Both Michigan State and St. John's have to be thrilled about spending their respective Thanksgivings in the Bahamas, but the trip will have an entirely different level of euphoria for Spartans junior guard Lourawls Nairn.
It will be special homecoming for Nairn, who was raised in Nassau before moving to the United States when he was 13 in order to pursue opportunities to play basketball.
During the three-day “Battle 4 Atlantis” on Paradise Island, this will be the first and likely only opportunity some family members and friends of Nairn's have or ever will see him play basketball in person.
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“It's kind of amazing to be home,” Nairn said. “Just going back to the school today brought back memories when I was a kid of all the dreams I had of playing basketball in America.”
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo called it a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for Nairn, a player he has praised constantly since he arrived on campus, saying “he's got wings” following Sunday's win over Florida Gulf Coast.
“Today we got a chance to go out in the community and visit his school and that was educational for our guys,” Izzo said during a press conference on Tuesday. “Hopefully we get a little basketball, a little enjoyment and a little education. I think it's important for us to grow as a team while we are here.”
The first step for No. 24 Michigan State enjoying its basketball experience over the next three days will come at 7 p.m. on Wednesday against St. John's in the first round of the tournament.
St. John's is 2-1 in the second season under Chris Mullin, the former star in the 1980's for the Red Storm who is back coaching his alma mater.
Coming off a 92-86 loss at Minnesota on Friday, the Red Storm have so far relied heavily on the freshman backcourt combination of Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds.
LoVett is averaging 24.3 points a game for the first three games, while Ponds is averaging 17.3 points a game.
Michigan State (2-2) has won two straight following season-opening losses to top-10 opponents Arizona and Kentucky, although it barely squeaked by Florida Gulf Coast at home on Sunday, winning 78-77.
The Spartans have been led by freshman Miles Bridges (16.0 ppg), but the play of senior Eron Harris was a nice sight on Sunday against Florida Gulf Coast.
With Florida Gulf Coast placing a lot of emphasis on containing Bridges, Harris stepped up with 31 points, going a perfect 6-for-6 from 3-point range.
The winner will face either Baylor or Virginia Commonwealth in a semifinal on Thanksgiving Day.
This will be the first appearance for both teams at the Battle 4 Atlantis, which is now in its sixth year of existence.
“It's tournaments like this that give you a chance to do a little bonding as a team,” Izzo said. “It gives you a chance to compare three days in a row, which is more like the NCAA tournament. It gives you a chance to face different kinds of teams. Win, lose or draw, it's going to be a good experience for us.”