Branden Dawson returns to practice

Updated: February 28, 2014, 11:15 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Branden Dawson returned to Michigan State practice on Thursday, finally giving the Spartans a healthy roster.

Dawson missed nine games with a broken right hand. He'll wear a brace on the hand for the rest of the season.

Tom Izzo
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsWith the return of Branden Dawson, Tom Izzo's Michigan State team is finally back to full strength.

"It feels great to finally have everyone back," Dawson said after practice, according to The Detroit News. "We finally looked like a team. My presence being there gave the guys a lift a little bit on the defensive end and we haven't been playing the best defense. My presence there today ... really gave the guys a lift and brought some energy."

Dawson, who averaged 10.2 points and 8.7 rebounds before his injury, was out while Adreian Payne and Keith Appling also missed games while hurt.

Michigan State has gone 4-5, including two losses to rival Michigan, after beginning the season 18-1. The Spartans are one game back of Michigan for first place in the rugged Big Ten.

"(Being out) hurt because I wanted to help my teammates out and to see them struggling, I knew I could help a lot," Dawson said. "... Now I'm back trying to encourage my teammates and help the best way I can."

Dawson will be wearing a brace on his hand the rest of the season, and other than telling his teammates to cool it on some of their passes in practice, he doesn't feel at all limited. He likely won't start Saturday against Illinois, but will play.

Spartans coach Tom Izzo said Denzel Valentine will stay in the starting lineup.

"(Dawson) and A.P. will play together some, and it will also give us some great benefits defensively when we play against bigger guards and we need somebody to defend," Izzo said. "Dawson's minutes will go up each game. If he does start, it wouldn't be early and then we'll just see."

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