EAST LANSING — Keith Appling, the former Pershing High basketball standout and Michigan Chronicle Public School League Basketball Player of the Year, has been at Michigan State University all summer taking classes and dreaming about what is to come.
“I’m up at State taking sociology and communication classes,” Appling said. “I’m glad I gave up my summer and came up here to learn the area and get used to taking college classes, because when we come back for the fall it will be on!
“Sure I cannot do anything with the coaches assisting us, but I go in every day after classes and weight lift and work on my own.”
By all accounts Appling will fit in very nicely with MSU as it tries to ascend back to the valued NCAA Final Four for the third consecutive year. The Spartans made it to the “Big Dance” at the 2009 Final Four in Detroit and this year in Indianapolis.
The 6-foot-1, 175 pound, Appling comes to Michigan State with lofty credentials. He led Pershing to back-to-back PSL titles and a state title where he scored a state-record 49 points (he broke Antoine Joubert’s 26-year-old title game record of 47) in Pershing’s 90-73 victory over Kalamazoo Central in the Class A championship game. For his overall efforts he won the esteemed Michigan State 2010 Mr. Basketball award.
“It was just one of those days,” said Appling about setting the state record. “The basket seemed bigger and at times it felt like I could not be stopped.”
Scouting reports note that Appling, who averaged 28 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Doughboys, is a scorer who can blow by opponents and stick jumpers. His strength is that he is an aggressive scorer and prime-time player. Some concerns and questions are his mid-range game and whether he can become the team leader as a point guard.
“I think scoring in general and getting to the basket are my strengths,” he said. “I’m a pretty good all-around player. I’m a comb-guard, but sure I want to get even better as a point guard. I may surprise people because I’ve always had the ability to pass the ball, but my high school team and coach needed me to score, so at times I did not get to show all my skills.”
MSU coach Tom Izzo took the nation by storm when he became the leading candidate to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers before LeBron James left the team. Many wondered if his flirt with the NBA would discourage his freshman recruits from reconsider going to East Lansing.
“I had my eye on the situation,” Appling said, “but I did not want to leave MSU. I must admit it scared me a little bit, because you will not find too many guys that could leave all that money on the table.”
Appling said State was right for him from the start because he felt that MSU had proven itself as a winner and that is how he wants to see himself. He also noted that the Spartans have created a history with players like Steve Smith, Kevin Willis, Magic Johnson, Jason Richardson, Ralph Simpson, Shannon Brown and Greg Kelser, to name a few.
Appling is joining a Spartan team that many basketball aficionados have rated in the top three at the start of the NCAA 2010-11 campaign. With returning players like Durrell Summers, Kalin Lucas, Draymond Green, Delvon Roe and former Pershing teammate Derrick Nix, big things are expected from the Spartans.
With senior starting guard Chris Allen’s recent expulsion from the team, Appling’s prospects for extensive playing time has elevated greatly.
“I was sorry to learn about Chris,” Appling said. “He was a nice guy and great player. No matter, I came here expecting myself to be the player I’ve always been. I did not come here worried about playing time. I knew this team had experienced guys coming back. But Coach is a smart guy and he knows how to get us all in somehow.”
Appling noted that playing in the PSL has prepared him well for what is yet to come in the Big Ten basketball wars: “I know the Big Ten players are bigger and stronger, but playing in the PSL has helped elevate my game. It is the best overall league in the state and I’m sure being a part of that has helped me get where I am today.”
Where is Appling? He is on one of the better teams in college basketball and the Michigan Chronicle Player of the Year will surely make coach Izzo say, “Yeah, that’s the guy.”
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.