FOR THE LOVE OF HIS MOTHER AND HIS SISTER

She was barely 17 years old, and she was pregnant. This was not what she had in mind. What about high school? What about college? What about her track and field career? A baby?

“This can’t be,” she told her mother.

“It is,” her mother said, gently. “You made a mistake, and now you have to turn it into something positive.”

The son was born. She gave him his father’s name, Andre Hutson, in an effort to make the man feel more responsible for his child.

It didn’t quite work.

So she raised him by herself, with help from her mother, and she did the best she could. And when the boy was 10 years old, he said, “I want a baby sister! Can we have one?”

Another baby, she thought? That’s the last thing I need. Being a single mom is hard enough with one. But then came this little girl, a foster child, and the baby looked into her son’s eyes, and they were special eyes….

This is story about hands, the hand you’re dealt, and the hand you offer. Today, Andre Hutson, all grown up, will try to lead the Michigan State Spartans against a stingy Wisconsin opponent in hopes of reaching the national championship of college basketball. It is a huge moment in sports, the Final Four, seen by millions around the world, and Andre’s mother, Linda Morris, will be in the stands, rooting lovingly for the hand she was dealt.

And next to her will be 12-year-old Kristyn, the baby sister Andre always wanted. Once a foster child, unwanted by her natural parents, she now has green-and-white shirts, green-and-white hats, green-and-white pennants, and, locked away in her house, the Final Four ring that Andre got in last year’s tournament. It is hers. A gift from her older brother.

Who came into her life because a hand was offered.

He shuts ’em down

“My little sister’s cool,” says Hutson, the quiet junior center who leads the Spartans in rebounding and difficult assignments. “When I was a kid I always wanted someone to pick on. But now she looks up to me, and she tries to get up to campus and hang out with me all the time.”

Well, why not? Hutson is living the life, isn’t he? The star big man on the most favored team in the Final Four? Who wouldn’t want to hang around that?

And yet, there is no star ego here. No megaphones in Andre Hutson’s hands. Mateen Cleaves does the talking. Morris Peterson backs him up.

Hutson? He’s the silent guy at whom other teams keep running, the guy who keeps getting the tough defensive assignments — Etan Thomas of Syracuse, Marcus Fizer of Iowa State. Hutson’s the guy the other team wants to get the best of, because if it does, it likely will get the best of MSU.

Hasn’t happened yet. One by one, they keep going home. And Hutson goes on, quietly doing his job. He is, in a way, the perfect symbol for this Spartans team, not only for his perseverance, his workmanlike approach and his low volume, but for his influences. Think about the stories that have floated to the headlines in recent weeks. Mateen and his mother. MoPete and his grandmother.

Andre and his mom, grandma and little sis.

They say today is “for the boys.” But here is another MSU player who is surrounded by — and owes it mostly to — women.

He wanted a sister

“I never believed in making noise,” says Linda Morris, from Trotwood, Ohio, her hometown, where Andre grew up. “I tend to emphasize being polite, soft-spoken. That’s how most of the folks in my family are. We’re not aggressive people. We don’t fight over food or anything. We deal with things.”

Like a baby at age 17. Like an apartment that was too small. Like having to go to school in the hours around her family’s needs — which Linda did, managing to earn an associate degree and then a bachelor’s degree through work, sweat, late nights and early mornings.

Most people who find themselves with an unplanned baby are not in a hurry to take on another person’s similar problem. But when Morris set eyes on 2-year-old Kristyn, who was with another family at the time, a family that could not keep her, well, she asked Andre, and Andre was excited, and Linda figured, all right, more work, more stress, but more love, too, right?

She took her in.

Now Kristyn follows her big brother’s career like a statistician. She followed his 19 points in the second round against Utah, when he shut down the Utes’ big man, Hanno Mottola. She followed his 17 points and 11 rebounds in the regional final against Iowa State, the game that put the Spartans into today’s semifinal.

She will follow him this afternoon, perhaps wearing the hat that Andre yanked on her head in the celebration after the Big Ten tournament.

“My family life has worked out pretty well,” Hutson says, smiling. “My grandmother is a hard worker, she passed that on to my mom, and it got passed on to me — and my sister.

“Besides,” he adds, “my mom is really young looking. The first time I came to Michigan State, the guys on the team kept thinking she was my sister. They said, ‘Man, your mom’s cute.’ “

He knows his role

You watch Hutson play, and it is hard to believe an Ohio State scout once came to see him in a high school summer league — and fell asleep! But Hutson is quite used to being overlooked. He has read the fawning stories about his opponents before every game. He reads sentences like, “Andre Hutson will have his hands full.”

“Would you prefer if they said that about whomever was playing you?” he is asked.

“No. I like it this way,” he says.

He was a high school quarterback, who is used to taking hits, he was a high school scholar — National Honor Society — who is used to hard work, and he is the son of a woman who set an example, and taught him from her good moves and her bad ones.

“It’s hard to believe at my age now — 21 — my mom already had me and I was 4 years old,” he says. “But she’s talked to me about that. She’s told me to be careful out here, that there are a lot of girls who might be interested in me for the wrong reasons, for status and stuff. And I never want to do anything to disappoint her, because she did such a good job of raising me.”

You want to know why the fans swoon over this Michigan State team? Because when you look at the Spartans, playing, soaring, laughing, jamming, sweating on defense, flying on offense, you don’t just see a bunch of kids out for stats or TV time. You see the layers behind them.

Hutson is a prime example. Came into the world by accident. Landed on a cushion of love and guidance. Now is passing it on to a kid sister, who also came into the world with the deck stacked against her.

The games may be “for the boys,” but the Andre Hutson story is about doing it for the girls, too. A hand was dealt. A hand was offered. And in between, a family was born.

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

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