A scene from Durrell Summers’ life:
Last year. Final Four. Michigan State taking on powerhouse Connecticut. Under 6 minutes left. Summers gets the ball on a fast break and cuts down the middle, rises like a plane and thunder-slams over Stanley Robinson in a dunk that will be replayed millions of times. He splats on the ground, not even sure what happened.
“I thought I missed it,” he says now. “I thought I was fouled. Then I heard Coach yelling, ÂGet up! Get up! Go play D!’ And I was like, ÂI musta made it.’ “
Another scene from Durrell Summers’ life:
Three days ago. Final Four week. He could be soaking up the glory. Instead, Summers awakes before sunrise and goes to a hospital. He accompanies Kalin Lucas, his teammate and best friend, to Lucas’ Achilles tendon surgery. Hours pass. Summers picks at breakfast in a hospital cafeteria. He flips magazines in a waiting room. He chats with Lucas’ parents and kid brother.
When Kalin finally emerges, groggy from the drugs, Summers looks at him.
“You good, man?” Summers says.
Lucas winks. Summers smiles. He has been there for 6 hours. “That’s my best friend, man,” he says. “Loyalty is important.”
The things you tell him to do.
The things he does on his own.
Where those two meet is the heart of his story. Rising from the ashes
Everyone knows Durrell Summers has big talent. And everyone knows he can drive Tom Izzo crazy. Summers has quickness. A nose for the hoop. Serious ascension skills. And steely nerved shooting.
But too often, he has floated away, especially on defense. Like a cannon shot, he can be big noise followed by long silence. A few weeks ago, he was benched – the second time in a month – for defensive lapses in the flop of the Big Ten tournament.
Yet last weekend, after four games of March Madness, Summers, averaging 20 points, was selected MVP of the Midwest Regional.
So things have changed. Summers, a junior guard from Detroit, turns 21 today, officially an adult. He says the tournament benching finally “made me stop fighting with Coach, cave myself in maybe and say, ÂOK, I’m gonna see it your way, let’s see what happens.’ “
Then Lucas went down, and Summers realized how fragile this whole game could be, how chances disappear and careers can go with them.
It all led to a moment last Sunday, on the bench, with the score tied in the closing minutes of the regional final against Tennessee. Izzo drew a play for Summers to slide off a screen to take a crucial shot.
“I’m gonna knock it down,” Summers declared.
“I know you are,” Izzo said.
And that is precisely what happened. Summers broke free, rose high and buried a three-pointer. As he backpedaled – MSU now with the lead for good – he looked at Izzo and the coach gave him a wink. A wink?
What you tell him to do (run this play). What he does on his own (make a pressure-cooker shot).
“It was kind of like, WHOOF, we’re finally on the same page!” Summers says, laughing. “It was a good feeling – even better than making the shot.” Cutting down the nets
Now, remember, this is a kid who deep down wants to be in sync with people he loves or respects. He stayed in a small high school – Redford Covenant Christian – out of loyalty to his teammates, he says, often drawing three and four defenders in Class D games. The most loyal person he knows, he says, is “my mother,” who is also his hero. Loyalty to friends like Lucas is, to him, the basis to friendship.
As for Izzo, Summers says, “regardless of whatever is said or done, Coach has stuck with me, trying to make me the best I can be. My loyalty is big to him.”
So no shock if Izzo finally has gotten through, if Summers at last realizes that intensity on defense doesn’t mean a loss of intensity on offense, and if he winds up the key to MSU’s chances this weekend.
When the Spartans won last Sunday, Summers climbed the ladder and gave his first piece of the net to Lucas. He has promised “to try and win a national championship for him, too.”
What you tell him to do. What he does on his own. When those two actually mesh, they call it growing up – and even tough coaches like Izzo have to smile. Or wink.
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).