EAST LANSING, Mich. — Tom Izzo told Eron Harris to put on his uniform one final time. Michigan State's injured guard knew his senior day wouldn't be spent on the court.
Or would it?
Harris' first surprise came before tip-off: his mother, Marveda Saunders, was announced as the national anthem singer. Harris, hobbled with crutches and his leg in a brace, broke down in tears. His mom barely kept her composure.
"They caught me off guard. And they knew I wanted her to sing," Harris said. "But nobody ever said she was. I was like, 'Wow, they really care.' They got me."
Then came Harris' second big moment. With the Spartans' 84-74 upset of No. 15 Wisconsin locked up, the 6-foot-4 senior guard shed his uniform. Izzo called a time-out and inserted Harris onto the court. An intentional traveling call stopped the clock.
Harris was able to lower himself — and the bulky brace on his right knee—- down to the middle of the Breslin Center floor. With fans chanting his name over and over, he pressed his lips to the midcourt logo.
And with that, Harris' three years as a Spartan were complete.
"Honestly, I felt like that was my first college game getting out there," Harris told the Breslin Center crowd. "My heart started beating and I got kind of nervous. It was just crazy. And then getting to actually kiss the floor, that's a crazy honor to be part of that."
Said Harris' mom, "I thought that was so awesome for Coach Izzo to make that happen. I actually believe I'm gonna see him play again on another court. I thought that was awesome for a coach to be thankful enough or appreciate him enough to let Eron get in the game. That was so cool, and it meant a lot to me."
It wasn't supposed to be this way for Harris, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Purdue on Feb. 18. He wanted a chance to get the Spartans into the NCAA tournament to help make up for his struggles during Big Ten play.
Instead, he was wheeled off the court at Mackey Arena on a stretcher. Harris should still have a basketball future after he has surgery on his right knee, but his short stay with MSU was over.Harris spent two seasons at West Virginia before transferring to MSU and sitting out during the Final Four run in 2014-15. In two playing seasons, he flashed offense and defense but struggled to find consistency. He averaged 10.7 points and 3.0 rebounds while averaging 22.9 minutes per game before his injury.
But Izzo has talked about Harris' importance, both on and off the court, since his "significant" knee injury that will require surgery.
"Today, I prayed that we would be up enough that I could get Eron in to kiss the Spartan head," Izzo said. "And sure enough, it happened."
Saunders, clutching a tissue and choking up for a few seconds early, nailed the national anthem and received a rousing cheer. Kenny Goins put his arm around Harris' shoulders as she sang.
"It was a little bit tough to keep it secret," Saunders said. "[Director of basketball operations] David Thomas and I made up a little story because Eron texted me and asked if I could sing. I was like, 'Well, I think they hired somebody and paid them already.' He said, 'It's OK, mom, I've heard you sing a million times.'
"This whole week, it's been a secret."
Harris needed no help later when he got back up from kissing the logo to an even louder ovation. And with Miles Bridges on the bench late in the game, Harris was in his face giving him a pep talk.
His time at Breslin might be done, but Harris' importance to the Spartans remains clear.
"These guys have a lot of work to do," Harris said. "We still got room to get better. We're not done, and we got high aspirations."
This article is written by Chris Solari from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.