Ann Arbor – Moritz Wagner understands the weight the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry carries with the respective fan bases.
The German-born Wagner does not have to be a Michigan-native to figure that out.
Michigan plays at No. 4 Michigan State on Saturday in the Breslin Center in the only regular-season meeting between the rivals.
“I’m not from Michigan, I’m not from this country, (but) I know how much this means to fans, and I know how much it means for people that are from here and my teammates,” Wagner said Friday. “I talked to (former Wolverine) Derrick (Walton) last night, and this stuff means a lot to them, and that’s why I play 100 percent.
“But I always play 100 percent. Yes, it’s a rivalry and it’s heated and all that stuff, but it doesn’t mean I give less the next game. At the end of the day, it’s a game we try to win. If that doesn’t happen, we play Maryland on Monday.”
The bigger question is, how much of a difference will Wagner make?
Wagner, a junior center, suffered an ankle sprain late in the game at Texas in late December. He has a small brace on his right ankle, and Michigan coach John Beilein did not offer the most glowing injury update.
“He’s not 100-percent healthy,” Beilein said during his Friday news conference when asked about Wagner’s ankle. “I think you can see that still with his game right now, he’s not 100-percent healthy. So, we will see as he comes up. That’s the expectation (that he will play), but anything could happen.”
Wagner said he has not been limited in practice but also didn’t sugarcoat the injury.
“It’s seen better days,” he said. “It’s good enough.
“It’s gotten better. It was weird just because I hadn’t sat out a game in my career in college. I wasn’t injured in a while to the extent I have to sit out, and it actually bothered me as much that I couldn’t practice and couldn’t participate in all the team things. It’s progressed. I think you can see that on the court, as well.”
Beilein was asked if Wagner had re-aggravated the injury.
“I’m not at liberty to say,” Beilein said.
While Beilein said Wagner is not at 100 percent, Wagner said he doesn’t know how to evaluate where he is in terms of the injury healing.
“I’m not 100 percent, but how, how am I supposed to? I sprained my ankle in December,” Wagner said. “It’s good enough to play for my team and do everything I can.”
Wagner did not offer additional information on his ankle and did not directly answer whether there’s a chance he won’t play against the Spartans.
“Let’s pray I’m not getting injured today (Friday),” he said. “I hope there is not a chance.”
It is never easy playing with or through an injury and Wagner admitted there have been challenges. He wants to play, and he wants to play at a high level, but he’s also been conscious of the limitations his injury brings.
“It’s more mental, to be honest with you,” Wagner said. “Mental more than anything just because you have something to think about on the court. One thing more, which is obviously not a good thing. It’s kind of a distraction. You calculate every movement a little more. You’re a little more alert about your body, which can be good, but when it’s about moving, it’s not good. It’s a little annoying, but I guess it’s part of it.”
Michigan and Michigan State only meet once during the regular season this year, and Wagner said the only urgency the players feel is the fact this game means so much to so many.
He enjoys the atmosphere of the Breslin Center.
“It’s a unique experience,” he said. “The people there are very energetic, very passionate, I should say. They love basketball, they love this rivalry. That’s what you live for as an athlete.”
Michigan at Michigan State
Tip-off: Noon Saturday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: Fox/760, 950
Records: No. 4 Michigan State 16-2, 4-1 Big Ten; Michigan 14-4, 3-2
Outlook: Michigan State has won five of the past six meetings and three of the past five games in East Lansing by at least 10 points.