Oct. 9, 2012
Men's Basketball 2012-13 Media Day
October 9, 2012
Head Coach Tom Izzo
Well, it's really great to be back. I don't know why I feel as good as I've felt in 10 years. I think we have a lot of things going for us, maybe some more than I thought. We're coming off an incredible year where it kind of revives you in itself. We had a leader in Draymond Green, and I'm sure that's what some of the questions are going to be later on, and they're that way with me. We have to keep in perspective that Draymond Green was a once in a decade leader, maybe once every 13 years, and Cleaves and Magic, they're just guys that do things for you in so many ways, and you try to find someone that's going to live up to half that standard, not all of it.
That's going to be our job. I think leadership was the strength of our program last year, the strength of our team, and I think it's still a little bit of a question mark right now.
I've always said that you have to have some leadership to be great. I don't think you can win championships without pretty good leadership, but there are degrees of it, and we're going to try to find that. We've been working on it all summer, working on it in the fall. We've been working on it over in strength and conditioning, we talked about it in our academic center, and that's what we're looking to do. So we are going to find some guys that live up to that, I think. We have some guys that have been through a lot.
Last night we voted on our captains. They don't even know it yet. I think my staff is going to tell them right now, and our captains could be a little controversial as far as media is concerned. They are Derrick Nix and Russell Byrd.
Personally I think the players did a good job. There was not one coach that had a vote in it. I decided this year since we talked about it early in the summer we were going to wait until the last day of preseason camp, and everybody was going to try to earn the right to be one. I think what Draymond did is he brought it back to be importance of being a captain. I think we lost that for a year or two.
So that is going to be a lot of responsibility. One guys has got big enough shoulders to handle it, but he's got some things to do to make sure that he is deserving. The other guy I think is finally healthy and has a lot of the qualities and has showed incredible ability to be a good teammate this summer.
As far as the year goes, our conference is I think the best in the preseason it's ever been. I don't remember most magazines have five teams, six teams in the top 25 or 30. A couple magazines have four teams in the top 10. I don't think that's ever happened since I've been here. It's going to be you add that to all the sold out arenas, the fact that some of the bottom teams lately are much, much, much improved. I think it's going to be as good a conference season as we've had here in a long, long time.
But if you look at this team, you can look at it in a couple different ways. We did lose a lot. I talked about Draymond, but Austin Thornton was a hell of a stabilizer for us. He was a five year guy that really had an incredible senior year for him, both in the leadership area and the offense. Defensively, he was better than I thought.
So we lost maybe two thirds, two fifths of our minutes, maybe almost a half of our rebounds, and probably two fifths of our scoring.
But the other way you can look at it is we virtually have six out of eight of our leading scorers back, even though not many members have played a ton of minutes. I think we've got a lot of guys that have some experience, and we have a freshman class that I think is going to be good right off the bat. How good? Hard to say. But with the new addition of those new rules, having two hours a week during the summer, having a little bit more time in the fall, I at least have a better evaluation of the freshmen than I've had before. And by the way, that was one of the more enjoyable rule changes I've had in my career here at Michigan State, those two hours. They were fun. There was less pressure. They were at the point where I think the players really enjoyed them, and I think the coaches really enjoyed them. And that doesn't happen very often when both parties enjoy something.
As I said, leadership will be a number one question mark. We're still going to be by committee a little bit. I don't think there's any question about that. But I think some of the returning players, the advantage you have for a Nix or a Payne or an Appling or even a Byrd, when you've gone through a tough year like we had a couple years ago where we felt like we had very little leadership and then you go through a great year when you think you've had some of the best leadership, they've had a chance to learn on the job. They've seen what a difference it can make.
I think we've seen what a difference it can make. To me, we had a team that was more talented that didn't do as well. Last year we had a team less talented that did better. There's always extenuating circumstances, too: Injuries, schedule, all those things play a factor.
Austin and Draymond were two guys that really cared about the program and their fellow players, and that is my number one issue right now is getting players back where they're really, really good teammates, and that will be on many shirts this year, and they are right for the program.
And I think the number of guys we've still had coming back over the last four or five weeks, I've had those guys spend time with our guys to make them understand that. Still trying to stay away from distractions, and that's what good leaders do. They prevent distractions rather than cause them.
I'm pleased with the progress that our team has made this summer. I think Appling is a much, much, much better shooter, and I don't think that's because he couldn't shoot. I think he went on a little bit of a slump last year, confidence, and as I told him, I didn't think he was working hard enough on his shooting. The only way I knew how to get out of something was to work my way out of it, and boy, did he take that to heart, because from April until this week, I think he's probably spent more time in the gym than he did his first two years. And that's going to help him a lot.
A lot of the players have made individual improvements. Nix with his weight, it's down a little bit more, but more importantly he didn't have to crash like he did all last year trying to drop 30 pounds. He was down to start with, so he had to firm up. He didn't wear himself out running up and down right now. They've definitely improved their conditioning. Payne has improved his strength. He's gained 12, 14 pounds. He's just a lot more aggressive, and I expect him to take a serious jump.
Gauna has been better. Still trying to work on his love for the game, but he has been better, and I've been really impressed with Costello. He's tough, he blocks shots better than I thought he could, and he shoots it better than I thought he could. So those are always pluses. Usually it works the other way.
With some of the perimeter guys, Byrd is healthy, and I will talk about those guys later on maybe individually.
As I said about the Big Ten, without a doubt, the top teams in our conference are all ranked, and we play all of them twice. So the schedule gods either worked in our advantage because you get to see some good games, or a disadvantage because we're going to be playing five or six teams that are going to be ranked all year long. That's 10 to 12 games against those kind of teams.
In saying that, I thought it was interesting to think back and realize what a perspective we have. We've just been Big Ten champs three out of four years. Two of the last four years we've been to Final Fours. When Howie Schwab or Matt Larson or whatever the hell his name is comes up with all these stats for me, I look at him, and I say, you've got to be kidding me. We really didn't do this or this. Unfortunately we're in an era where it's always what did you do for me today, and even though we were No. 1 seed and we had a hell of a year, we didn't get to a Final Four last year, and it is disappointing.
But if you look, and I think one of the greatest stats Matt came up with, that since 1998 when we started our change, we played 163 ranked teams. That's a lot more than anybody else in the country. Now, when you look at our winning percentage still being in the top six or seven in the country of all those great teams, we've done it by playing the best, and I'm still proud of that. I still question a couple years, but thanks to (Jack) Ebling getting out of the paper and getting into a job where he had more time to do nothing, he always reminds me that that's the way we built the program, that's the way we should keep the program, even though two years, three years ago I quivered a little bit, back to dog eat dog, and we're going to play the best people as often as we can, and I still think I'm probably proudest of that stat more than anything.
So the last two things with our team that I'm concerned about: I think we have the depth to run and back the pressure people. I really think we're going to do a great job of utilizing nine or 10 guys. I think when I look at our players, I feel very comfortable with different lineups in there. I think we're going to be able to go really big with a Nix, Payne, Dawson lineup. I think we'll be able to go small with a Payne/Dawson or Payne/Byrd, three perimeter guys line up.
I think my teams have been the best when we have the versatility to do both. I think it's really an advantage when you get into conference play and you have to face different kinds of offenses or defenses, and definitely when you get in the NCAA Tournament, the ability to play big or small is critical. That really hurt us last year when we lost Dawson. We couldn't do that in a couple games.
We plan on being more up-tempo, and when you interview Keith, make sure you ask him if he's going to push the ball this year because I think we're going to try to run. That's all we've worked on. I do think we have big guys that can run. I've been very impressed with Nix and Payne running. I think we're going to have a situation where I play Nix and Payne together a lot, and I like the way they've worked so far.
So real quick, I thought I'd go through each player because I think that's important, and then we'll open to up for some questions.
I'm going to talk about the three walk ons. In (Keenan) Wetzel, we've got a kid who can really shoot it and he's a long range shooter. He had to get stronger and tougher. If you look at him today you'll see him a lot stronger and bigger.
In Colby Wollenman, I've always got to have a guy from Wyoming. It reminds me of the UP so anybody from Wyoming is automatically on my roster, especially since there's probably only three human beings at Michigan State from Wyoming. It makes it simple. This kid is a 4 point plus student, and he has improved. If the rest of our guys improved as much as he did this summer, he is going to put himself where somebody goes down, he's going to be ready to play.
And then Dan Chapman, our local kid, I still say he comes from one of the greatest programs in our state, Okemos. He has done an incredible job over the years, along with Sexton here recently, and Dan is that way. He's a very intelligent player. He's a very, very good teammate, and he's kind of taken on Adreian Payne, and those guys have really been I think it's really helped Adreian some.
So those are my three walk ons.
My freshmen: (Kenny) Kaminski - everybody knows hurt the shoulder again, and he's probably going to be out the year. But he is recovering a lot faster than he was, and I think he'll be able to at least come back by the Big Ten season or shortly after the way it looks, so then there will be some decisions made.
Denzel Valentine, he's probably impressed me the most because at 6'5" he has incredible vision and great understanding of the game. He jumps eight to ten times better than his dad did, and that's very critical to me, too. He's shooting the ball a lot better than I thought. He has been a good leader, a good player. If he's got to work on something, it would probably be his lateral quickness and guarding different people, but he'll be a guy we'll be able to move around and play at three positions.
(Matt) Costello is big and strong. He'll battle Nix every day. He is a big, strong kid with a shooting touch, 17, learning how to run better. He struggled this summer with his first two steps. In high school a lot of loping up and down the floor, and struggled with that, and then all of a sudden started showing some ability to block shots and make shots, and so I'm excited about his future.
Gary Harris has been every bit and more the billing. He's shot the ball better than I thought he could. He's a phenomenal athlete that can do some great things, handles the ball pretty well, has a great understanding, and all four guys are excellent students. So it's not only academic students but basketball students. They all have a great feel for the game.
Our sophomore class, I guess (Alex) Gauna is a sophomore. He's still my project, and like some other guys, looking back at A.J. Granger and guys like that, that took more than a year to fall in love with the game. When Alex works at it, he is a very good player, and so consistency is my big issue with him. He's gotten stronger, he's in better shape. He runs the court very well. Like Denzel, his lateral quickness has got to improve, but it has made strides.
Russell Byrd, for the first time I think you're going to see a healthy Russell Byrd, knock on wood. He's shooting the ball, much like he did in high school. I've been excited about his athletic ability. It's coming back, it's not all the way there. He's gotten a lot stronger because of the weights because he had time because of the foot. He's gotten better with the ball. That's still a work in progress. But he is a long, long range shooter that can also I think play 2, 3 and 4. I think he can play three positions.
In Brandon Kearney, a kid that kind of seemed like he fit in, played more minutes than people thought, but where does he fit in. A little bit like Adreian Payne, he's gained 10, 12 pounds and a lot of strength, and that was his number one issue was strength. Number two was his shooting, and I think he's made great strides on that. He had a very good sense and feel for the game and still does, and I think Kearney is going to be a guy that we play defensively even though he's not an incredible athlete. He's so smart on the floor, he did a good job for us as a freshman even being skinny and a little weak, and I think he's gained bulk and a lot of strength, and I like the progress he's made.
In Brandon Dawson, it's a big X factor. Freakish, freakish recovery. When you see him today, or in practice maybe, he's running and jumping and doing things that he could do a year ago, and I'm in amazement. His conditioning is poor, his shot is better. He's improved some. I still worry about the seven months off. I'll know more after next week when we get a two hour and 30 minute practices, what's it going to be like going up and down. That's going to take some time. So when you come there and he's dragging, understand he was off seven months. But as far as his jumping abilities, two hand rebound, his ball skills, and that's one he worked on all the time, so much better with the ball. He's exciting to think about where he could be. I just don't want to get ahead of myself because I think he's going to be frustrated for a month or two because it's not going to just come back, you don't sit out seven months and it comes back.
And Travis Trice, this summer whether you may have heard or not, he had a bacteria or virus of some kind and really set him back for six, seven weeks. But boy, he's bounced back great. He gained all 20 pounds that he lost back. He's doing great. He's shooting it very well, and I think he's going to be end up one of the leaders on this team.
The juniors, (Keith) Appling and (Adreian) Payne, I think are going to be some of the heart and soul of this team. Appling started ever since part of his freshman year, and Payne has been one of those guys that other than the injury his first year and missing a lot of that preseason in the beginning, Adreian Payne has made as much strides as anybody. He's capable of shooting threes and making them now. Everybody is capable of shooting them, but he's capable of making them. He's got as good a left hand as anybody I've ever coached other than Neitzel, and he's got a left handrf jump hook, he's got a left hand roll hook, he's got a great offhand.
What he's shown me in practice that we were nervous about is who's going to pick up the rebounding slack. He's been a two handed rebounder. I think the added strength and bulk, has helped him a little bit where he's going after the ball with two hands now instead of that one hand and tippy tippy sissy stuff that he used to do. He's really made some progress and been a lot more aggressive, a lot more physical. Him and Nix have gone at each other tooth and nail. I think he's really going to be ready for a breakout year.
And Appling, there's no question that last year he struggled with his shot. He struggled with it a lot, and I don't know why, except my impression was he didn't spend enough time. When you struggle on something, you've got to get yourself back in the gym. I think things came too easy for him in high school, and maybe that was part of it. It wasn't all his fault.
So if the kid from Ohio State is the best defensive player in the league, Appling is going to give him a run for his money this year. I think he's the best defensive guard we've had since an Eric Snow or Mateen Cleaves. Keith is a phenomenal defender. He has the ability to push the ball with the speed of just about the best that we've had. He's got to work on his decision making, but he's got to work on his shot because his confidence I think if you ask him today, there's one thing he did for the last five, six months, he's worked on his shot, just in repetition. It wasn't broke, a little flat last year, just needed the repetition, and I think he's done that.
And Derrick Nix, what do you say? You know, he's been a pain in my butt in some ways. He's been he could be the ultimate Spartan in another way, because he came here a blue collar kid - rough around the edges. He's made a mistake or two. He's struggled with his weight. I was reading something about the kid from UCLA still having problems. At least we always made some progress with him. Sometimes it was two steps forward and one step back. And got to be three steps forward and one step back. And then unfortunately, it seemed like we were over the hump and it was four steps forward and his weight and everything was going well, and then he took a step back.
But I look at the last year, and I've seen one backwards step in a year's worth of work, and now I add this six months, and he looks great. It's a difficult job to be a coach or a parent or a teacher when you've got to deal with 17 to 22 year olds and figure out what is right and what is wrong. But you know, you go with a hunch, and I've gone with a hunch. I could have vetoed his captainship. When you get as many votes as he's got, there was no reason to veto it.
I could have done other things. I put him through hell last summer, and that kid went to more charities, more community service things than most of my guys go to in four years. And at the end he not only enjoyed it, he respected it.
So I've learned a lot. He's kept his weight steady to down the entire summer, so he's had five months of that instead of like last year when he's losing 30 pounds in a summer, and now your body is such you've got to relearn how to walk and run. He doesn't run like I don't know what he used to run like. It was the worst thing I've ever seen. I'd close my eyes when he'd run up and down the court, and now he runs like an athlete.
It's just been fun to watch him. He's going to take 12 hours next semester and graduate within four years. I'm not selling him to you, I'm just trying to tell you that this kid has made incredible progress, and he's done he's made his mistakes, which could help you be a great captain. He's either going to be a huge, huge success story or egg on my face. For me, I think it's going to be a huge, huge success story or I wouldn't put him in the position he's in.
He's improved his shooting again, he's improved his free throw shooting. He is a pretty good to great passer, and I think him and Payne are going to work really well together, and you're going to see that lineup more than a little.
So I've just given you a hell of a lot of information, so I think I'll just open it up to questions.
Q. Talk about the great mood you're in, how you feel invigorated without committing an NCAA violation, how much is the recruiting picture right now and what you're possibly getting?
Well, recruiting is tough. It's still the toughest job. It's gotten worse this year to be honest with you, because the new rules in place, now we can talk to juniors, you can text them and you can call them, so I haven't been here much. I've been on the road more than I've ever been on the road in the fall, which I don't like, but if you're trying to stay in on juniors, you've got to be there. With the recruiting process it's been a little tougher, and as you know, there are no commitments yet because I think we're in on the right guys and got some work to do here the next few weeks.
Is that one of the reasons I'm in a better mood? I don't think so, because recruiting, the problem is if you finish second you might as well have been 42nd. I like the job my staff has done. I like the fact the practices this summer put me in a good mood. It was a lot of fun, even though it was hard being on the road, coming back, you'd have two days here, two days of practice, but it was a lot of fun, and guys maybe not the pressure they're under during the year, and maybe the same for me. So we did a good job.
And it's football season. Always in a good mood during football. And baseball season, the Tigers, all you guys that ripped them all year. Love them.
Q. You talked a little bit about how Derrick Nix was a pain in your butt but he's improved. What separated Russell Byrd from the pack to to give him that captaincy?
You know, when I say this, I think everybody picks captains different ways. I've done it here where my team has voted and my staff has voted, just in case somebody put you as captain I'd want to get you the hell off, so I'd make sure four guys didn't vote for you on our staff.
But this year we decided to go strictly with our players, and then I did it with my staff, and two of the we had three guys that we nominated, and two of those the team voted for. So kind of we were all in agreement with this. But what separated Byrd? Unbelievable job this summer. It was like his confidence came back. He was healthy. He felt good about himself, and he just started helping other guys.
This kid is a unique guy. I think he got sidetracked a little bit. When you have three surgeries like he had but unbelievable family, and when we recruited him we said we've got one of the best shooters that we've had. I still believe that. It was frustrating for him. It was disappointing for him. It was more frustrating for me because I knew what we had.
You know, he's not back 100 percent, but he is back where you're going to say, you know what, I can see why that kid was a big time recruit at one time.
I think you know, I don't know, his father is a minister. I don't know if that has something to do with it. But he has incredible feelings for the players around him. It doesn't matter where they're from or what color they are or whether they're older or younger. He has done a phenomenal job of rallying guys and reaching out to guys. Very impressed with Russ in that area.
Q. I'm wondering if Appling's development with shooting will tempt you to put him back to his natural shooting guard, or is he a point guard for life? And in three hours if you had it, who would be your starting five if you played today?
Well, with Keith, to be honest with you, he played a lot of point in high school, it was just a different system. I mean, they were when you're running and pressing in the PSL you're scoring in a lot of different ways, but the guy can score, but I really haven't thought about that. I don't think he's thought about that. I do think I'll play him at the 2 a little more this year.
As you remember I was doing that a little bit with him and Trice, and then Trice went down. If you think about last year Trice went down in the middle of January and never was the same player and then B.J. of course at the end. So those two guys were really not with us at the very end.
And so I think Trice complements him. I think Valentine can complement him. I think we can go with some lineups where we can go small and have incredible speed by putting Appling and Harris and maybe Trice in there and B.J. at the 4. I think we can go huge and have decent speed. I think we're going to be a very athletic team.
The rebounding that I was worried about, I think B.J. is going to pick up some of it, but I think some of those other guys are going to.
I don't look to move Keith. No quarterback controversy, unless Tebow comes in I think I'm keeping him at the point, but I will move him around when it benefits us and him.
As far as the starting lineup, right now I think you'd see those two bigs in there together, and I think you'd see Appling and Dawson, and it's up for grabs. But Harris has made big moves. I think Byrd could be a sixth starter like. He might start, he might come off the bench. Morris Peterson ish, but I think Keith and Denzel are going to be right there, and then whatever other big comes up between those two guys, I think we're going to play nine or ten guys, I really do - including Kearney.
Q. What do you expect from Dawson?
Dawson could play now, but his conditioning has improved. This kid is when I say a freak, that is totally in a positive way. I can't believe he came off that knee and he started practicing a couple weeks ago and he was already dunking and doing the things that he can do. The only thing that doesn't come back is the conditioning. His shot is even better because he spent a lot of time just standing shooting.
But yeah, Dawson can play. I don't know how many minutes he could play right now. That's the only thing about these practices. The longest we've gone is an hour but he's made remarkable progress. You look at his knees, you'd say, God, he's great. You look at him run, you'd say, geez, he's great. He's gotten stronger. He's a specimen.
Q. In '07 you put the five guys out there and it was a great year, but it was more managing those five guys. Is this year your biggest challenge besides finding a leader going to be finding enough time on the court for everybody?
You know, I've had a couple years where I've had great depth, and I would say yes, but seems like things always take care of themselves: I think it was '09 we had a lot of depth, we were bringing some good players off the bench, and we got to a Final Four that year. I've always had more success when we have some depth. There's always going to be an injury. You look at our football team right now, there's just more injuries, more injuries. You look at some pro teams.
So depth is part of it, you know. Last year we didn't know if we'd play Kearney. God, he was playing 12, 13 minutes at the end of the year and doing a decent job. I think he I haven't overplayed him. He's made some big progress, and so we're a solid 10 deep, and I don't think the chemistry of this team I don't know where the leadership is, but I do know where the chemistry is. The chemistry has been pretty doggone good. I think they're pulling for one another. I think they realize if we want to run like we can and pressure like we can, we're going to need to play people. Maybe it'll be an Alan Anderson type team where the most the guy played is 28, 29 minutes and we had a ton of guys playing in that 24 or 25 minutes. I could see that happening.
But that's right now. You know what happens with an injury here or something there or somebody doesn't pan out like you think. But right now I think we're going to be deep and I think it's going to be fun to coach them deep, I really do.
Q. Talk a little bit more about Matt Costello. You talked about what you saw from him over the summer, but how do you see him contributing this year?
Well, some of that depends on what goes on with those other two guys and what goes on with Alex Gauna. But what Matt Costello is is he's very solid right now. He blocks shots better than I thought he could and he's more physical than I thought he was. He and Nix got at it pretty good. Nix isn't backing down, but neither is Costello, and I think that's great, and he'll stand in there, he'll post strong. His conditioning you know, in high school he was a jog up and down the court guy. I've realized he's a pretty good track guy through the shot put. I've watched him run. He can run. But he's got to get in shape.
Now, yesterday we did some testing on the oxygen consumption test we do, and he graded out really high for a big guy, really, really high. So I think he's making a lot of progress since the summer. He's so smart, he just picks up things very well, and he understands them.
I think one of the fortunate things for me is I got guys that those freshmen are all good students but they all came from programs that have done well. Gary both in football and basketball, of course Denzel, two back to back state championships. Matt had a very good junior and senior year, and Kenny was hurt. But they've come from good programs, and I think that's going to make a difference, especially for Matt.
Q. Back on Dawson, other than the conditioning is he all go then, no other cautions in terms of practicing or any of that?
We've still got him in a brace, but about a week and a half ago he started going full go, in other words, contact, and I was leery of it and still am a little bit. In fact, I actually tried to call what's his name from Purdue (Robbie Hummel) because he told me when he gets close, give him a call, and when is the right time to come back, and you never know.
But the amazing thing to me is every day I ask him, is it sore? No. I asked the trainer, is it sore? No. He's had I think he's bionic. He's the $6 Million Man. He's shown no signs of anything, and I hope that stays that way. But he really has had no issues. None.
The only issue I think he's had is the conditioning, and that's been great for us.
Q. You spent a lot of your time at Jenison Field House. You probably still have a cot stashed away from long nights. Can you talk a little bit about what that weekend is going to mean to you, the alumni game, and do you have one special Jenison moment that you can share with us that stands out above all the others?
You know, I have a couple moments. The first one was my first Big Ten game there, and it was I was standing in that hallway in the back, you know, and we were playing Iowa and we were both picked co-champions. I guess they picked us back then, and it was the first game of the year. I sat there and I looked out and people were hanging all over, and I said, man, 10,000 people, I've got 7,000 in my hometown. They'd have to turn down the fire department here.
That was an amazing night for me. Believe it or not, one I think about often, because it was so exciting and I think about that. I think about the last game there. I think about that.
But there were a lot of great moments. Maybe the best one will still be Skiles vs. Michigan and Joubert and all that. That was a lot of fun.
This is going to be cool. You know, it's kind of a game that changed the game. That's what that game was. It changed the face of college basketball to a certain extent. And for our athletic director to come up with the things he comes up with, I half tease him because he was my roommate. I half get mad at him because he's got me playing all over the world, and every time I talk about, well, maybe I'd better watch what I schedule here in case, he goes, yeah, yeah, you don't want to schedule too many tough teams, and he calls me a week later, hey, they want you to play in Germany, why don't you just go out there and play. I say, yeah, thanks, you're helping my win loss record.
But the guy is incredible. He's incredible. He thinks about things. I was out at Nike last week speaking to 800 employees, and that's all he talked about was Mark Hollis, the big thing with Nike's innovation. And I said, hey, I've got a guy that can be president of this company. This guy would be phenomenal.
He just gets it. He gets it. And sometimes there's not enough hours in the day for him, but when he came up with the idea of this game, I said, are you crazy? We're going to get I said, we've already got everybody except the Celtics on here. Really? And then he couldn't get them. It looked like it was going to be dead just like the aircraft carrier game. The guy just went to work.
So then he comes up with Tuskegee, and I said, how are the fans going to take that? He said, this is way more than the fans, way more important. And he started looking at and learning about what happened, and then I watched the movie "Red Tails," then I started learning about that, then he pulls the Commodores out, they went to school there. I don't know where this guy he must live he must have a computer on his belt buckle or something because he comes up with them.
You know what, when I asked my players if they wanted to go to Germany, because I didn't know we played Kansas four days later, not the smartest schedule in the world, it was a 15 0 vote unanimous excitement, we want to go.
When I talked to them about this game, I first talked to them about playing Mississippi State, what it would mean, and then I talked to them about playing Tuskegee and how we would handle that and take it and what they thought and the cause. I mean, unanimous everybody wanted to do it.
I'm the right coach. I've got the right players to have a wacko AD that comes up with this many things. But Michigan State is a better place because of what this guy has done.
I mean, he goes down to Detroit to visit the museum, just happens to be that that museum is in Detroit. He contacts guys around the state that were the original airmen from that. He's just the details he does, I mean, I'm bragging about him, but I don't need him for my contract anymore. I need him because I'm impressed with him.
You know, and that football schedule is getting tougher and tougher, and one of these days I'm going to sit down with Dantonio and say, now, don't let him go crazy because you will be playing a football game on an aircraft carrier. It's going to happen. But how neat for Michigan State that we have a guy that does this, and everywhere I go people still talk about the aircraft carrier game, and now this thing is picking up some steam on the game in Jenison. And then to play a reunion game and get some of those guys back just kind of stands for everything both of us believe in.
Q. You seem really pleased with Harris so far. What is it about his game that has him so ready as a college freshman, and are him and Valentine guys that could fall into leadership roles before the season is over?
I don't think there's any question. Gary is very young. He just turned 18. But he and Valentine are like this because those guys are like the three stooges, Larry, Curley and Mo, and I don't know who's who. But they are very close. They are extremely competitive. They're in this gym morning, noon and night. They are, like I said, very good students.
They've all been raised right. Gary played football. He was a big time football recruit, could have gone to a lot of schools. I watched a couple games in the rain down there in my day. He made some incredible plays in basketball. I saw him make an athletic play there once that reminded me of a Jason Richardson.
The difference with Gary Harris to me, and a lot of kids, is he knows who he is and what he is, appreciates that, and he plays both ends of the court, and there aren't many shooting guards that play both ends of the court. You know, I think back in my career, and I'm not sure that some of them thought it was legal to do that. But he plays both ends of the court and is just going to get better and better and better.
And Denzel, guys love playing with him because he's so unselfish. He's constantly passing. He's not Magic Johnson, but he has size, sees over things, and he makes some great passes. Now, I've been on him because he's turned the ball over more than he should for two reasons: He's not used to an Appling covering him, so Appling gets his hands on balls, but the second one is our guys aren't used to him passing it. And talking to Jud, Earvin had that problem when he came. He'd throw passes that should be caught, and to be honest with you, Denzel does the same thing.
Even though I'm glad he doesn't have his father's athleticism, I'm glad his father raised him to understand the game because he has an incredible basketball IQ. So those two are going to be not only great running mates, but I think the leaders of our future and maybe our near future.
Q. To follow up on Denzel, do you envision him a lot like Draymond Green, or do you see him potentially just being a point guard eventually?
I see him more like an Alan Anderson who can play three positions. He can play four positions. You put him in the high post on things. But I think he's more of a guard. His biggest issue is going to be can he cover Keith, can he go against him, yeah, can he cover him. Everybody wants to play a different position than they play on one end of the court. But this is not Iowa (high school) women's basketball of decades ago. We play two ends of the court, and so what a guy has to be able to do offensively he also has to be able to do defensively. Covering point guards is going to be a little more challenging where he's not going to be able to use maybe his speed, although he's got way better hops than I thought, but he's going to have to use his brain, a lot like Day Day did. Day Day wasn't as athletic as he was smart. He was so smart.
Q. Does having a guy like Keith Appling who can defend the point give you more options with Denzel?
Yeah, yeah. After some time I felt like Keith needed to be at the 2 and Denzel needed to be at the point, I could have Denzel guard a 2 or 3 man and Keith a point. That's what I said; this group is going to be interchangeable. We're going to be able to flip flop some people, and I think that's going to be good for me, good for my staff, and I think good for the players.
As we've moved them around a little bit, which we've done a little bit of that, they seem to have adjusted just great. Once in a while on the break it gets a little more confusing if we're running a numbered break where they're supposed to be in a certain lane. But I've got a smart team right now. Hopefully a smart team. I think it's got to become a tougher team, but it's not a wimpy team.
So as you can tell, I like the parts that I have. Where is that going to take us? I don't know. I don't know for a couple of reasons. I think our schedule is still tough, and I think our Big Ten schedule there's been a couple times in my career where the Big Ten schedule has been really tough. Not many times in my career have this many teams been ranked, plus we play them all twice. So that's going to be interesting. I haven't really looked at who plays one. Throughout it I know who we do, but we're going to have a tough slate, but that's going to be good.
Q. With Derrick, was there a point or moment in the offseason where it kind of maybe struck you and said, wow, this kid really gets it and he's going to turn things around? And also, to follow up on that, have you made a decision on whether or not he'll serve any kind of suspension?
He won't. Right now he will not serve any suspension, which will be controversial in itself. And I have no problem sitting him a game, two games. But what I did is I guess luckily I had enough time in the offseason. And when I say that kid went through hell in the offseason, I've got judges in this city that have helped me place him with people. Mike Garland is a 24/7, make sure he's there, make sure he's there, make sure he's there, and I just said, and then find stuff. Find stuff. I made his life about as miserable as you can make it, and I told him if he even looked at me wrong, there would be a problem.
Look, we all know that we've got tough jobs. You know, I joke to you guys about Twitter and texting and I say it's going to get us all fired. I still stick by that. Including you and you guys and you and me. I really do, because if we were as perfect as we're trying to make out to be, we'd be sitting at a place a hell of a lot higher up than we're sitting. I'm telling you I've had to make some tough decisions in my life, and I just decided that as my kids get older I'm going to try to do my own kids. That's helped me a little bit. I try to look at Nix.
I thought about this: When I looked at that Cleveland job, I get a phone call when I was down in Cleveland. There was a little rally here, six or eight people or something. One of those six or eight was him. Someone called me and said Nix is here at this thing. Nix? What the hell is Nix doing there?
You know, and he's got that side of him that is incredible. Now, he's got another side of him that he's immature, and I told him yesterday, I said, you know, I remember when Day Day was immature. Some of you remember that, too. We all grow up at different times, and sometimes the more that's placed on you it helps you grow up. Sometimes the pressure bothers you.
I think of freshman and sophomore year, he did start as a freshman in the Final Four, and unfortunately he was 300 some pounds probably. But when I look at what he's done, there is way more good than bad. Do I look at is he mature enough to handle it? I don't know. That's the chances a coach takes. And that all falls on me.
But I guarantee you this: I don't need Derrick Nix here. I'll win a lot of games without him. It isn't about me trying to save my job. I get one bad season before I get fired when you've had as many good seasons as we've had so I don't need him for that.
I think he's a valuable member. I think he kind of stands for what this University is about, giving everybody an opportunity to make a mistake, you pay your dues for it and you pay them in different ways. I've had guys sit out games, I've had guys run at 5:00 in the morning, and I've had guys that I've put to work in our community to try to help other guys that didn't know right from wrong become better. So when you speak in some prisons and you speak at some boys' clubs and you go to hospitals and visit kids with cancer and you go through all the different things that that kid has gone through and you see them come out of it, I like my chances.
You know, he's I don't know how many times in my career here I have had a unanimous vote for a captain, I really don't. I mean, I know there's been a few, but it's not been like it's been handfuls. So somebody else sees the same thing as I do. So I'm going with my best decision, and my best decision is did I sit him out? I sat him out. I sat him out all summer. He practiced but I sat him out all summer because he paid his dues, and thank God I had enough time to do that. If that would have happened in September I would have had to do something different, I'm sure, but in my mind that's what I did, and that's what you should hold me accountable for.
Q. In terms of defense, you've talked about being able to go 10 deep, and that gives you fresh legs, and you talked about the athletic attributes of your team, you've talked about hard work. How good can this club be defensively?
Well, you know, last year's club I didn't think would be as good, and our stats were off the charts. I think this team could be really good. I mean, I look at what Austin brought to the court, very savvy. I look at a Gary Harris or a Brandan Kearney with some size and length, just more mobile. I think we could be better at that position. I think Keith Appling is every bit as good as any guard in this country defensively. So I think we're solid there.
I think everybody would agree Branden Dawson went from not being able to guard this podium to we're 16 up when he goes down, and Buford doesn't have a point. That changed dramatically. Branden Dawson, to his credit, became a very good defender.
The key will be at a 4 spot whether it's smaller 4 or bigger 4. They're going to be as athletically more gifted than Day Day, but Day Day had he had a mind and he was a film nut. He was my protege. He got it. So he knew and understood everything that was going on.
Adreian Payne has spent more time watching film even this fall than he has in his career here. If he picks up some of those things from Day Day and gets better and Nix is a very intelligent defender. Sometimes lazy, but very intelligent, so he knows what's going on.
So I think with those four or five guys, and then you add Kearney, who I thought was very good, Costello I think will be very good, Trice is a very good defender, I think Valentine will be more than an adequate defender, Byrd is going to have to defend different types of people sometimes, but he's gaining a lot of strength. I think he can guard a 4 man, lateral quickness because of the injury is still going to be a little down, but man, he's jumping better.
Russell has had just an incredible three months, and he deserves it. He's been through some tough stuff that I kind of question him on myself. You know, what is your commitment to the program, how important it is. But I think when you get injured, boy, it really screws you up, and he's made a remarkable comeback.
Q. One of your strengths has always been relationships in recruiting, and now it seems like you can build a relationship with a guy and somebody comes in, spends 13 minutes with him, get him to flip and the kid doesn't care. With these new junior rules, does that maybe again go back to helping you build longer relationships?
You know, that's a good question. These rules, it's like the three point shot. They just came in, and I don't know what it's going to do for us. I know I've been on the road a lot more. I know I've been in more schools because you almost have to if you're going to be interested in a junior. You've got to do it once or twice or three times. We're allowed to visit more now. We were allowed one time to talk, now we're allowed three, we were allowed five times to see a kid, now we're allowed seven.
So it's put more pressure on that. We're allowed unlimited calls and texting and tweeting and all the other great things that we've come up with.
So it does in some respects, but I don't know what the residual effect of that will be. I don't know how the outcomes on that will be. Already kids are not answering their phones as much or don't call you back because they're tired of it. These fads are like long hair, braids, bellbottoms, miniskirts, they're all the same not quite the same, but you get the point. They kind of happen and they're a great phenomenon and then they die out.
I think it's safe to say that I've got some goals of things I want to accomplish, and Draymond Green and Austin Thornton, I think, gave me the juice to we're going after as much as we can go after in the next five, six years and see what we can really accomplish and set this program at a level that it'll never fall back, and that's my goal, and recruiting is the main part of that because better players make you a better coach.
Q. From your experience, both historically and with this group in particular, what are some of the pros and cons to having a group that has only one senior?
Well, I don't think there's any pros unless you're Kentucky. But I mean, I didn't mean pros that way, either (laughter). I meant I love having seniors. There's nothing like seniors and juniors teaching freshmen and sophomores. There's nothing like it. As we see, there's a lot of ways to skin a cat and it can be done a lot of different ways, and my hat's off to anybody who can do it.
But if I was to look at it, I like having juniors and seniors, and really I've got three guys that have played a lot of basketball Appling, Payne and Nix. So I think it's totally a positive that we got those guys and that they're here and that they've been through championships, they've been through Final Fours, they've been through disappointments. It's great. It's great. You learn from positives, you learn from negatives.
I always said, Cleaves taught me a lot. Nix has taught me a lot, and I'll be a better coach because of both the positive things and negative things that happened.
So the nice thing about having seniors around, it's nice to sit around and talk to Nix about when he was chubby and he didn't look good in the right uniform, and you show him some film and say, you know, who is that Santa Claus looking character there, and it's nice to see when people come up and say, wow, Nix looks great. You can only do that if you've been here over time and if you've changed. I like having seniors. If I've got freshmen and that's all I've got, that would be fine, too. I'd like it either way. But I think I'd prefer to have some seniors in here that can lead the young guys.
Q. From the early years of trying to replace Jud and getting over that stumbling block to the Final Four to the pressure and the things you don't like in the outside world, where is your job enjoyment level now in year 18 from some of those times?
God, why do you get so deep and philosophical? You know, what I'm trying to do is I think this past year has helped me figure out that you can't take everything personal. I'm a personal kind of guy. I take things personal. And sometimes that's even with the media. You take things personal.
I keep reminding myself the Jud rule; everybody has got a job to do and everybody has got a boss. You know, what I've got to remind all of you was everybody was 18 at once and 19 and 20. There's probably not many people in this room, as I look around, some pretty important people in this room, that would have survived at 18, 19 or 20 the way it is today.
You know, and that doesn't make it right or wrong, but keeping that in perspective is hard. It helps that I've got a daughter that's a senior in high school a little bit. But really what's helped me is I think in a two year period, I went from really great disappointment because I really thought that team had a chance to be a Final Four team in 2010 or '11, to great enjoyment because I really didn't think going in that team might have had a chance to be a Final Four team, and we were. We really did. We had a legitimate chance.
And so I think I've learned to balance things. I'm still frustrated about rules, and I'm still frustrated about things, and there's still disappointment and cheating and all the things that go on. There's still Twitter and texting and Facebook, that every day you've got to worry about something. But I think I've gotten a little better perspective because of those two years I went through, one at one end, one at the other of the spectrum. I think it made me a better coach. I think it makes me a better father, better person, and I am excited about the year.
I think you can tell I'm not the most optimistic human being. I worked for 12 years for Jud; it's impossible. It's theoretically impossible to be too optimistic.
But I think I'm more realistic, and I have a better perspective. I look at my team, and I Tim Bograkos may be a good way to end it. Came to practice last Friday, and Timmy is sitting there, and he's half the old school and the new school. He was here when those practices were like wars and he's been here when they've been like belly bumping, prom dancing practices. He said to me, hey, coach, looks like old time practices are back, huh? And you know, I looked at him, I said, hey, Tim, that's the best compliment you can give me. We just watched an hour of practice.
Our guys are going to practice hard. Our guys are going to play hard. Our guys are going to appreciate this school, this University and the things in it and what they've got, and that's why I feel better. That's why I'm more ready to go. I'm at peace with that and ready to have a great year.
I appreciate the great turnout. Let's not do what we always do. Let's not take anything for granted, because when you look at our Matt gave me a hell of a printout. Talked about where we are nationally in winning percentage over the last 15 years, where we are in Final Fours, where we are in conference wins, where we are you know where we are? We're right barking near the top. I didn't say five years, I said 15 years. None of these players were there then, but all of them that were there are coming back, and that's why this very good program, when it hits elite status, that's when I'm going to hang up my whistle. We've got a ways to go yet, and yet I think this year we've got a chance to take one more step in the right direction. Thanks so much. Enjoy the players. I'll be around if you need me. Appreciate what you guys do for us. FastScripts by ASAP Sports
Senior center Derrick Nix - Co-captain
Derrick Nix Interview
On lessons learned ...
There is no more room for mistakes. There are no more parties, no more let downs, no more of that. I look at it like Coach Izzo saved me as a person. It wasn't the program, it was Tom Izzo. There have been nights where we sat in a room and he called me every name in the book, but he always said that he loved me. He reminded me that he gave me a scholarship because of the person I am and the abilities I have. Izzo came through for me in the time I needed it. He's always been there for me and I give him all the credit.
On Coach Izzo ...
For probably three weeks I didn't know my future on the team. Even when I did get reinstated it didn't feel right, it was different. Coach Izzo brought me in alone and told me that he stuck his head out on the line for him. He doesn't get enough credit for that. A lot of people say that Izzo will get us out of things. But I think that he could lose his job if I screwed up again. The dumb stuff we do puts his job in jeopardy. I feel like I owe it to him to make sure that no one on the team does ignorant stuff that I did or that the team did in the past.
On leading the team ...
I hope to be like Draymond Green and make sure the little stuff is managed so the big stuff won't happen. I'm at a high point right now and want to stay here. I don't like being judged and I know I brought that upon myself. I want to lead like Green, and call the team meetings and keep us close. I'm a genuine guy and care about Michigan State and my teammates.
Sophomore guard Russell Byrd - Co-Captain
Russell Byrd Interview
On leadership ...
I think when B.J. got hurt last year, even though we had Austin and Draymond as our captains, I got to start working with the young guys. And Kearney, he had a tough tournament and Travis was struggling with his ankle and stuff. Just in small doses, they went through what I went through a little bit. They turned to me and I always knew I could lead and see myself as a good leader. I always knew I could communicate well with guys. Last year, around tournament time is when I noticed that the guys respected what I had to say and believed it.
On the injury to Branden Dawson and helping him through that time ...
I didn't want to see him go through the same thing that I went through. I was dumb, I was too eager to get back and get over my injury. I just wanted him to take his time and make sure he was healthy because this is his future. Basketball is something that he is really good at and has a future in. I just wanted him to do it right and make sure he didn't hurt himself again.
On rushing to get back onto the court after injuries ...
Just my overall mindset was I have to get back, I have to get back. I needed to just take my time and make sure that my body and my foot got healthy before I started to think about basketball.
On your feelings after learning you would be a captain ...
It is something that just sort of happened over the summer. I have a heart for these guys, I care about every one of them personally and I want to see them have success. A leader needs to be able to bring guys together, guys with different personalities and all that type of stuff. It is just something that God has gifted me and I do well with that. I wasn't surprised, but I was grateful and thankful that it had turned out that way. I think it is going to be a collective effort as well. Everyone can lead in their own way. We just have a great group of guys who listen to each other and push each other to get better.
On dunking on Branden Dawson ...
I did dunk on Dawson. He can say what he wants, it's all love. It's just something and you guys, nobody has seen me healthy. I'm sure it might surprise you guys. Everyone was going nuts and it was fun but I'm pretty sure they didn't go as nuts as when Gary Harris dunked on Matt Costello, that was nasty. That was disgusting. I think he got his head above the rim, then he hit Costello and went higher, then stopped because he didn't know what to do and put it in the hoop and floated to the ground.
On the first time you felt healthy ...
I played in the Pro-Am this summer and one of those games I really started to jump again, I just felt it. I started to be able to be athletic and I think I dunked on Nix and it just caught everybody by surprise. I was actually just talking to Kalin Lucas a couple weeks ago and he said just last November he started feeling his old self come back and that is a year and a half removed from his old Achilles injury. Injuries are a tough thing and serious injuries, one that keeps you out a while, I would never wish that on anybody. It is tough physically and mentally.
Junior guard Keith Appling
Keith Appling Interview
On goals for the season ...
Every player that Coach Izzo has coached has been to the Final Four once in their career. That has been in my mind all summer in the gym.
On working out this summer ...
I'd come in after tutoring or after class. I came in whenever I felt that I needed to over the summer; it could be 9, 10, or 11. I would just shoot and think about the Final Four and the team. I like to do it when I'm done with everything academically so I was able to dedicate myself to the gym for the remainder of the day.
Focus for the season ...
I just want to improve on a lot of things that I didn't do as well last year. I want to run the team, communicate, push the ball, and improve my shooting percentage. Whatever I can do to help the team have a successful year, I will do.
On the point guard position ...
We have a lot of depth at the point guard position. At the end of the day I will do whatever Coach Izzo needs me to do on the court - that's what I'm going to go out there and do.
Junior Center Adreian Payne
Adreian Payne Interview
Biggest challenge for the Spartans this season...
The biggest challenge I think is us just staying together showing that we can fight through adversity. That is basically a challenge for every team, only great teams can make it through that.
Excitement for the trip to Germany...
Oh yeah, that's really exciting. Last year we were able to do the Carrier Classic, and now this year we are going to Germany. It is just great that we get to do that.
Mentally getting through a tough schedule...
Coach Izzo does a great job with that. That's why we come here for one and he does a great with that. He basically sets us up to be successful.
Chemistry with Nix...
What I think helped us a lot was that we were able to have that practice in the off season. That right there we were able to get more comfortable with each other - learning how we play, getting our chemistry together. We play different kind of ways, he is a pick-and-roll kind of guy, I am pick-and-pop. I can pick-and-roll too. I think it is going to be hard to cover us both in the post.
Feeling a difference adding weight...
I can feel it a lot, especially finishing around the basket. I am not spending as much energy fighting the posts for position as much as I was during my freshman and sophomore years. I feel that has helped me a lot in practice.
Sophomore Guard Branden Dawson
Branden Dawson Interview
Not thinking about the injury ...
Coach asked me the same thing; he asked do I think about it, do I have any pain? I just tell him that when I go out on the court I have been doing this since I was seven years old. This is something I love, so when I go out there, I don't think about it. When you think about it, you start thinking something will happen.
Talking with Purdue player Robbie Hummel ...
It was very important, like I said he tore his ACL twice. He told me not to rush it. He rushed his and that is the main thing he told me. Just to be mentally tough and not to rush it, and that's what I've done.
Thoughts on the toughness of not being able to play ...
It was tough; I was kind of getting down on myself a little bit. I knew I was losing weight; I was getting a little depressed. Talking with my teammates, having guys like Russell Byrd who is the captain telling me don't give up. Coach kept saying don't give up, just stay with it and everything is going to be okay. And that is just what I did - I trusted him and I didn't rush it.
Sophomore forward Alex Gauna:
Alex Gauna Interview
On being part of the team ...
I am someone who tries to do everything I can to help the team. I tried to learn from the other guys before me and now have an opportunity. We have a hole in some aspects because of Draymond Green leaving. The hole needs to be filled, maybe by one person, but also by the team collectively. I try to go out there and perform for the team to make sure we get a win. It is my time to answer the bell and really give myself more opportunities. I realize that as an upperclassman it is my duty to have a larger role and do my job. There is more responsibility now; you have to care what the younger guys are doing and what the coaches think. I want to do it all well.
On season highlights ...
University of Connecticut is a great team, but I am mostly looking forward to just playing on an Air Base in Germany. The Champions Classic game against Kansas is also a highlight. It's tough because we play against a lot of good teams throughout the season, both conference and non-conference. I can't pick a favorite, but the first game is going to be very exciting and a great way to start it out.
On the freshmen ...
The freshmen are picking up on things really fast. They are doing well and responding the way Coach Izzo wants them to. They are doing what Izzo wants and what us as teammates want which is good. Once the season actually does start and everything comes into play that will be a good test.
On rankings ...
The rankings are what they are. They don't really mean anything, especially in the preseason. We will be ranked somewhere and other teams will be ranked somewhere. There is no way to tell how the season turns out. A ranking is just a number and until someone proves it on the court it really doesn't mean anything.
Sophomore guard Brandan Kearney
Brandan Kearney Interview
On the role on the team ...
I will still be looked at as a defensive stopper. I am still trying to get better at that. I want to help the defense more than in an individual way. I also am trying to make more plays on offense.
On being a leader ...
You have to be able to take criticism and also get on your teammates and make sure everyone is doing what is needed on the court.
On what he brings to the team ...
I'm unselfish and pride myself on being reliable. If I need to, I can step into whatever position is needed. I want to be the utility guy and work on doing what is needed during the game. If there needs to be a rebound, I'll be in there.
Sophomore guard Travis Trice
Travis Trice Interview
On the assets he brings to the team ...
I think my leadership on and off the court, my shooting and my decision making. As a team we have a great thing going for shooting. We have guys like Russell Byrd and Keenan Wetzel who can shoot and guys who are improving their shooting like Gary Harris, Keith Appling, and Brandan Kearney. As a whole we are pretty solid all the way around.
On goals for the season ...
One goal is to win the Big Ten Championship and another is to make it to the Final Four and then make it to the national championship. Your personal goals come with the team goals. If you make sure the team makes it to their goals, you will make your own along with it.
On travelling to Germany ...
We are going over to Germany early, so it will be special and neat. I'm really looking forward to the game and that competition.
Freshman Forward Kenny Kaminski
Kenny Kaminski Interview
Team goals for the year...
Overall success, we put a lot of hard work in this summer, it feels good to watch hard work pay off. It is most important to me.
Thoughts on playing in Germany...
I have been to Mexico one time, but you can't really count that. I have never really been out of the country besides that. To be honest with you, I am absolutely stoked. Because we are the featured game, the whole United States is going to watch it. I am blessed to be on this team just because of the fact that not only are people going to recognize me as a Spartan, but the Spartan program as a group.
Playing the top teams in the nation...
I absolutely love it. It not only prepares us for the tournament, but it also puts us through tests early in the season that other teams don't have. That moves us along I feel.
Personal goals for the year...
Health, I had surgery on my shoulder a month ago. So first and foremost I have to get healthy as soon as possible so I can help the team on the court and off the court as well. Other than that, just total success for the team.
Freshman Guard Gary Harris
Gary Harris Interview
Importance of the family atmosphere at MSU ...
Oh yeah, I love all the old players. They just come back, and they all just act like big brothers to us. If we have any questions, they answer them. If we need anything, they are here to guide us and help us.
Thoughts on team chemistry ...
I think it translates well. All of the guys get along well. We all joke around, and I think we all have a great relationship. It makes it easy for us to play with each other during practice, and just keep getting better each day at practice.
Leadership role of Gary Harris ...
Right now, I am a freshman, but I feel like if I had something to say the guys would listen to me. We all listen to each other. Just because I am a freshman doesn't mean they are not going to listen to me. I like about this team. Anyone could say anything to each other and we all listen to each other. It is like a group of leaders and we are all just holding everyone accountable.
Expectations going into the year ...
Whatever coach needs me to do I am going to go out there and do it. I just want to provide energy and provide a spark, and do what I can do to help the team win.
Thoughts on playing for Tom Izzo ...
It has been a great experience. Coach Izzo knows what he is doing. You know if he is saying something you better pay attention because he knows what he is talking about. I feel I have become a better player already just being around him the past few months, just teaching me a couple things.
Freshman forward Matt Costello
Matt Costello Interview
On the freshman bond ...
We, as freshman, spend every second together, eating, sleeping, working out. The only time we are separated is when Kenny Kaminski is at rehab. We are becoming brothers. I spend more time with them then my actual brothers. You really can't separate us. We have a good time together and get closer every day.
On pushing his teammates ...
The seniors have told me they were a little shocked by the way I came in. Derrick Nix told me he didn't think I was going to come in that crazy. He has grown from playing against me. I have used them to grow in my game.
On becoming a Spartan ...
Not many people get the opportunity to play basketball at Michigan State University, one of the top five programs in the nation. I can't waste this opportunity that has been given to me. I need to take this time that God gave me and use it to the best of my ability. I am blessed and honored to be part of this and don't want to waste it.
On goals for the season ...
Right now I'm working on rebounding, running the floor, and playing a little bit of defense. I want to be on a team that lives up to their potential. Our team right now has a lot of potential and I want to live up to the expectations that we set for ourselves. I don't care what outsiders say, I want to do what we can as a team.
Freshman guard Denzel Valentine
Denzel Valentine Interview
On Midnight Madness ...
I've been to them and it is an awesome atmosphere. My sophomore year of high school I came to the one at Michigan State and the last two years went to my brother Drew's at Oakland University. I am excited and looking forward to the fun.
On assets brought to the team ...
I'm a versatile player and hope to play a lot of positions. This summer I worked on getting stronger and faster, I think that will help me this season.
On playing for the Spartans...
I am looking forward to the first game, getting out on this floor and being part of the Michigan State basketball team. I am looking forward to being in front of the fans and the city. I am still new to the atmosphere and haven't gotten to play a game yet. But I am really excited for the season. I've really enjoyed getting to know my teammates over the summer both on and off the court. My dad's past here makes it so I know MSU and the campus better.
On goals for the season ...
I really hope to help the team as much as I can and in any way I can. As a team we hope to make it back to the Final Four and build the Spartan legacy back up.