Izzo, Final Four Coaches Teleconference Transcripts
March 30, 2009
Head Coach Tom Izzo was part of a series of media teleconference on Monday morning for all four Final Four head coaches. Each coach had 20 minutes to field questions about their upcoming journey to Detroit for the Final Four. Michigan State kicks off the Final Four on Saturday with a 6:07 p.m. tip time against Connecticut.
Q. Coach, it looked like maybe it was as emotional as you've ever been after in and around the basketball game. What was that the other night that maybe struck you a little bit differently?
COACH IZZO: It kind of was. I think this year for this team, we've had a lot of things to go through with the injuries and illnesses that we've had. I knew it was a big deal to Travis Walton to kind of keep our string of Final Fours alive as far as our seniors go - and maybe as important to have a tournament in your home state. That doesn't get you any wins or get you any more fans most of the time because of the way the tickets are. This thing is really a national tournament now. But, the opportunity to play in our state especially with some of the struggles [the state of Michigan] has gone through this past year, I guess I felt a little bit like hopefully we can be, you know, the sun shining through some pretty cloudy areas.
Q. The good news is you you get to play in Detroit. The bad news is you're playing a team that's lost one road game all year. Can you talk about what you think makes UConn such a tough opponent on the road and the focus this team seems to have despite what's swirling around the program?
COACH IZZO: You know, in '99 we played them for the first time. That was the year we both got to the Final Four and they won it. And I realized then from when we played them out there to watching them in that Final Four, Jim does a great job. He has toughness within his players. He finds those blue collared guys.
I've been amazed over the years the number of great players he's had that maybe weren't rated that high coming out. That means the development is incredible. But I think it's their toughness, and that's why they win on the road - they have mental and physical toughness, and a guy with incredible size.
But you look at [A.J.] Price, he's playing better. And I think they just got the combination of good players, good size, good shooters and a very good coach.
Q. Hasheem Thabeet, you made reference to him yesterday. Is he one of those once in a blue moon kind of centers? And how do you counter him? He and Goran Suton are just worlds apart with their strengths, I think.
COACH IZZO: I think there is some truth to that. I can't sit here and tell you I know how I counter him because I just started watching a lot of film. I watched Connecticut play a lot this year. But when you watch him as a fan, you don't watch him the same way you do as a coach or an opponent.
I'm trying to look at some teams that are playing smaller guys on him. Everybody's playing a smaller guy on him, because nobody's got anybody near that size. But at the same time, you know, you're trying to get a feel for him, because sometimes he just does some things that are incredible for his size.
Q. Talking about Big Ten unity as you've done all along. Is it possible that you've talked to John Beilein down the road about his game plan against Connecticut, and given some ideas about how he was able to come so close to beating them?
COACH IZZO: Well, I'm talking to a few Big Ten guys, sure. I'm going to give John a call, give Matt a call, and anybody else I can call to try to figure out how you can do that. I don't think there's any question that the Big East has been so good. And I know those guys stick together. Hopefully I'll be able to get a little help from our Big Ten counterparts that have played them, and I think I will. I'll do that after I get at least a little feel for myself for them so I know what they're talking about when I talk to them.
Q. Jim Calhoun just referred to you as a dear friend. Said he talks to you a lot during the season by phone. How would you characterize your friendship and relationship with Jim?
COACH IZZO: You know, I remember calling him back when we played him. I was so impressed. We had a good team. They were only sophomores, I think. And just went out there and we played pretty good the first half, and then they just took it to us in the second half.
Q. As you look back on on your head coaching career back there, how pivotal was it for you to have the succession and place from Jud in the mid '90s?
COACH IZZO: Well, Jud tought so much of everything to me. I've learned from a lot of coaches. I've been in the league with Bobby Knight and Gene Keady, and so many good coaches here, back when I was an assistant and in my early years as a head coach. Nobody had the impact that Jud had on me, though. I learned so many things from him, and maybe some of the best are important this week: Dealing with the media, how to handle them, understanding and respecting that everybody's got a job to do.
Q. I think a lot of people projected that by March you might have a case of momentum going here as you've got people healthy. You've got Raymar [Morgan] finally over illness. Picked up a little steam, that kind of thing. Has that been the script? Not on to say that you played with any degree of imperfection, but do you finally see the cylinders clicking on all fronts?
COACH IZZO: I heard an interview with Jay Wright from Villanova the other day. He said it sounds crazy, but I think my team's getting better at the end of the year. I laughed because as you just stated, I've been saying that for a while.
Q. I know that you've been asked this by other members of the media, but as this particular journey been for you anymore gratifying than the earlier Final Four?
COACH IZZO: I'm not sure there's ever one that's more gratifying than the first. Because you know, anything that happens for the first time, it's like your first kiss. You still remember it, right? That was gratifying.
Q. How are you going to keep your team focused with it being played in your home state? I think back to the Palace in the Flintstone era. How did you keep that team focused? Are you going to do the same thing with this team so they aren't distracted by the local friends and family and everything?
COACH IZZO: We did talk about it last night once we got back that it was going to be hard. And tickets, it sounds crazy, but I think there's a lot less tickets now than there were when we went in 2005. I don't know why, but the way it's handed out is less tickets go to each school than there used to be. That will be a problem. But I think that's where the players' maturity has to come in. There there's no question that the Peterson era and that game down there, I wasn't worried about distractions. They had their mindset on what they wanted to accomplish.
Q. You have three coaches who have won it all, and Jay Wright from Villanova is the rookie Final Four coach. Could you talk a little about what getting to the Final Four does for a coach's resume, reputation, and in a more practical sense for recruiting? And when you have one, what that means to a coach's overall sort of body of work?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think Jay has been under great tutelage. He had Rollie [Massimino] for a while. And Jay has done a great job in his own right, no pun intended. I've always enjoyed watching his teams. They beat us up in the Alaskan Shootout early in his career, and I thought he did a great job then.
Q. I wondered after you played Carolina in Ford Field. Lot of people figured they'd be back this weekend because they were looking so good. But coming out of that game did you feel like your team had it in them to make it back?
COACH IZZO: I should straighten that out. Who knows if we can beat UConn, who knows what will happen?. But if we have to play Carolina again, they just might beat us by 30 again. In the previous meeting, in that setting, I will use every excuse we can: We were coming off our Florida trip, playing three games down there. We did not have Suton, did not have Delvon Roe much, and we didn't play very well, and they played very good.
Q. Your schedule was pretty tough in the non conference, too. Do you feel that paid you some dividends over the air last couple of weeks?
COACH IZZO: I really do. What we did this year different than other years we've always played a tough schedule. This year, we had Oklahoma State, and Maryland early. And then we had North Carolina and Texas, and Kansas. That was good, but I think we played on the road a lot more this year in the non conference. I think that maybe attributed to our success, going 8 1 on the road in the Big Ten. Who knows. If they work for you, you say they were positive. If they work against you, you say they were negative. But I do think we became a closer and tougher team, and we had to become a tougher team. So I'd say the way we played the last two weeks, yeah, I think it helped us some, I really do.
Q. You've talked about Goran Suton's development. And I know he had to overcome injury this year, but what specifically did he improve upon as far as his skill set or his understanding or physicality? What was the most important part of that?
COACH IZZO: Well, it wasn't skill set and it wasn't understanding. Those are two of his biggest strengths - he is a skilled player. What he improved on is his shooting and his body. He became stronger, more muscle tone. Not a great athlete as far as a leaper, but he is a great athlete as far as timing and things like that. He really improved his shooting this summer. I think he fell in love with the game, finally. It took a while, but he did. He worked so hard on it.
Q. What did he change as far as his shot?
COACH IZZO: Well, he spent time on it. It wasn't broken, it wasn't like it was some shot that had to be redesigned. It's just again falling in love with the game, means you spend hours on your shooting. And we've had guys here that did that. Jason Richardson used to wear out the shooting machines. And Goran improved a lot. He lost some of it when he was out for those six to eight weeks, more or less.
Q. Seasons and teams will develop an identity over the course of a season. And obviously there is a psychological part knowing when to pat them on the back and kick them in the rear end. Have you noticed that in the end you assess teams and say this is sort of what they were. And was this year's team more pat or more kicking?
COACH IZZO: That's interesting. Usually by this time of the year you have a good feel about your team. It was the end of February, and I was still trying to find my team. And I think that was because of the different major injuries to three different guys. They were all guys that were in my starting group, so, you know, I think for the most part there was a little more patting on the back. They probably wouldn't agree with that. And I say that because we were young and I said a million times, a little more fragile. We had key people out with [Goran] Suton and [Delvon] Roe, and, of course, Raymar Morgan late in the season. Yet it's been a team that's developed better leadership skills. I've always stated that a player coached team is better than a coach coached team. And I think [Travis] Walton did a great job. We started getting more from Suton, and from [Kalin] Lucas, and I think that really made it a lot easier for a coach. And I think everybody would agree when you look at this Final Four, there are some veterans on every team, you look at Carolina who has not only veterans, but a little like we had when Cleaves and Peterson was here. Guys who could have come out early, but came back to win a championship, and that's what you've got to appreciate about those guys. They gave up something to win a championship. Now they have a chance to do it. And so that's pretty neat when that happens.
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