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Is there a doctor in Michigan State’s Charlotte house?

PHOTO: Dr. Colby Wollenman (the tall one, of course) in scrubs with his colleagues at Vanderbilt University’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

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Paging Dr. Colby Wollenman.

Your steady hand under pressure in Michigan State’s 2015 NCAA Tournament first-round win over Georgia in Charlotte is required. Your alma mater has returned to Charlotte for its 2024 tournament opener. Game time is 12:15 p.m. Thursday on the same Spectrum Center stage in Charlotte.


Nine years ago, Michigan State’s game plan was quickly in tatters with early foul trouble among the big men. Brendan Dawson took a seat with two quick fouls – the first in 36 seconds and the second after 5:37. Matt Costello eventually fouled out. Gavin Schilling finished with three fouls.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo looked down his bench in the first half and realized he had to insert a walk-on — Wollenman, a 6-foot-7, 230-pounder from Big Horn, Wyoming.

“We had no choice,” Izzo was quoted in the post-game transcript.

Wollenman, though, responded. He contributed 11 gritty minutes overall — in the first half and down the stretch in the second half. His defensive play and five rebounds helped the Spartans survive Georgia’s late rally with a 70-63 victor.

More of my Michigan State basketball regional coverage from Charlotte:

Wednesday: Is there a doctor in Michigan State’s Charlotte house? – Tom Shanahan Report

Thursday: Sissoko’s long season coming up big in the end – Tom Shanahan Report

Friday: Tom Izzo’s NCAA streak pre-dates Tar Heel birthdays – Tom Shanahan Report

Friday: Kevin Guskiewicz wearing green for this year’s NCAA Tournament – Tom Shanahan Report

Saturday: The Spartans, despite struggling, stayed together to the bitter end – Tom Shanahan Report


“It was phenomenal,” Izzo also said in the transcript. “Colby is a doctor. He’s in medical school, so he’s as smart as they come. He really understands things.”

These days Dr. Wollenman, 30, is in his fourth year of a five-year residency at Vanderbilt University’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Upon finishing his Michigan State career and education, he chose to earn his medical degree at Vanderbilt over Michigan.

Any patient nervous about going under the knife with Wollenman as their doctor can gain pre-surgery confidence that they’re in good hands. They only need to hear about the doctor’s steady hand operating under pressure on the hardwood.

“I think there is an analogy to the pressure you face,” Wollenman said in a phone interview. “In basketball, no matter how much you prepare, things can go wrong. You have to be able to adjust.

“Surgery is the same thing. You can prepare forever and ever, but things can go wrong. You can be the best surgeon in the world and things can go wrong. You have to recover. You have to be able to cope with it.”

PHOTO: Colby Wollenman’s play off the bench as a pre-med student was instrumental to Michigan State’s 2015 run to the Final Four.


Michigan State has been hampered by inconsistent play – particularly from its big men — as the ninth-seeded Spartans (19-14, sixth in the Big Ten) face eighth-seeded Mississippi State (21-13, ninth in the SEC). Mississippi State boasts a strong inside-out game built around Tolu Smith, a 6-11, 245-pounder averaging 15.2 points and 8.4 rebounds.

Can the Spartans find 11 Wollenman-like pivotal minutes — combined or individually — from their rotating post players? Mady Sissoko (6-9, 250) averages 3.3 points and 5.1 rebounds; Carson Cooper (6-11, 240), 3.6, 4.6; Jaxon Kohler (6-9, 245), 2.0, 2.1 and Xavier Booker (6-11, 220), 3.6, 1.6.

“I know they have Coach Izzo is preaching the Michigan State gospel to them, so I don’t feel qualified to give advice,” Wollenman said. “But I think the only thing you can control is effort. And at Michigan State that translated for me to playing defense and getting rebounds – especially to start fastbreaks.

“The other part is you work as hard as you can and have fun. Playing a sport, sometimes we make things bigger than they are. Play with confidence and freedom. Give effort, play smart and let what happens roll.”

Michigan State’s 2015 win over Georgia in Charlotte launched the seventh-seeded Spartans to Izzo’s eighth of nine career Final Four runs.

In the next round, Travis Trice exploded from three-point range and Michigan State upset No. 2 seed Virginia, 60-54. The Spartans followed with wins over No. 3 Oklahoma (62-58) in the Sweet Sixteen and No. 4 Louisville (76-70) in the Elite Eight.

The fog of memory recalls Wollenman’s contributions against Georgia translating into points and rebounds, but the box score reveals his production was limited to five rebounds – two offensive, three defensive. But the timing of his defensive play and boards were worthy of inflating memories.

He subbed into the game three times in the first half, finishing with three rebounds.  In the second half, Wollenman pulled down an offensive rebound with 8:37 to play that was converted into a Trice field goal for a 54-43 lead.

Wollenman subbed in at the 2:48 mark after Costello’s fourth foul. He subbed in again for the final 34 seconds after Costello’s fifth foul sent Georgia’s Charles Mann to the free throw line. Mann missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Wollenman secured the rebound.

In the final 27 seconds, Denzel Valentine was 6-of-6 from the line to ice the victory.

“That was a fun game,” Wollenman said. “A lot of it was playing the same way I approached every game of the season whether I played zero minutes or 20. My playing time depended on foul trouble. My role was nothing flashy — setting screens and getting rebounds. Effort and intellect are things that can help the team win. It was nice to see how the game unfolded. We watch a lot of film, but it’s different seeing the game on the court.”

In NCAA play, sometimes the celestial stars provide big-time moments belonging to more than the most athletic stars.


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