the while, that it is the most harmless question on earth.

For example, if I don’t follow the Atlanta Braves closely, and then I go to Atlanta, I might end up asking one of the players, “So, what kind of leader is John Rocker in the clubhouse?”

Or I might drop into Boston and ask hockey player Marty McSorley, “What kind of stick are you using these days?”

And after I picked myself out of the trash bin, I would curse my lack of preparation and vow to be better prepared for my next assignment.

Which brings you here. To the Midwest Regional semifinals and finals of the NCAA basketball tournament, in which the local favorites, the Michigan State Spartans, are a good bet. You will spend time with them. You will attend their press conferences. You will raise your hand.

But before you make a fool out of yourself, let me offer a few examples of a good question — and a bad question.

For example, there’s the head coach, Tom Izzo.

GOOD QUESTION: “Tom, tell us about your team’s greatest strength.”

BAD QUESTION: “When does Coach Heathcote come out?”

GOOD QUESTION: “Aren’t you kind of young to have won three straight Big Ten titles?”

BAD QUESTION: “Aren’t you kind of short to be a basketball coach?”

GOOD QUESTION: “What do you think of your starting five?”

BAD QUESTION: “What do you think of the Fab Five?”

Then there are the players. Let’s start with the guy you’ll want to speak to most, the senior wizard with the dazzling smile, Mateen Cleaves.

GOOD QUESTION: “Are you confident in your outside shooting?”

BAD QUESTION: “Is Flint in Michigan?”

GOOD QUESTION: “How did your early season injury help the rest of the team improve?”

BAD QUESTION: “Are you the point guard?”

GOOD QUESTION: “Where do you think you’ll go in the NBA draft?”

BAD QUESTION: “Will you return to MSU for another season?”

Next there’s Morris Peterson, the Big Ten player of the year.

GOOD QUESTION: “Hey, Mo, how will you guys handle the Syracuse zone defense?”

BAD QUESTION: “Hey, Mo, where’s Curly?”

Then there’s Andre Hutson, the quiet big man.

GOOD QUESTION: “How often does your team need to play inside-outside in order to keep defenses honest?”

BAD QUESTION: “You’re Antonio Smith, right?”

Next comes A.J. Granger, the senior forward.

GOOD QUESTION: “How did sitting on the bench during the season inspire you to get back into the starting lineup?”

BAD QUESTION: “What’s with your hair?”

And there’s Charlie Bell, the shooting guard.

GOOD QUESTION: “How does playing with Cleaves improve your personal game?”

BAD QUESTION: “Did you know you have the word ‘Flint’ tattooed on your arm?”

And finally, after interviewing the players, you might be tempted to talk to some of the MSU fans. They will be wearing green. If you see someone wearing blue, stay away.

GOOD QUESTION: “How does it feel, after all those years playing in the shadow of Michigan, to be the preeminent college basketball program in the state?”

BAD QUESTION: “Isn’t anyone around here going to light a police car on fire?”

By the way, that last one will land you in the nearest trash bin. And don’t expect any Detroit reporters to fish you out.

They’ll be the ones who threw you in.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Listen to “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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