There’s no question that Branden Dawson is one of the most athletic small forwards in the country. He can run the floor, rebound, finish above the rim and he just flat out makes his teammates better.
One thing that worries Michigan State and head coach Tom Izzo is the fact that Dawson is playing on a bum knee. Less than a year ago, the sophomore forward tore his ACL in one of the biggest games of his freshman season– the final game of the 2011-12 regular season that would decide the Big Ten race.
With a Michigan State win, they would claim an outright title, but they would have to do it against a tough No. 11 Ohio State team. The Spartans held a lead for most of the game, but lost one key thing– Dawson.
The Indiana-native went down with a devastating knee injury in the first half after playing just seven minutes. The Spartans ended up losing the lead late to the Buckeyes and failing to win the conference title outright.
They did, however, achieve the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and won the entire thing without the talented freshman. They went on to reach the Sweet 16, before losing a tough game to Louisville, lacking the firepower needed to overcome the Cardinals’ young talent.
Dawson would have helped out considerably in the tournament and most likely led the Spartans to a better ending to their season. Despite the injury, Dawson had a pretty successful freshman season, averaging 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds a game.
This season has gone much better so far for the sophomore athlete. When I say athlete, I mean freak athlete that can make any play look routine and dunk with the best of them.
Dawson, along with junior point guard Keith Appling and freshman guard Gary Harris, has led the Spartans to a 14-3 record through 17 games and have upped his numbers in seemingly every category. He is averaging 10.5 points, 1.9 steals, 6.1 rebounds and a block per game this season.
The season had been going smoothly until the Spartans’ most recent game against Nebraska.
Dawson was having yet another solid game, putting up double-digit points and grabbing rebounds, before one of the scarier moments in Tom Izzo’s coaching career happened. He stepped in front of a pass and ran the other way on a fast break– the crowd was expecting a thunder-dunk. Then, the unthinkable happened.
Dawson went down. He fell to the floor and grabbed his bad knee. Spartan fans everywhere were scared, watching their season go down the drain as it was seemingly certain the Dawson would not be returning anytime soon.
He was helped to the locker room, walking gingerly off the floor with the assistance of the training staff. Minutes later, after watching the Spartans play poorly without one of their leaders, the crowd looked toward the tunnel and saw what seemed like a miracle.
Branden Dawson came sprinting out of the locker room with no limp to his step. The crowd roared.
After the game, Izzo said he was more nervous to see Dawson get hurt than when Mateen Cleaves went down with an ankle injury in the 2000 National Championship.
The amount of hope that Dawson brings to this team is unquestionable, yet unmeasurable. In order to have a chance for a deep run in March, he has to be the guy to put the team on his back and show the versatility to his game while being one of the most talented athletes in the country.
Time will tell the worth that Dawson brings to this team, but for now, breathe a sigh of relief Spartan fans, your knight in shining armor is OK.