Spartans' Peterson rejoins team

Michigan State standout tries to regain focus after death of his grandmother

Notebook

Ncaa Men's Tournament

April 01, 2000|By Jamison Hensley and Brent Jones | Jamison Hensley and Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- Morris Peterson may lack some focus today, but not emotion.

Michigan State's leading scorer rejoined the team yesterday, a day after attending his grandmother's funeral in Mississippi. She died at the age of 72 following complications from a stroke suffered a year ago.

"It's been like an emotional roller coaster," said Peterson, whose Spartans meet Wisconsin in the first Final Four semifinal today. "I think about the game, my family, my grandmother. I talked to my family a lot yesterday, and they told me to go out there and concentrate on my game."

Peterson was the catalyst for the Spartans' comeback wins over Syracuse and Iowa State last week and has averaged 17 points in three wins against Wisconsin. He learned of his grandmother's death after Saturday's victory over Iowa State and had tears in his eyes when he arrived at the postgame news conference.

Last year, Peterson had his grandmother in the stands for the Final Four and finds comfort that she still will be close by today.

"She's going to be there in spirit," he said. "I think she's going to have the best seat in the house. She's going to be right there watching over the team and guiding us. Hopefully, we can make something happen for her."

Peterson didn't appear distracted during yesterday's practice, which ended with a couple of his high-flying dunks. Even his teammates couldn't notice a difference in Peterson upon his return.

"Watching how strong he has handled this makes us strong," point guard Mateen Cleaves said. "He can overcome adversity."

Badgering time

Wisconsin senior guard Jon Bryant, the West Regional Most Valuable Player, didn't sugarcoat the adjustment period last year after he had transferred from Division II St. Cloud State (Minn.) to the Badgers.

But there wasn't a problem adapting to the higher level of play -- teammates were his problem.

"It was kind of difficult to fit in," said Bryant, who has averaged 16.8 points in this tournament. "Everyone knew I was Division II. It's hard to get rid of a label like that."

Not like Mike

It's not an impersonation of Michael Jordan. It's not to taunt the other team. Cleaves just waves his tongue during celebrations out of habit.

"I've been doing that probably since I've been a kid," he said. "I've always been a silly guy."

Coaches know the feeling

Both Florida coach Billy Donovan and North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge have seen Final Fours as players, in 1987 and 1960, respectively.

Guthridge, who also has been in 13 other Final Fours as an assistant coach under Dean Smith and coach at North Carolina, said the feeling never gets old.

He enters this one on the heels of losing his 96-year-old mother last week and attending her funeral on Monday.

"It's been a great week," Guthridge said. "We had the celebration of my mom's life on Monday. We had the big win on Sunday against a very good Tulsa team. To be here in the Final Four is a real thrill. It doesn't get old."

He showed his excitement after the Tar Heels' 50-minute practice yesterday, joining the coaches in a full-court sprint. Guthridge broke more of a sweat in that little exercise than he did when he came as a player for Kansas State in 1960.

"I was on the team, but I didn't play in the game," Guthridge said. "That was Tex Winters' fault. "Obviously, he made the right call."

Donovan was a point guard for Providence in his 1987 Final Four appearance as a player.

Agent no distraction

Florida forward Mike Miller said rumors about his conversations with an agent have served as no distraction to the team. Miller said earlier this week that he had received about 45 phone calls from Andy Miller and spoken with him about 20 times.

Andy Miller (no relation) may have broken Florida law, contacting an NCAA athlete while not be a registered agent in Florida.

"Our team is focused completely on North Carolina and what they bring to the table," Miller said.

A substitute to watch

Guthridge called Florida center Donnell Harvey, a freshman substitute, the best offensive rebounder -- "he's relentless" -- North Carolina will face.

Harvey plays as much, and sometimes more, than Udonis Haslem, thanks to Donovan's system. Harvey also sees time at power forward for Brent Wright.

Martin, Eustachy honored

Cincinnati center Kenyon Martin and Iowa State's Larry Eustachy were honored by The Associated Press as college basketball's Player and Coach of the Year.

Martin, one vote shy of being a unanimous All-America selection this season, was the Conference USA player of the year after averaging 18.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks.

Eustachy led Iowa State to the Big 12 regular-season and conference tournament championships, the school's first league titles since 1945, when the conference was called the Big Six.

Fast breaks

Today's game will mark the first time Michigan State has faced an opponent for a fourth time in a season. Wake Forest, which won the National Invitation Tournament on Thursday, had a 3-1 record against this year's NCAA tournament semifinalists. The Michigan State-Wisconsin game marks only the sixth time in the 61 years of the Final Four that two Big Ten members are involved. But it's the second straight year it has happened, with the Spartans and Ohio State advancing to last year's semifinals.

, The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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