AUBURN HILLS, Mich. | Brandon Wood was watching Selection Sunday unfold from Hungary when he saw the names of his two former schools flash across the TV screen.
“Wow, are you kidding me?” he thought. “This whole thing is definitely going to be fun for me.”
Wood won’t be at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean Wood won’t have a major influence on Thursday’s NCAA tournament game between No. 3 Michigan State and No. 14 Valparaiso.
Wood spent two years playing for the Crusaders, then finished his career with the Spartans last season.
Wood joked on Twitter with both Valparaiso and Michigan State fans in the hours following the draw, but he is keeping his allegiance quiet as the game approaches.
“I’m going with Valpo State,” Wood said.
All kidding aside, Wood’s presence likely brings a different level of focus to Michigan State the Spartans might not have had if they were playing an unfamiliar mid-major team in the second round. Several Michigan State players have messaged Wood and the Spartans are eager to play his old team.
“(Our guys) had an appreciation that (Brandon) played good basketball at Valpo,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We know how good Valpo is and our guys have heard of Valpo. The Brandon situation even maybe brings it a little closer.”
Gary native Branden Dawson, a sophomore at Michigan State, stays in contact with Wood and the pair spoke on the phone about an hour before the announcement was made on Sunday. Starting point guard Keith Appling said he has spoken on the phone with Wood since the draw came out. For his part, Wood said he isn’t giving advice to either team.
“I’m excited to sit back and watch my little brothers from both teams play each other,” Wood said. “It’s definitely exciting for me to watch the seniors at Valpo get to this point from where they were when I was playing with them.”
Wood isn’t the only Michigan State player with ties to the Crusaders. Sophomore walk-on Keenan Wetzel attended Valparaiso two years ago but was never cleared to practice with the team. Wetzel transferred to East Lansing last season and has been a valued member of the scout team for the last two years.
“Everyone on our team respects those guys,” Wetzel said. “I’m friends with a couple of them and there is no way that we’re going to overlook them.”