Derrick Nix has always had talent. That's never been the question. But Nix has never been able to harness that talent, primarily (though not entirely) because of one simple reason: He's never been in shape.
In 2011, when Nix returned from a hiatus borne of his own frustrations with his team, he did contribute solid minutes off the bench. He was a helpful extra body. He made a mark. And even then, he was nowhere near any generous definition of "in shape."
Which is why the photos from Michigan State's media day are so shocking. Nix has trimmed his weight to 270 pounds with a body fat index of 15.7 percent from his summer 2009 marks of 306.5 pounds and 24 percent. The photos themselves seal the deal: This is not the same player -- whose fitted uniform top seemed ready to pop at any moment -- we saw last season.
Needless to say, Izzo is thrilled with the transformation:
"All I can tell you is where we were last year, we're miles ahead, and at this time last year, we were in pretty good shape," Izzo said. "He had some goals we set, and I'll be honest — I'm going to go out on a limb here — that this kid has matured.
"I talked to Morris Peterson this weekend and told him to talk to Nix because I see a maturation process of the same magnitude. He has done a pretty good job in the classroom. He's maintained his weight at a weight we wanted him to be at for just about three-fourths of the summer, and now the first two months of the regular season. I think he's improved his shooting, he's improved his free-throw shooting a lot, his ability to get up and down the court has (quadrupled) from what it was."
The Spartans can use the interior improvement. The offseason loss of Delvon Roe -- whose steadily lingering injuries ended his career last month -- means Nix and sophomore forward Adreian Payne will have to play much larger roles in the Spartans' interior presence. And they can't just plug positional holes. If there was one obvious flaw in last season's Michigan State team, it was the loss of the physical interior rebounding-oriented identity that has been the heart and soul of so many successful Izzo teams. Michigan State needs to get back to that this season, and Payne and Nix will be a major factor in that effort.
In other words, it's probably good Nix can now get up and down the court. It's hard to lead a identity revival when you're so busy sucking wind. (As someone who sucks wind on the court all the time, believe me: I would know.)
(HT: The Only Colors)