By Travis Miller
Tribune staff writer
Indianapolis — As Michigan State senior guard Brandon Wood stepped out of the shower after Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, he paused to put on his 2012 Big Ten regular-season co-championship shirt.
The Spartans had just vanquished the Badgers in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament and Wood and the Spartans were setting their sights on a title showdown against Ohio State, a team which a week earlier had denied MSU an outright Big Ten title. MSU had to settle for a three-way tie at the top with OSU and Michigan.
“We try not to think about this being a game that will settle the title,” Wood said as a bevy of reporters surrounded his locker. “They earned their piece of the title. We’re just trying to go out and win this championship.”
That championship was won on Sunday as the Spartans beat the Buckeyes 68-64 — and Wood played a major role in the win. He had a team- and season-high 21 points, including 14 in the second half, as the Spartans won the Big Ten tournament for the first time since their national championship season of 2000.
Wood was named to the all-tournament team and fellow Spartan Draymond Green was named the tournament MVP.
Wood was asked about playing in such a big game, in his home state, in his first and only season with the Spartans. He transferred to MSU for his senior season following two seasons at Valparaiso.
“It felt great. I know quite a few of my people from back in Kokomo came to the game, and it just felt great,” Wood said. “Coach [Tom Izzo] has put me in a good situation, and Draymond believed in me and my team believed in me, and they just wanted me to stay aggressive on offense and play as good defense as I can.
“And … what I’ve been trying to take pride on is actually wanting to play defense because it’s really a mindset to play defense, and I started to enjoy it. So I think that’s what made me successful.”
Green, the Spartans’ leader, loved what he saw from Wood on the defensive end in Sunday’s title game. Wood helped contain OSU’s William Buford.
“I’m not impressed by the shots because I know he’s a shot-taker and a shot-maker. We’re not impressed by him driving, getting on the fast break, because I know he’s athletic enough to finish on a break,” Green said.
“I was mostly impressed with his defense, and that’s an area Brandon has been growing in since he got here. We all know Brandon wasn’t the best defender at Valparaiso, but once he got to Michigan State, he became one of our lock-down defenders.”
Wood is living his dream with the Spartans, which earned a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. One of Kokomo’s nine 1,000-point career scorers, Wood is completing a long journey that has seen stops at four colleges in five seasons.
He has found a home at MSU where he has evolved into a key role player on a team with championship aspirations, and he has done so after joining the program as a virtual stranger eight months ago.
“Man, it’s crazy,” Wood said. “I was actually talking to my dad [Saturday] night about this, just the whole decision of me choosing to transfer. And we were talking about how we’d never been 100 percent sure on a decision. But it’s kind of hard to say this decision wasn’t 100 percent, a positive decision for me and for my team.
“So it just feels great just to be a part of this group and just to see personally my hard work pay off and for me to make it to this point. And I gotta give all the thanks to coach [Izzo] and Draymond just for believing in me and accepting me into the program.”
Wood began his collegiate career at Southern Illinois, where he showed promise before an injury ended his season after just six games. He received a medical waiver for that season and transferred to Highland Community College in Illinois. There, he averaged 16.1 points and three assists per game in his lone season at the school.
From there, Wood moved to Valparaiso. In two years for the Crusaders he was the Horizon League’s newcomer of the year in 2009-10 and a first-team all-conference selection in 2010-11. Wood earned his degree and used the graduate student exemption to transfer to Michigan State for his final season.
“It feels good to gives the kids somebody to look up to back in Kokomo,” Wood said. “There’s a lot of people that could have the opportunity to play big-time basketball like this, but they don’t make it. I feel blessed that I just made it.”
What has impressed many in looking at Wood’s career is his growth as a player. He has evolved to get his teammates more involved and work within the flow of the offense.
Wood has moved back into the starting lineup as a result of freshman Branden Dawson tearing his ACL. In the semifinal victory over Wisconsin, Wood scored nine points, all in the first half, to help MSU storm back from an early 17-7 deficit.
Not only did Wood impact the game offensively, he changed things around defensively as well. Wood added a steal and a key rebound during the stretch where the Spartans turned the game around.
Wood’s goal is clear as he finishes his collegiate career: He wants to help MSU earn championships.
“I’m just doing what I need to do to help this team win,” Wood said. “I love the game of basketball and I’ll go with it as far as it will take me.”