An interview with Michigan State basketball player Joe Sweeny

Posted: April 11, 2012 by vindanton in College Sports

Walk-on has his “One Shining Moment” at the Tournament

By: Vin D’Anton

Joe Sweeny #34

The story of Rocky and Rudy seems to never get old; America, who at one point was one themselves, loves the underdog. While those Rocky and Rudy stories are great, here is a story of something that is 100% true with no cameras or screenwriters adding fabrications to make the story better.

On Friday March 16, 2012, Toms River High School North graduate and Michigan State senior point guard Joe Sweeny walked on to the court in the winding minutes of a Spartans victory over LIU-Brooklyn in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Friends and family of Sweeny were anticipating the moment when they saw the score run up, for they knew they would get a chance to see Sweeny on the national stage. While that “One Shining Moment” within itself is amazing, the way he got there is even more.

Question: Was MSU your first choice for college?

Joe Sweeny: Well, both of my brothers go to school in LA and I thought about going out there at first. I was born in Michigan, lived there for 9 years, the moved to New Jersey and I wanted to get out. A lot of my family was Spartans, I heard from them how good (Michigan) State was; always loved the team, and so I chose State.

Q: When did you decide to walk on?

JS: I was thinking about walking on but was never serious about it. Freshman year, I missed the tryout date. Sophomore year I was cut, then junior year I thought I could of made it but I suffered a huge set back; I broke my hand. I was crushed.  I would go to the gym, taking shot after shot, doing yoga, getting better and getting in better shape. This was when I was most serious about walking on. The tryout date this pass year was October 17th…I wrote October 17th on my wall, so everyday I would walk out my room, I saw it on the wall.

Q: When did you know you had the talent to make it?

JS: My junior year here at MSU, I was playing in an intramural game and my team was up against real good competition. Honestly, I carried the team on my back with 44 points including a buzzer beating three-pointer at the end of regulation that sent the game into overtime. We lost the game, but afterwards a lot of the spectators asked if I was on the team; and if I wasn’t that I should definitely try out. So my junior year I kind of knew I was head and shoulders above the players at my school, that is, besides the ones on the actual team.

Q: How were tryouts?

JS: It was pretty rough. There were kids puking, not making it through tryouts, and its Michigan State so I wouldn’t expect less. I felt like I wanted it more than all the other kids. I was diving for balls, I tried to really excel on defense, crash the boards; I never tried to be a superstar, I wanted to bust my butt…and that’s what they were looking for. Me and another kid made it out of 30 people, that other kid is like 6 foot 8. They don’t need a walk on to be Draymond Green. Being a scorer is not what it is about. You are behind the scenes. You are about helping the team improve and pushing them to be the best.

Q: When and how did you find out you made it?

JS: One the assistant coaches, Dane Fife emailed me. They took down mine and the big kids name; I was nervous. They told me to come in, they weren’t sure if they needed another walk on, so technically I guess I didn’t make it? I was in limbo for a month, so I treated it like I was still trying out. I had the shoes, jersey, all of it. But looking back on it, they didn’t want a person who was going to get mad if they weren’t treated right, they wanted someone who was going to work hard and give their all on the court.

Q: What’s coach Tom Izzo like and your relationship with him?

JS: He is tough…very, very, very tough and intense. That is how it has to be at this level. Everything from a missed foul shot to a free throw cut out, loose ball tip, everything counts and that can be the difference between making the Sweet 16 and Final Four. Pay close attention to detail, winning is more about toughness then X’s and O’s; win in rebounds, points in the paint, opponents score. We pride ourselves on defense and rebounds. Before I walked on, I loved the NBA, and I’m ashamed to say that I used to rather watch that then watch NCAA. This opened my eyes to how great College basketball is. My first game, dressing with them, it was so surreal. I remember watching so many times, wanting to be there, and now I’m looking around at people who want to do what I’m doing. It’s trippy. Also, Coach Izzo was a walk on himself. He expects the toughness out of us that he has. He would get on us if we were ever slacking off. He was in our shoes so he knows how hard he would of worked if he was at MSU.

Sweeny talking things over with Coach Izzo - Photo Courtesy Evan Shobe

Q: Intimidated by other players?

I’ve played with really good talent and man I was impressed. These guys are different levels of human beings. I knew they were going to be strong and tall, but what shocked me the most, was how fast they were. I was always fast, but there were 6-10 kids who were faster than me. I had to adapt to the game and really had to work on my defense. That is the difference between Division II and III.

Q: When you stepped on the court against LIU-Brooklyn, describe how you felt?

JS: Dream come true; literally a dream come true. I have dreamed about being on that court. That was everything that I wanted. Everyone always told me I couldn’t, and I needed that motivation. If people were nice about it, I wouldn’t be here. I remember this girl, telling her that I was going to walk on, and she said my little white (expletive) would get dunked on. I had a lot of group of friends; they told me to do it; seniors said I was good and should do it. Some kids in the house I lived in said I had no chance, “you can’t walk on at state.”

Q: Favorite moment?

JS: When I first scored, because of all the hard work that led up to it. I was near half court and there was thirty something seconds left against Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament, and I turned the ball over the previous play. It is hard to come off a bench for the whole game and make baskets, your completely cold. Dribbled from half court, tried to go up to dunk, and I was close lined, completely taken out, and a flagrant was called. I was whacked across the face by two of their big guys. I haven’t scored all season long, and I knew my friends were watching. My head was ringing, and I knew I couldn’t mess this up. I made both shots.

Q: Did You play in High School?

JS: Yes at North. I was Always small, I had a growth spurt junior year. I was 5-1 freshman year (6-0). Junior year, my friend (and Toms River North baseball star) Steve Nyisztor noticed me working out. I was JV that year. He always saw me shooting and believed in me. I went from JV to starter senior year and we won 16 games in a row at one point. I then realized that hard work pays off. He always told me to not give up no matter what; keep on trying. If it wasn’t for him, I would have gave up after freshman year of college for walking on after missing the date.

Q: Who is your basketball Idol?

JS: Jason Kidd, because he is one of those players that no matter what game, he will make everyone around him better. He is a selfless player.  I can honestly say I grew up a Nets and got to see him up close.

Q: Plans for after college?

JS: Law school. My major is pre-law. It is tough to find time, the teachers help us out and they are lenient, but I’m in the library everyday for hours. You miss so much school when you’re on a team. I am coming back next year so I am excited to get back to work.

Q: Best Tom Izzo story?

JS: Me and Brandon Dawson who was a McDonald’s All-American, kept on charging and getting the rebounds. I sort of gave him a cheap shot, and he wasn’t happy about it. He looked at coach and coach said, “What? What was wrong with that? Man up son.”

vindanton@gmail.com 

@VinDanton 

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