WEST LAFAYETTE | Michigan State sophomore Branden Dawson will be playing in the NBA one day. He knows it.
Coach Tom Izzo knows it.
Spartan fans have grown accustomed to their superstars passing through for a season or two, though the 6-foot-6 Dawson has reason to stay with only one senior on the roster and the team's future bright as a solar flare.
That includes Dawson, the Lew Wallace grad who started the first 32 games as a freshman, then missed the final six after tearing his left ACL in the regular-season finale against Ohio State.
The kid is back, and with a vengeance.
Saturday evening, Dawson's laser-like focus was directed on Purdue -- and getting back to 100 percent from his knee surgery a year ago.
He hit a career-high 20 points and all six free throws in keying the Spartans' 78-65 win over a very young Purdue squad.
"Mainly, I've been staying mentally tough," Dawson said. "Russell Byrd was out two years with a foot injury and he returned. I talked to (ex-Purdue star) Robbie Hummel and that helped pick me up, too."
Izzo will walk through fire for his players, but he won't hand out Kleenex while they cry on his shoulder about setbacks and slumps.
"Coach pushes you each and every day to not get frustrated when things aren't going well," Dawson said. "Just listen to the coaches, trust and believe them, and you'll do fine."
The knee? Good as new.
"It's 100 percent out of my mind," Dawson is quick to note. "Like the doctor said, when you start thinking about injury, bad things can happen."
Dawson prefers good thoughts, much like the Bulls' Derrick Rose has done while recovering from basically the same injury.
"Earlier, I felt different. I wasn't explosive. Guys were going around me," Dawson recalled. "So I've really been working on my lateral quickness and defense."
As a freshman, he was the Spartans' fourth-leading scorer (8.4), No. 2 rebounder (4.5) and owned the Big Ten's third best field-goal percentage (.584).
He came to West Lafayette this weekend as MSU's No. 3 scorer (10.5), No. 2 rebounder (6.6) and shooting .553, second best on the team.
We won't talk about his .508 free-throw percentage.
"He's improved his ballhandling but it's been a blessing and a curse because he thinks he can take everyone," Izzo said, smiling. "He did a good job driving instead of just worrying about shooting it."
Dawson started out too geeked up, playing too fast, and had to sit on several occasions while Izzo calmed him down.
"I wouldn't say it's a problem. It's just something I have to learn from," Dawson said. "My momentum was too high. I was trying to do too much instead of letting the game come to me."
Saturday, Purdue fans did everything but use a spindle to roast him. He got the most boos of any MSU player during pre-game introductions and he expected it.
They remembered his 14 points and 11 boards in 27 minutes of an 84-61 blowout win Jan. 5.
"The atmosphere will be electrifying," Dawson had said before tip-off.
And it was, for him.
He'll be in the NBA one day. You can see it in his game now.
East Lansing is merely a stop along the way.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at email@example.com