Lucas was prepared to say goodbye to East Lansing following a three-year career at Michigan State. His focus was on the NCAA tournament, but he had already basically made the decision the NBA would be his next stop.
Then, it all changed on March 21, 2009 — in the first half of the Spartans’ second-round NCAA tournament contest against Maryland — when Lucas ruptured his Achilles tendon in his left foot.
“I don’t think I would have come back here,” Lucas admitted while in the midst of his rehab, which is just beyond the four-month point.
But now Lucas has been forced to return, and he’s matured enough to understand there are advantages.
He will become the first person in his family to get his college degree. He’ll also get one more crack at a national title.
“To be honest, if someone told me that I would be here all four years before I came here, I would have thought they were crazy,” Lucas said. “But things happen for a reason, and I think the injury is going to help me in the long run.”
Lucas began running a couple weeks ago and said he is right on schedule with his rehab, but for someone whose entire game is predicated on his speed and quickness, getting out of the boot a month after his March 30 surgery was difficult.
“I couldn’t even walk when I got out,” Lucas said. “I was limping, and it took me two weeks to learn to walk without a limp. I literally had to learn how to walk and jog again.”
The goal is for Lucas to be back on the court with his teammates in September and be ready to go for the start of practice in mid-October, but Spartans coach Tom Izzo cautioned that it may take some time for his floor leader to return to form.
“I’m not sure he’ll be back for the start of the season,” Izzo said. “He may be back on the floor, but I don’t expect him to be what he was right away. Not after being out six months.”
While Michigan State lost to North Carolina in the national championship game two years ago and advanced to the Final Four last year without Lucas, the senior point guard feels as though this year’s team has the best shot of cutting down the nets on Monday night.
“We have guards, wings and bigs. Winning a national title is our only goal,” Lucas said. “I know most people are picking Duke, but that doesn’t matter.”
Lucas’ leadership was questioned by Izzo last season, and the soft-spoken veteran knows the key to this team could depend on whether he’s able to assume those duties with Draymond Green.
“I’ve always had it in me,” Lucas said. “Last season, I wasn’t doing a good job at the beginning of the season, but I got better as it went along. This year, I know I have to be a leader — and a good leader.”
That will be critical, especially since the Spartans have brought in four freshmen, including two who should make an immediate impact in wing Keith Appling and big man Adreian Payne.
This year’s team has lost Raymar Morgan (graduated) and Chris Allen (dismissed), but the hope is that Delvon Roe is as healthy as he’s been since he came to East Lansing and will team with Green up front.
The perimeter is loaded with Lucas, Durrell Summers, Appling and Korie Lucious, who filled in admirably for Lucas in the Big Dance and made the game-winning shot against Maryland.
“Durrell is like a different player,” Lucas said. “He’s been working his butt off and is just killing people.”
Summers’ new-found work ethic is important, Roe’s health is key and the addition of a quality freshman class is also critical.
But none more so than Lucas’ return to East Lansing for his senior campaign.
“If I was playing last year in the Final Four, I think we would have won it all,” Lucas said matter-of-factly.