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Tom Izzo Press Conference Coverage
 
 
 
Head coach Tom Izzo addressed the media on Tuesday following the Spartans' Elite Eight run.
 
Head coach Tom Izzo addressed the media on Tuesday following the Spartans' Elite Eight run.
 
 

April 1, 2014

Tom Izzo Press Conference

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo addressed the media on Tuesday following the Spartans 2014 NCAA Tournament run. MSU made its eighth trip to the Elite Eight under Izzo and concluded the season with a 29-9 overall record.

The following is a complete transcript from Monday's press conference:

Opening Statement...
It’s been a tough day and a half. I felt like, after watching the film, I really give a lot of credit to UConn for what they did. We did not play very good basketball the second half of that game. The turnover things were pretty ridiculous. I really felt that there was some mental fatigue; there’s really no other reason that four or five of those turnovers could have happened. I didn’t think we did a very good job of getting the ball inside. I did feel AP (Adreain Payne) did a pretty good job posting, they were just there to beat him off, pushed him off and we didn’t handle that real well. I thought there were some times in that game when we weren’t as disciplined as we needed to be. All of those things came to a point where we’re still struggling to get the ball inside and they knocked it out of our hands and that big three-point foul that ended our chances. Looking back, we won 29 games. Matt [Larson] put together a couple of things that I was amazed at myself.

Those seniors were part of four NCAA tournaments, three Sweet Sixteens, an Elite Eight, a Big Ten Championship and two Big Ten Tournament Championships. There were a lot more positives than negatives. The ironic thing about this year’s team is we finished with the best defensive field goal percentage in the Big Ten at 39.7 percent, which is amazing with what we lost, but I think the best part for me was we were second in the league in both field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage on offense, which we were behind Michigan in both.  We took ten less threes than they took. And I say that because it moves the perception of maybe who we are and what we are. We set a single-season school record for three pointers, making 307, a single-season record assists and a school single-season record for blocked shots.  And I say all those things not to make me feel better about losing, but we accomplished a lot of things in a lot of areas. We weren’t a one dimensional team.

I look at my seniors and Keith Appling is going to end here the 18th-best scorer in the history of the school  with 1,509, fourth in career games played with 142, tied for third in career starts with 123, but top ten in career free throws made and attempted, steals, assists, and three-point field goals attempted.  For a guy who has gone through so much and been kind of the scapegoat, what a career. Adreian Payne will finish one of nine players with 1,200 points and 700 career rebounds. And when you talked to me when I got the job, four-straight NCAA Tournaments would have been an act of Congress. When you think about what these guys have accomplished, the Sweet Sixteens and the Elite Eight, there’s a lot to feel good about. And maybe the game ended in the most bizarre way of all. We finished this season with 11.6 turnovers a game. We talked last year that it was the biggest stat we had, and we vowed to correct it. It was the best in the history of this school since the stat started being taken in 1985. What is the significance? I think our four losses at the end there, we had 16 in each game, including the last one.  The one at Ohio State, the one I think versus Nebraska and Illinois. So turnovers doomed us at the end, and that was disappointing.

As I go through, if you look at the improvement we made when we had everybody back - those last seven games, both tournaments - we shot almost 48.5 percent, we shot 38 percent from three, we shot 76 percent from the free-throw line, plus seven or eight in the rebound margin. The stats are amazing because our opponents shot 37.5 percent from the field, which is phenomenal, 32 percent from the three, and in terms of points, we gave up in the low sixties. I feel bad that this team had to play with so many injuries, because I don’t think we ever connected to where we were, where we could have been. I know other teams that have gone through one or two, but it was hard on these guys and it was hard on me, and probably hard on you. But there were so many things accomplished that it just kind of shows that the program is in good shape. You know the team, we had some ups and downs, and I’m looking forward to retooling and figuring out what’s next for us.

As far as our players, we’ll lose Keith, we’re going to need Travis (Trice) to come on. He’s got some things that he’s got to work on, and number one is getting stronger and staying healthy all year. We lose AP(Adreian Payne), and we’re losing a kid who had an incredible senior year, who did a lot for us, but you always lose seniors. In Gary Harris’ case, I have my own thoughts on what I think will happen. As I met with him and with all the players yesterday, I asked him the same thing as I would do for everyone else, about checking in to where his status is. From what I gathered up, his status is still very, very high.  When it’s that high, my advice over the years has been, ‘if you’re ready mentally, you should go.’ I think he’s torn because of his relationship with the team, with Denzel Valentine in particular. Here’s a kid who is a good student, likes college. All the strange reasons that guys leave is that everybody hates school or needs the money, this and that; he doesn’t have those factors in his life. In fact, it’s just about the opposite. He has two parents, a mother who played pro ball who understands that there are goods and bads to it. But Gary will probably make the decision in the next couple of weeks. I’m going to try to talk to a lot of people at the Final Four, from an agent’s standpoint, and then I’ll to talk to my friends in the league from the GM’s standpoint, and I’m telling his dad to do the same thing. But I’m also looking at what is going on with him, players talking to different people who come to games and that. My leading thought would be that he could surprise me like AP did, but I think he’s going to be a very solid pick. And I think that if all of those factors come out, I would be leaning to advising him that it’s time to make the change. But that will be determined over the next two weeks when I do all the research, when his dad does and what NBA teams tell me. So I don’t know if I’m going to talk about the players coming back now, or open it up to some questions.

On using the word ‘retooling’ instead of ‘rebuilding’…
I don’t ever want to use the word ‘rebuild’ because  I don’t think we are rebuilding. I had Matt do some checking around the country like I always do and look at who made big jumps. We had some in-state - Caris Levert goes from two points to 13 points a game. I took the top-20 teams and it is amazing some of the jumps the guys from Florida have made, and you think that there is a guy who was off the team for half the summer and had some standards he had to live up to and it looked like he wouldn’t come back.  Now he’s leading them to a Final Four. What I think we do a lot is that we look at who we lose, but when we lose somebody, that means a different role for someone else. It means a guy like (Den)Zel  (Costello) has to be retooled for a different role. A guy like Matt Costello who was playing very good early, lost some confidence as did Keith Appling - maybe because of his illness, maybe because of the way we play him, but I felt pretty good about how he was playing. I guess that’s why I use the word ‘retool’ and I do agree. I don’t think when you’ve gone 17-straight years you’re rebuilding anything because we’ve lost more than this by far. When you look back to 2001 we lost seven guys and we came back, and the last weekend we were still playing for the Big Ten Tournament. And when we had (Drew)Neitzel and the no-names we were the Miami Dolphins of basketball. Travis Walton pops up, Raymar Morgan comes in and does things better than you think. Very few times have we been out of the hunt for a Big Ten Championship in the last two weeks and I’m expecting that to be true this year.

On Branden Dawson’s chance of going to the NBA…
With Branden, I will do the same thing [that I will do with Gary Harris] just because he was playing at one level and sometimes it’s ‘what did you do for me today’ and he didn’t finish quite as strong as I would have hoped and kept that going, but I think he’s just starting to get there like AP was like last year, to be honest with you, only AP because of his size was in a little different situation.  I will do some checking on Branden.  I talked to him about it yesterday and that’s what we’re going to do.

On what will he be looking for when doing research on Gary Harris…
I go by where he is as a guard, because it’s hard to go as a lottery pick because maybe they will take, as they always do, a bunch of big guys. If he’s one of the top guards up there, maybe if he’s a lottery pick.  He’s pretty close to it, but I told you guys last week that (Johnny) Manziel has gone from the first player taken to a third-round pick in some people’s minds, so it’s hard to get that kind of information.  But I do have enough friends in the league that would give me an honest assessment, as honest as it can be, and there’s always something that depends on who else comes out, but I think Gary’s tape has stayed pretty solid through the year and I think the one thing about him is that he’s going to keep getting better no matter where he is because he’s so self-motivated. But it is going to be hard for him because he is one of the rare birds that, at least Jud (Heathcote)told me that Magic (Johnson) loved college, you know, and I don’t know if anybody loves college. I didn’t love it, I’d love to go back to it, but I didn’t love it when I was there. But he does have an appreciation for it, he’s perfectly fine in school because of the student he is and he’s perfectly fine at home because of his family situation, so he doesn’t have the same reason as some to go. But he also has to do what he has to do, and when you’re in that spot, it’s hard and we’re going to look at the whole thing.

On the NBA Advisory Committee…
I have more friends in the league, but the advisory committee has been okay, but the parameters are so big. ‘Well, you could be the 17th through 38th pick.’ If the margins were smaller maybe, but that hasn’t happened in the last couple of years and it has been a little bigger than that. AP was picked between 18 and 35, you know, that’s such a big difference and I understand that they have to play it safe, that’s the way they have to do it. At the same time, with a player that has to make big decisions, I think you have to see a little more solid things that that. I’d rather call 18 or 19 people than six or seven.

On whether he’s expecting anybody else leaving that maybe he didn’t expect…
I don’t think so. I mean there’s always the thing with Russell (Byrd) and Alex (Guana) who are seniors. They will graduate. They could opt to either not play, especially in Russ’s case, who’s had so many injuries, or play at a different level. But I did meet with them on that. I met with every player yesterday, and none disgruntled. There are some that have to make decisions on how important basketball is, some that we have to make our decisions and they have to make theirs. No one will be run off. Nobody will be gotten rid of. But there could be one like that. I think Russ has got to make some big decisions because I think he’s kind of gone through basketball being the most important thing in Russell Byrd’s life and the injuries kind of took that to hell. In the last year, he’s kind of, I mean basketball is very important to him still, and it’s just that is he still physically able to play at the same level? And he’s looking at that, because I think he still wants to play and I’d be the first to help him on what he makes a decision on or if we jointly make a decision on that. But there’s nothing that’s going to be determined in the next week or so anyway. After a couple of weeks, we’ll have the chance to sit down and really think about where you are and what you want to do. It’s hard to make tough decisions after such a disappointing loss.

On whether he goes to bed knowing the team gave him everything they had or go to the grave thinking, because of circumstances, the team was maybe robbed of something bigger…
Oh, definitely the second. I do think they gave me everything they had, but I think they were robbed. I said I would talk to you after the season. It was the most grueling season ever, by far, in all the positive ways. Less problems as far as problems you always have with college athletics, but more injuries than three or four years combined. It’s so interesting to listen to how, not you guys, but people think these injuries just don’t have a factor, they they’re common. I mean Wisconsin is going into that game not having one all year. Kentucky is going to go into that game and they’re making a big deal about (Willie) Cauley-Stein, he’s their least-scorer on that team, but that’s their first real injury they’ve had. Florida, as I talked to Billy (Donovan) yesterday, he had one guy with a sprained ankle the first week and one guy they suspended for two games. I think they’ve had nothing since. I’m not sure, but I don’t think UCONN’s missed a guy all year. I’m not positive on that, but you do have to be lucky with that. You look at that last game and we’re still trying to get Keith (Appling) back and it was brutal on them. It was brutal on them. There’s no way they’re in the same shape they would’ve been. (Adreian) Payne, (Branden) Dawson, (Keith) Appling, (Matt) Costello didn’t recover from his the same way. Sprained ankles are one-week issues. When you get into three to five weeks, you’re talking serious things in basketball and in the middle of the Big Ten season, there was difficulty.

I told you I hated these press conferences. I didn’t dislike them, I hated them. Not as much as twitter, but right there, because I always felt like I was making excuses, lying to you, this that and the other. It wasn’t from you. I would tell you what I know. I was as honest and upfront as I could possibly be with 98 percent of what went on. I felt like there were so many things that every time I met with you, there was something else. I didn’t hate it because of you, I hated it because of the message I was bringing. That was difficult for me. When I was posted up by outside people, not you, about some of those things, then that would frustrate me a lot. But I’m through it. I do think we were robbed of that. I think this team was good enough to get there. And under normal circumstances, we became a favorite at the end because everybody got caught up in the Big Ten Tournament, and deservingly so, and we were a very good team at the end. I look back on what Mike Krzyzewski said after we played them in Tampa, they thought our game took a lot out of them for their Connecticut game that they were favored to win easy. I think the Virginia game took something out of us a little bit. We looked tired, mentally or physically. Maybe it was combination of the whole season. The first part is true - they gave me everything they had, so did every assistant coach and so did my trainer and my doctors. But there were some incredible obstacles for this year’s team.

On the perspective of everything this senior class has accomplished and the idea of the rare group they had with them being even harder…
Yes, because I know. I told you guys this at the beginning of the year, I said I’ve had in my mind three teams that were capable of getting to a Final Four in my - no, not capable because every team is capable - expecting in my standards of when I lay at bed at night, I really believe this team was one of three that could get there. Two of them did and this one came out of that strong. So that means three that I knew of in 19 years. So yeah, it’s frustrating and disappointing. But then again, I had three other ones that I didn’t put there and those were just as much fun to get there with them. So, we’ll still have some fun trying to do it a different way.

On the full extent of Keith Appling’s wrist injury and whether it will require surgery…
No, it won’t. From everything I’ve been told. There are two kinds of injuries - there’s a physical injury and there’s a mental injury. Keith’s injury from North Carolina on was a problem. But he fought through that, and then I think survived it. When he injured it again versus Indiana, I think the mental part of not practicing and not coming in… I would come to press conferences and was asked what’s the difference with Keith Appling and say, ‘well this spring he watched a bunch of film and dedicated his summer to getting better as a passer and working on his shot.’ He didn’t shoot at all in January. He didn’t come in at all. It was bothering him. It was nothing structurally serious, but it was bad. He couldn’t put any weight on it; he couldn’t lift up a fork. And then it got better. Do I think it’s at least 90 percent better these last three weeks? Yes, I do. I think the mental part came in. Poor kid just wasn’t as comfortable with it. I mean, if you look at those stats they’re mind boggling. If you look at the first 20 games and the last 15 just in shots taken it’s like six or seven different. And then if you’re not as confident and you’re not going to shoot it, then it’s easier for a defense to guard you a certain way. One of his biggest assets was getting into the paint and distributing, so why did I play him so much at the end? He was still a phenomenal defender, he really was. I still think he did a hell of a job with that. He could still push the ball as well as anybody and I guess some of it was you get in the human element with kids. He had worked so hard to improve it and then it was just taken away. I wanted to make sure I gave him every chance. I still think he was the best guy. In this last game, when Travis (Trice) was at the point, they just attacked him. So I still went with what I thought was best. Did I feel for Keith? I told every player yesterday, so since I share, I’ll share it with you. I got one of the most unbelievable texts I ever got from that kid [Keith Appling] yesterday. It was tear-jerking and it was just talking about, even though he didn’t verbalize it, how much it meant to get to a Final Four and not be the class that didn’t get it - things that Keith Appling never talked about and almost using that vaunted phrase that I hate - I wish. It just makes me realize each year, it’s hard to convince people that you’re time is running out. It’s hard to convince all of us that there are certain things in life that you do not get a second chance at. I read that and I will keep that text for as long as I coach or as long as I parent because it was very well-written and very well-said. The things he said in there, it makes me feel that even though Keith had a tough year, he’s going to leave here better than he came and that’s the ultimate goal.

On whether his text said ‘I wish I would’ve known a couple of years earlier that it was going to end and I should’ve worked harder earlier’…
Those weren’t his exact words, but I think yes. I think a lot of people feel that way. I feel that was sometimes, I wish I had done a little bit more. But in this profession, when you’re dealing with guys that great years can change their lives…We can all agree that Keith Appling was having a banner year. I mean one that would’ve led to something - awards-wise, future-wise, whatever. When it gets taken away that fast, I try to tell him that it’s not the end of the world. I mean Fran McCaffery is going through something that could be tougher than that. Lacey (Holsworth) is going through something that’s tougher than that. But until you go through something, you never know what it’s like. When I met with him yesterday, I used the illustration that when you’re a kid and you put your hand on the burner and your mom tells you ‘don’t put your hand on the burner, don’t put your hand there. And finally, you do it and you burn your hand. We’ve got to get to the point where we don’t need to experience that. We got to start trusting in what people say to you because sometimes once it’s burnt, it’s too late. I think that the hardest part of my job, and when I look at these last 10 years and how it’s changed, is there are less and less people that trust what you say. Jud (Heathcote) is so smart because all the things he said, they’re all so true. That is one thing that he always says - whatever changes in society, will change within your program, will change within your family. I agree with that so much. We’re a softer society, softer players. We’re a less trust-worthy society. It takes more for players. We know the problems - split homes, this and that, male-figures. We know the issues, but it doesn’t solve anything. What makes it hard is when you say, ‘why doesn’t he see this or trust you on this?’ Why would he? Just because I was blessed in one way, why would he? Would I? Would I trust some of you or some other people that I don’t know? It’s not that kind of society now. It’s not like I totally wish. It was just like, ‘man, I see what you’re saying.’ I’ve got to do a better job. It’s my summer resolution to do a better job of making sure that they understand that because they did what only eight other teams did. They were still standing there in the Elite Eight.

Magic (Johnson) and Mateen (Cleaves) spoke to our team the night before the game. It was really interesting, they were both in the room and Earvin (“Magic”) spoke and then said, ‘Mateen, you speak to them.’ And in different ways, they said the same thing. I said to them after, ‘It doesn’t change, does it?’ Nope, not 35-years later; it doesn’t change. It doesn’t change in sports or business, does it? Nope. I walk into a meeting now, and I say, ‘why hasn’t this meeting started? Why is somebody late? Why is this or that?’ It’s the same thing. You know what he said, ‘I don’t want to be around average people.’ And that’s what drives me every day, it probably drives players nuts. They are not average when you get to an Elite Eight. But they aren’t elite until you win it all. That’s the mission, that’s the goal. It’s so cool to sit there with some of your former players who have been so successful, like I watch Steve Smith and when Magic can do the same thing in business that he did in sport, you realize it’s not about what you’re in, it’s about how you do it to be the best at what you’re in. So thank God my players gave me that ride to the Elite Eight because then again I got to see some of our former guys do a better job at something that I can do and that was valuable to me.

On whether he would like to see a member of the officiating crew face the media…
I would. That was a Jud Heathcote thing 20 years ago. Listen, I’m not blaming any of the officials, but if freedom of movement is the main course of what we tried to address this year, is that just on the perimeter? I watched the game and I have a hell of a picture in my office of the New York paper with AP (Adreain Payne) in a headlock and no foul call. That’s the only complaint I have about that. They deserved to win the game, they played better than us. People say, ‘why did you only have eight shots in the paint?’ Antonio Smith was sitting there watching, and he became a UCONN fan. He was proud of how it was. That’s the way it was. But I do think that anybody that’s put in a position that can change people’s lives should be held accountable. I would like to see something like that - have everybody go through the same thing we go through.

On if a graduate or transfer does something for him this year…
You know, I’m the only guy in this state that’s not panicking over what we have and we’ve got. Are there graduate guys? Maybe. I never really wanted to build my program on it, but it’s getting to be the norm. Billy (Donovan)’s a good case for that. If it worked out for the right guy and it was the right situation, but there’s going to be some guys, you’re going to see (Denzel) Valentine step up big time. I really believe. He’s been the hardest worker I have and he will. I think you’re going to see some other guys - I think (Branden) Dawson’s going to get to another level. If those two guys do, and everybody else takes smaller steps, then I think it will be a different kind of team. It won’t be star-studded when you look at them. But star-studded? Wisconsin’s never been star-studded? I listened to his (Bo Ryan’s) press conference last night that was amazing, he’s apologizing for taking (Josh) Gasser. The one guy that he had that was the highest recruited guy scored six points in the last game and did nothing. (Frank) Kaminsky averaged four points last year. I ‘m not worried about it. I’ve been here when (Drew) Nietzel and Travis Walton were my two big cogs and we got to an NCAA Tournament and came within a game or two of winning the Big Ten. I’ve been here when we lost seven guys, seven player-players in 2001. Listen to the people complain, but don’t lose sleep over how we’ll be next year because people are probably right, I’m probably better at being an underdog. I will value this spring, summer and fall like few I’ve valued here.

On the potential for another recruit to this class…
If we can either get a decent power forward, big guy, something for the future, then we will. If it happens to be a fifth-year guy that could add in some area. We have one more scholarship, we plan on using that and we are recruiting some guys that we think would fit in. If we get one of them, I think this will be a very good recruiting class, it will just be different because guys coming from different schools. I think Bo (Ryan) said he had one guy that was ranked in the recruiting world on his list and they are playing in the Final Four. (Jim) Calhoun, I talked to him, and they had a lot of great players that were nobody’s coming in. This day and age, as I tell my players all the time, finding players that want to become players is more important than finding players that are players because there are so many guys that if they are players they aren’t hungry enough and move on and if they are players you can say they aren’t good enough to move on, but I think finding a happy medium is what works pretty well. In fact, there are very few ‘Kentuckys’, very very few Kentuckys. Most of them that are getting it done, if you look at the McDonalds All-Americans on the three teams that moved on from the Big Ten, there weren’t many. Kentucky would have more on their back up list, their scout team, than those three teams would have combined probably. So let that confuse you.

On the strength of the Big Ten next year…
Some of that depends on who leaves. I don’t know who all is leaving and who’s coming back. That’s always interesting. That will play some part in it. But I think what the Big Ten is starting to do now is that we’ve established ourselves as a basketball conference, and a very good one. I don’t know what Rutgers will bring, but with Maryland, I know a little bit more about and that’s going to be a pretty good addition. I still think you’re going to see the Penn States and Nebraskas getting better. There’s going to be a lot of good teams next year. Unless we have a mass exodus of players, I think the Big Ten will be right up there one-two again, I really do.

On whether the one-and-done changes the way they recruit…
That’s a good question. I haven’t let it. Maybe one the off-season deals will be too look at, along with maybe some of my GA’s, what has happened in a five-year period. What has happened? We know Kentucky is going to go to three out of four. That’s good, even though the one they didn’t, they didn’t even barely make the NIT. Are we having more success going that way? I’m on the committee with [Mike] Krzyzewski, which means I’m going to talk to him on Thursday about what he felt about the year. You look at them and they’ve got pretty good players and two out of the last three times they’ve been out in the first round. Poor guy doesn’t have any windows left in his house; it’s all blacked out in there. When Duke does that, it’s not normal. What are the reasons for it? I’ll do a little research on that. Not that I’ll ever have that same problem. I’m not going to have six of them and things like some do, but why are the mid-majors moving up? Is it because of that? I think there will be some studies about that.

There’s always pressure on coaches to get the best players you can get. It’s such a media frenzy; it’s such a fan frenzy. Now it’s better to have the No. 1 recruit in the class then it is to have a national championship. Sometimes that’s true as far as for the way people look at the program. I don’t feel that way. The NBA, it’s going to be interesting to see what they do. I’m even meeting with them down there. It either sounds like the NBA is not happy with the problems they’re having or something’s got to re-up, because they’re reconsidering a lot. I’m hearing some baseball rule things, which for me I think would benefit the three parties. Nobody cares about the three parties. The NCAA says they care about the student-athlete, the NBA we know cares about the money and they do, they should, it’s a business. College coaches are always claiming that we care about our own and that’s it. If we really truly cared about the kid, at least that’s what the college’s look at, there’s no question in my mind, in the big picture, not in LeBron [James]’s case or Kobe [Bryant]’s case, I’d just feel better off with a rule that keeps less pressure on them. Let’s them develop like a normal human being. You get the argument that we’re taking away their chance to make money. I still wish one of you guys, you’re all so good at what you do, would do a research study about how many are out in the cold, that came out early, that left early, compared to how many that make it big. We know that some make it big. When I hear people talk about how it’s not fair that we’re taking away an opportunity for a kid to make money, then the baseball rule seems good. If it’s really not fair and that guy is really that good, go. Does anybody say it’s not fair, the way we treat them like a piece of meat and cast them aside and let people tell them they’re NBA first-round picks and they’re not picks at all? I’ve had one or two, is that fair? Which ones are there more of? I think there’s a lot more of those than the LeBrons and Kobes. Has anybody researched what’s happened to these kids that won’t  have an education, that haven’t  gotten a chance to mature like all of us overtime, when they make all that money? Are we lost at the end anyway? I struggle with that.

I can’t wait until I’m out of coaching because then I could talk on it without an invested interest and you’re going to hear me talk the same way, because I really don’t care. If guys are good enough to come out, if Gary Harris can come out and make money, be solid, God I’m going to be his biggest fan. I love Jason Richardson, I’m his biggest fan. When he flew out to New York this year, God it was awesome. I loved that. If he can make it earlier, I love it. Helps my program, helps him. Who’s going to research on the number of people who’ve failed?  That’s when we don’t use them as just a piece of meat. That doesn’t go over big in recruiting, because everybody wants to use that against you. I’m not against them coming out early, I’m against them failing. I’m against them not having a fair shot. If I would have gotten this job at 24, what do you think my chances of success would have been? Slim to none. Slim to none. I do want to state this, since I let the president down and God that bums me out, but since I did, tell me -why you’ve got to be 36 to be president? Why? Do the labor laws go against that? Why shouldn’t we be 30? Why shouldn’t we be 20? Yet we just pick some athletes, these kids who maybe haven’t had that kind of life, so we say it’s not fair to hold them back. Then we forget that five of them make it and 50 of them don’t, and probably those 50, a lot of them could have had better lives. Not only an education, but they’d still be pros. If you’re good enough to be a pro, stay in school, you’re going to get better. Now, LeBron’s case, my son sprouts up this summer, grows 6’9” and 260, gains 200 pounds, I’ll be escorting him right to the league. I’ve got no problem with that at all.

On if the NBA would be okay with a baseball rule to get the players like LeBron James versus the players that aren’t…
You’d get a few, but you wouldn’t get an onslaught like you get now. In a couple years, we have 70 or 75 players that come out early and there’s only 60 draft picks. Most of those kids think they’re going in the first round, so somebody is getting screwed. That doesn’t include the seniors or anybody else. I’ll lose this argument, because we’re going to say we’re depriving kids of earning money. Then you sound like you’re the big rich guy depriving, I’m not. If he can make money, I’m happy.

On the possibility of flexibility of the NCAA, i.e. if you leave early, don’t get drafted, you can come back, sit out a semester and come back to your program in December…
It’s like paying players. All those things sound good in theory. The reality of it, I don’t see how it’s possible. I don’t see how it’s possible to pay 700 athletes like they want and then maintain a program. If they can do it, God bless them. I’m all for that too. So every year, you’re going to have players coming out and I mean the way it is, four players will want to come out and you’re losing three to graduation. You’re going to have to recruit guys just to have a team. If you don’t, you’re not going to have the team. I don’t know how feasible that is. I’ve always said football has worked pretty good. There’s a little more maturity to it. There’s a little more understanding. The NFL and college work very well together. I blame us. I don’t blame David Stern, I blame us. I’ve been on boards, I’ve been on committees. I don’t think there has ever been a college and pro combine where we sit and talk. The NFL does. It’ll tick off all my basketball guys that I’ve got to do everything with football. They just do a better job. They just stick together better. There’s a lot of college assistants that end up as pro assistants. It’s almost like growing as you do as a player.

We don’t do that in basketball. Don’t ask me why we don’t, but I think we’re part of the problem. I don’t blame anybody else. Maybe we didn’t reach out enough. It’s almost like, whether it be presidents, commissioners, coaches, they’re stealing our players. No. they’re not stealing our players, they’re giving our players a hell of an opportunity. If we work together, we’d probably come up with something. You can’t tell me the NBA is totally benefiting from 18-year-old millionaires. They’re recruiting on a potential rather than on a performance. There’s a lot of mistakes being made. I don’t see a lot of great teams in the league. Does anybody else? I see three or four or five. I see a lot of bad teams. Something’s not working. Anytime I get in to this conversation my assistants die, because everybody makes it. Somebody paint me like this - he cares more about the kid than he does about college or pro. Somebody paint that picture. But he cares about all of them. Not the three or four. Not the five or six. Does it benefit? Where would I be if I didn’t go through the process? I sure as hell wouldn’t be privileged enough to be standing in front of you guys as a head coach of Michigan State University. What is it doing to the guys once they’re done? I don’t know. I don’t see nearly the picture that is being painted. I’ve even seen something that I’ve never seen before in the last couple years. I’ve seen agents and they get a lot of abuse by coaches. I’ve seen agents telling a lot of people to go back to school. I swear to you I’ve seen it. I can swear to you I went years and never saw it once. If we really care about the 18 to 22-year olds, I think we need to start working together a little bit more.

I don’t know what the answer is. Is it two years? Is it three years? Is it four years? Is it no years? Is it no years? I’m for that if it benefits them. I’m going to get players here and I’m going to win games and I’ve done it a lot of different ways. I’m not worried about me. If you think I told Adreian Payne to come back for any other reason than the one that I told him that he should, post me up on it. Ask me. I was blunt enough to him. I thought he was a good enough player. I think there is another animal here that we haven’t talked about. The D-League, and how many kids are getting sent down. Is that an environment? I don’t know. It’s not just about getting drafted. Tough. Jud Heathcote - make a lot of money, got a lot of problems. Make more money, got more problems. You know what, that doesn’t just go for coaches or media guys, that goes for players too. As I tell them all, it’s business now. That’s what’s tough. Saying that, it’s pretty good business for a lot of them. For I think Adreian Payne, I think it’s going to be a great business. For Gary Harris, if he decides to go, I think it’s going to be a great thing. He’s mature and he understands what he’s doing. His family is solid. He’s got all the right reasons.

On if he’s heard talk about Adreian Payne…
I have. It’s going to pay off for Adreian. For somebody that get’s picked 17th, well maybe he could have been in the top 10 last year, maybe he could have been fifth. I don’t care where he goes, it’s going to pay off for Adreian. He’s way better ready than he was. He knows what he’s going to have to handle. I got a great text from Derrick Nix early in the year. It said, ‘Coach, continue to tell the players the real world sucks.’ That was it. That was the whole thing. I just smiled from ear to ear. It’s the phrase I use every day, ‘You guys think this is tough, wait until you get to the real world.’ For Derrick Nix to do that, it was priceless and it was so sincere. It was so real and that was great.

On being evaluated after your first two years…
It makes total sense. I’d be in favor of a combine earlier or something like that. I’d be in favor of that. Then you take the [Johnny] Manziel, [Teddy] Bridgewater, I mean I can’t believe the way that’s all over the map after three years of watching a guy. Now it’s all over the map because one threw off his right foot and one threw off his left. I mean, I understand all of that, but can anybody, you guys are all media guys, so when you walk up to a player and Joe here is 6’1” and you stand there and you’re looking eye to eye with Keith Appling, can you tell that he’s 6’1”? Do you ever see so much discrepancy, like oh my God, Johnny Manziel, did he change? Did he shrink? Is it that hard to look at a guy and figure out the inches going from 6’5” to 5’11”? Is that a surprise to a scout? I don’t get that. You can look at somebody and tell what he weighs. I don’t get some of those things. That’s what makes it hard, is how are some of those evaluations done? What do you have at the time? Gary Harris might be the top-five pick, but nobody in the top 10 needs a guard. You don’t take a guard. If he’s seven foot though, you take him even if you don’t need one. There’ s different factors that make it hard. That’s why I feel for players. I think for the most part, if everybody could be honest with everybody, there’s a pretty good feel where people are slotted. The interviews, I do think are important because you find out some guys are maybe not someone who you want on your team. Maybe there’s a way they can do some of that. I would be in favor of that. Plus, it would help us. For a guy to say, ‘I don’t think you’re worthy,’ well why not? Then maybe you could work on that. You could have some growing periods.

On if the people who are evaluating them are going to be honest…
I get so many people that give me this line all the time. Kids go back to big cities and someone’s telling them they should be averaging 30 points a game. They should be taking these shots and they should be doing this. I said to Denzel [Valentine] the other day when Earvin [Magic Johnson] got done speaking to our team, Denzel came by and said ‘Coach, I’d like to go talk to him.’ I said ‘Yea, he breathes and he stands and he talks, he’s not a martian. Go over and say I want to talk to you for a little while.’ Denzel was like a little kid at the candy store. He walked over to him and they were on the other side of the room and they talked. Twenty minutes later, they were still talking and I said to Denzel in the morning, I met with all of my players yesterday and today and I said, ‘Zel what did he say?’ He said, ‘He said the same thing my dad said and you say, just in a different way.’ I said, ‘Oh that works’ He said, ‘Coach it’s unbelievable.’ The difference is in the [Mateen] Cleaves era, even up to the [Travis] Walton era, when they heard something like that, they would tell the rest of the team that and everybody would know it. I’m joking saying the Twitter era, but I think that has hurt too, because there are so many voices. You’re seeing so many things, what do you believe? My assistant comes in and says, ‘I just saw this on Twitter.’ Then the next one comes in and says something else, then I’m confused. They may be talking about me and they confuse me and I’m me. I think that’s what makes it harder, I really do. There’s too many people in these ears and that’s why You do feel fortunate to have a Gary Harris. Whatever Gary Harris does it will be done the right way. It will be done the right way with his family sitting down with him. With coaches probably being involved. With thought going into it. It will be done the right way. What we forget is that not everyone has those people around him. But if I had to tell you how many times an NBA scout or GM would say to me, “why would a kid listen to idiot in Tallahassee when you’ve been doing this. Why would I listen to someone in school instead of my parents? Sooner or later the smart ones come back and they figure it out. That’s what we have to hope for.

On Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves’ main message…
It was to remember you’re on a team and everyone needs to be on the same page. That was a big part of it. One of the things he talked about was how every game you move up the more competition is coming at you. At this time of the year, there’s better players going against you. You are getting the best of the best. Just continue to stay together, play hard, play smart and play good. It’s the one thing that when I leave, here I’m so fortunate. I’ve had so many guys from those past groups, I’m not sure what those other teams have, but nobody’s got it better than I got it - just the number of players that aren’t afraid to step up. They have such incredible credibility that everything else falls in line. It was kind of fun how he handed the baton off to Mateen (Cleaves). I told our players that when Earvin (‘Magic’ Johnson)came back when Mateen played here, he would say, ‘Hey Mo, Earvin’s coming to practice. Don’t screw it up.’ I swear, ‘when’s he coming? Tomorrow?’ I swear to God Mateen Cleaves didn’t sleep. He didn’t eat. He did nothing. He idolized the ground he walked on. There’s beginning to be less idolization, too. Guys are exposed to more. That’s the sad part. I told my team that. You’re getting spoken to by to by maybe two of the greatest players that ever played a college sport. I 200 percent know that. And they run their lives the same way they did when they played basketball. They weren’t the two greatest athletes, but boy I tell you what, two of the greatest winners I’ve ever been around. I feel so fortunate to have those guys around.

On watching the film of the game on Sunday…
I usually don’t. But I watched this one on the plane on the way home because I just couldn’t believe it. I wanted to see was it their defense? Was it our defense? Was it them or was it us? Was it a lack of focus? Was it fatigue? Why was that ball going all over the place? It was going through guy’s hands and just some other bizarre things. I wanted to see if the inside-play was what Adreian (Payne) was telling me. Those two things, I wanted to do right away because (Mark) Hollis sat next to me and watched. He’s on all those committees that have an impact on officiating. I watched it with him and I watched it again when I got home. That was different for me. Maybe because I really believed this was the team that could go all the way.

On whether he would be happy seeing the perimeter rules being applied to the inside…
I love what Tony Bennett said when we jumped way to far on one side and I don’t care who’s mad at me, or who fines me or who does anything. We jumped way too far. I couldn’t believe it. The rule states, if we want to get to the letter of the law, freedom of movement. That means if a guy is walking off to the bathroom and he’s still on the court and someone impedes his progress, that’s causing a freedom of movement issue. Why is that inside or outside? What does that got to do with it? What happened was they were calling too many fouls, it wasn’t good for TV and people were complaining. It just so happens that this one year we have better inside players. Normally we use that to our advantage.

Denzel (Valentine) has had some memorable turnovers but when you look at the assist-to-turnover ratio, it really isn’t that bad. He’s second in the conference in assists. Is it not as much an issue this year? Oh no, he hasn’t turned the ball over half as much as he did last year. This last game, I think he and Keith (Appling) had four each. Some of them were weird, but he’s way better than what he was last year. That is one of the things Earvin said to me - he’s more simple. He’s not going behind his back. It’s worth my salary. I can sit here and talk about it. I had a meeting with (Den)Zel today and he sees things so differently. You have to burn your hand before you realize. But if everyone has to burn their hand before they realize it, were not going to get where we want to get. I told him we will be picking captains next week. I experimented with something and I did it for all the right reasons and I don’t regret it in any way shape or form. But we’ll have two captains probably next week. Ending my message and Earvin’s and Steve (Smith)’s and Mateen’s and Travis (Walton)’s and anybody else’s that has been, there will be a captain here. I’m going to do some unique things with that.

On whether he has been contacted by any schools about his assistants…
There have been a couple schools that have inquired about both of them. Not a lot of them right now. There’s not a lot of jobs open right now. I think Mike (Garland) has decided that he’s with me now. Like it or not. He’s older than me; he’s the Buck Nystrom of college basketball. I think Mike is cool with that. Hell, we started together in college.

On whether he had to put more leadership on himself this year because there was no captain…
Yeah. I had to do a lot more stuff. I thought our chemistry was pretty good. Did anybody watch SportsCenter this morning? They had a thing on the Indianapolis Pacers, how their chemistry is going down. It was a really interesting story. That will be watched tonight by my team. I’ve got my guys taping it right now. It was really good. Still the one problem is I believe that a player-coached team is better than a coach-coached team. A coach is never going to be at a frat party, the movies or out to dinner all the time. It’s just never going to happen. I think that’s where the player coach probably comes in. We had a unique situation this year. I went with it and it didn’t work out so bad, but it’s not the right way to do it. As I sat there and got a phone call from Steve Smith and Day-Day (Draymond Green), Mateen (Cleaves) and Earvin I just maybe realize more that that is what’s needed. So I’m going to figure out a way that, even if we don’t have one of those guys, I have to do a better job of building one. They don’t just come around like they used to. I’ve got some things in place and I’ve talked to those guys from the past on what we could help do to build that.  

On whether he prides himself on the friends he’s made (and met in the tournament) in college basketball…
I do, I appreciate guys that do it the right way. All those guys you mentioned do. I had met Kevin Ollie with Jim Calhoun on the road, and I liked the guy immediately. He’s just a good guy. If you talk to any of the NBA guys out there, they will just say that Kevin Ollie is a great guy. He reminds me of Michael Curry, who used to coach the Pistons - a great guy, a very knowledgeable coach and a guy that would get after them. He did get after them out on that floor. Tommy Amaker has a different approach, but he is a good friend. Tommy is different than Kevin or Tony (Bennett) because Tony and Kevin are guys I respect and Tommy was a guy I went through some incredible things with. Those are harder friends to play.

On who he wants to win the national championship and who has the best chance...
I’m pulling for Wisconsin. This is going to be hard for everybody to believe. Watching Bo (Ryan), I mean first of all, there’s been a big rivalry and he made me mad because he dunked in the last second. I still tell him I’m mad about that. As I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve appreciated the fact that he still does it the right way. The last four or five years, our friendship has grown since we’ve been on board. Watching him at the end of the game, and I had talked to him before the game, the story of his dad’s birthday. I knew his dad pretty well. His dad was just a jokester. He was a good guy and the final four is where he did it all. Watching Bo be ‘un-Bo-like’. Instead of the jokester, he actually had a tear in his eye and spoke so differently after. I was happy for him. That’s what’s right about basketball. He deserved to get there at his age and his situation.

I think Florida may be the best team right now. I think Kentucky is coming on and UConn’s two guards are phenomenal. Florida’s got guys with experience and Billy (Donovan)’s done it before. Uncharacteristic , Bo and Billy’s teams are a little bit different than they’ve been. Bo’s been so good defensively and now they’re such a good offensive team and Billy has been so good offensively and now they are more of a defensive team. Defense usually wins championships. That’s one thing I will say and you look at our team in the last three weeks and you look how much better we became defensively and rebounding the ball. That is what makes championships.

The third aspect to that, like I say every year going into the Super Bowl, is turnovers. It’s funny, there are some teams in our league that are first in one and last in the other. Wisconsin isn’t very strong on the defensive side and Michigan wasn’t very high on defensive field-goal percentage. Wisconsin was very low, and yet they weren’t the best offensive team. Consistently, I think Florida has the most going for them right now. They played UConn early, but had the one kid out with the ankle, the kid who is suspended and they lost by one at UConn. Although UConn has got that Kemba (Walker) factor there, and that might play a role. Kentucky’s guards are a little better than what I saw of them earlier. But I think it’s going to be tough for Wisconsin. I just don’t know if they have enough bigs to handle Kentucky. It is going to come down to how it’s called. (Julius)Randle is going to get there. It also depends if (Willie)Cauley-Stein plays because he’s good enough, big enough and athletic enough to handle (Frank) Kaminsky on the perimeter and on the inside.  For Wisconsin, the freshman (Nigel)Hayes has been really good. I don’t know if in the last couple of weeks he’s just hit a wall or people have figured out what he’s all about. I don’t know if Wisconsin has enough size in there. Against Kentucky, you’re going to need some size in there and be able to bang.


 

 

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