EAST LANSING — Malik Hall and Tyson Walker don’t yet know whether they will return for Michigan State basketball next season for their extra year of eligibility.
Joey Hauser could also come back, but it would require a waiver.
The only thing Tom Izzo knows right now as the Spartans prepare to host Ohio State on Saturday for senior day and the final game of the regular season is three of his key players have decisions to make.
That and his son, Steven Izzo, plans to come back for a fifth season as a walk-on guard.
Such is the nature of college basketball in 2023, with those who played during the pandemic-disrupted 2020-21 season eligible to receive waivers for an extra year and others tacking on another potential year due to injuries.
“It is a little different,” Tom Izzo said after practice Thursday. “We got a couple of guys that could go another year. Nobody knows that now. What I’m gonna do with those guys is get them through the year and worry about that, and then see what’s best for them. You can imagine how screwed up this is for us and roster management, but nobody in the NCAA or some of the media thinks that has nothing to do with anything. And it’s sad, because it’s hard on them, it’s hard on us, it’s hard on everybody. I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid on why it’s such a good thing.
“But I think for the most part, our guys are in a good spot, and that’s all I want them in now. We’ll finish the season and then we’ll worry about the next one.”
Hall, Walker and former walk-on Jason Whitens will be honored during MSU’s senior ceremony at Breslin Center after facing the Buckeyes (noon/ESPN). Hauser, who took part in last year’s senior day before deciding to return for a fifth season and third with the Spartans, will not participate again this year. Steven Izzo will wait until next year to go through his senior day festivities.
“It definitely goes by really fast,” said Hall, a native of Aurora, Illinois, who along with Steven Izzo are the last remaining players from MSU’s 2020 Big Ten regular-season championship team that had the NCAA tournament canceled that year. “It doesn’t feel like quite yesterday that it was like my freshman year, but I can still remember mostly everything. So definitely it’s crazy.”
Of those veterans, only Hall and Izzo have spent their entire college careers at MSU.
Hauser transferred to MSU before the 2019-20 season but was required to sit out due to NCAA regulations at the time and not getting a waiver to play immediately — that rule changed the following year. The 6-foot-9 forward opted to come back last April, would need to once again petition the NCAA for a sixth season after taking a half-year medical redshirt in 2017-18. Hauser enrolled at Marquette in January of his high school senior year after a season-ending injury.
It proved to be a sound decision to return to MSU, with Hauser playing his best basketball this season, ranking second on the Spartans at 14.1 points and leads them with 7.0 rebounds to go with 1.9 assists per game.
“Joey may or may not (think about returning), that’s totally up to him. But it is something I haven’t even addressed him with,” Izzo said. “It’ll be interesting to see how he feels. And what he’s done, he’s improved a lot. There’s people that are gonna have some interest in Joey Hauser now. If it’s enough interest, I say sayonara. If it’s not, I say let’s see what happens. But that’s totally, totally up to Joey.”
Another transfer who did not have to sit out when he arrived at MSU last season, Walker also continues a strong finish to his second season in Green and White. The 6-1 guard from Westbury, New York, leads the Spartans at 14.8 points per game, and he is averaging 18.5 points over his last six games.
“I feel like we’re coming together offensively at the right time,” Walker said. “We got a lot of old guys who are on their way out, so we’re just trying to get it done by any means.”
Hall’s season has been disrupted by a recurring stress reaction in his left foot, which first cost him eight games in November and December and then flared up again and sidelined him for three games in January.
The 6-8 senior forward slowly worked his way back, and he continues to improve and said he feels he is as close to 100% healthy he has been. Still coming off the bench, even though Izzo thinks of him as a sixth starter, Hall is averaging 12.0 points in 27.0 minutes over the past four games.
The injuries only scratch the surface on the things he has dealt with — his father Lorenzo’s ongoing battle with frontotemporal dementia, the death of Cassius Winston’s younger brother when Hall was a freshman in November 2019, the pandemic shutting down the season, and most recently the Feb. 13 mass shooting on campus that killed three and critically wounded five others.
“I was thinking about that the other day. The experiences that I’ve had here in my four years, I feel like it’s probably some of the craziest anybody’s had in their time at Michigan State,” said Hall, who averages 9.4 points and 4.2 rebounds this winter. “I definitely find it interesting. There’s a lot of lessons that I’ve learned throughout everything that’s gone on, not even just inside the program, with life in general.”
Whitens spent four years at Western Michigan (2018-22), sitting out the 2019-20 season with an injury. He transferred to MSU before the 2021-22 season but suffered a torn knee ligament during a preseason game that kept him out for a second year. He could apply for a medical hardship waiver to come back in 2023-24 for a sixth college season, an MSU spokesman confirmed. The 6-6 Powers native played a pivotal role in a win over Portland with Hall and Jaden Akins out, when he had season highs with four points and 17 minutes.
Playing for the Spartans — and fellow Yooper Izzo — has lived up to expectations, Whitens said.
“Honestly, just the way he perseveres through everything and his mindset in everything that he does. He wants to be the best, and he wants to make the people around him the best that they can be,” said Whitens, who has eight points and nine rebounds in 75 minutes over 16 games this winter. “So growing up, being from the UP, obviously it’s not as well-known (in basketball). And the way he was able to make a name for himself is an inspiration to all of us to want to go and do the same.
“He made it seem like nothing’s too big to chase when you’re being from the UP. And that’s what I wanted to live up to.”
And then there is Steven Izzo, who grew up around his father’s program through its growth into a blueblood. He’ll get one more year to be part of the program as he works to finish his master’s degree — Hauser and Whitens will get theirs, and Hall is close to his.
Though Steven Izzo plays sparingly, six appearances this season and 34 over the past four years, the 5-8 Lansing Catholic product has become a fan favorite during his career as a Mat Ishbia-type end-of-game sub. And it gives his dad one more chance to be his coach.
“He wouldn’t ever say it to anybody, but I think he’d miss me,” the head coach said. “I think he really thought about it, and he said, ‘What would it be like not to get my butt chewed every day?’
“If I was to be very honest with you, it’s really a good thing for me. It’s just been an incredible experience having him around every day.”
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Next up: Buckeyes
Matchup: Michigan State (18-11, 10-8 Big Ten) vs. Ohio State (12-17, 4-14).
Tipoff: Noon Saturday; Breslin Center, East Lansing.
TV/radio: ESPN; WJR-AM (760).
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball’s senior day: They may all be coming back