East Lansing — Kenny Goins always knew this was possible.
Well, at least the part where he is a member of a top Division I basketball program. Goins certainly has that at Michigan State, a fifth-year senior who has started all nine games this season.
But, being among the top rebounders in the nation and coming three assists shy of a triple-double in Monday’s victory over Iowa?
Yeah, that was something Goins wasn’t so sure of.
“I dreamed it,” Goins admitted after practice Wednesday. “I don’t think I ever saw it as a reality that I’d be playing such an important role.”
Yet, there was Goins on Monday night as No. 10 Michigan State was busy trouncing the 18th-ranked Hawkeyes, opening a 33-point lead before settling for a 22-point blowout. While Nick Ward was dominant, and Cassius Winston was busy running the offense to perfection, it was Goins that was — again — the backbone of the Spartans’ victory.
His 19 points were a career high and his seven assists matched a career best. The 14 rebounds were three off the most he’s ever had but grabbing that many boards has become commonplace for Goins. He’s pulled down 11 or more five times this season, including 17 at Louisville.
There have always been signs Goins could be that type of player, one Tom Izzo has referred to many times this season as Michigan State’s “glue guy.” Goins grabbed 13 rebounds in a win over Louisville as a redshirt freshman, but he grabbed double-digit rebounds only once more over the next two-plus seasons.
But, Goins never wavered. After all, here was a kid who turned down scholarship offers to nearly every school in the Mid-American Conference to come to Michigan State as a walk-on. So, a little inconsistency wasn’t going to stop the All-Stater from Warren Mott.
“After my freshman year, really, I said, ‘I can play with these guys,’” Goins said. “I’m just about as good as anyone on the floor. It just took a while for the confidence to get there, obviously.”
Making the choice to come to Michigan State with no scholarship was not an easy one for the entire Goins family. Paying for tuition at a major school was not going to be easy, but Goins said it was his father, Ken, who reassured his son to follow his heart.
“That is what really gave me the confidence to pass up the scholarship, my dad’s willingness and commitment to our family,” Goins explained, “and him telling me, ‘Don’t worry about the money. We’ll figure that out. Right now, just do what you want and do what you dream of.’”
So, he did. And three games into his first season, Goins got the first idea of what Izzo thought about him when the coach told his first-year player he was going to be redshirted.
“That conversation happened right around here,” Goins said as he sat on the Michigan State bench. “Third game of the season my freshman year. He called me down and thought I was going in the game and sat me down and said, ‘Yeah we’re gonna redshirt you.’ I wondered why I didn’t play the first two blowouts.”
The reason why Goins was redshirted was simple — he saw something in Goins that, with time and work, would give the Spartans a valuable asset. Instead of wasting a season on nothing more than mop-up minutes, the extra time would allow Goins to potentially make a big step someday.
That day is now, as the seasoned Goins is filling up the stat sheet and helping his young teammates deal with life as a Michigan State basketball player.
“I’ve seen everything from the West Coast to the East Coast, North and South in terms of arenas,” Goins said. “Just crazy crowds everywhere. I’ve seen it all. I’ve been on some good teams where I’ve had guys go out there and have to calm me down. I feel like I can (do that now) and I feel like other guys sort of need it. So, I’ve been thrust into that position, but I don’t have a problem with it.”
And why should he? Goins is living his dream, one that really continues each day but really took off the moment early in his second year on campus when Izzo called Goins into his office and told Goins he was going on scholarship.
Goins immediately called his dad.
“I cried for a little bit then called my dad,” Goins said. “Happy tears. I couldn’t help it. It was such a feeling of accomplishment but then it set back in that I’ve got a long way to go.”
It should come as no surprise that Goins quickly started thinking about what was next. What was he required to do to go from good story to good player, one that the Spartans now see as vital to their success?
It’s that approach that has Goins in the position he’s in now, and that has Izzo hoping for more.
“The big thing for Kenny that I’m working on is can we keep him consistent?” Izzo said. “If we do, boy, with the rebounding, the ability to guard greater numbers of people — point guard to center — then he becomes a valuable commodity.”
Goins will continue to focus on defense and rebounding, the staples of the program that Goins said was always the way he was going to get on the floor. “I wasn’t going to score to get on the court,” he said.
No, that wasn’t how he was going to get there early in his career, but it sure is helping now as the Spartans get set to head to Florida on Saturday to take on the Gators. Goins will be counted on to defend, and rebound, and pass, and maybe even score a couple points.
It is, after all, what a glue guy does, and Goins is glad to be that guy.
“You can call it whatever you want,” Goins said. “As long as we keep winning I’m cool with it.”