Men's Basketball Media Day Coverage
Oct. 9, 2012
Men's Basketball 2012-13 Media Day
Head Coach Tom Izzo
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
Q. Does having a guy like Keith Appling who can defend the point give you more options with Denzel?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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
On Coach Izzo ...
On leading the team ...
Sophomore guard Russell Byrd - Co-Captain
On the injury to Branden Dawson and helping him through that time ...
On rushing to get back onto the court after injuries ...
On your feelings after learning you would be a captain ...
On dunking on Branden Dawson ...
On the first time you felt healthy ...
Junior guard Keith Appling
On working out this summer ...
Focus for the season ...
On the point guard position ...
Junior Center Adreian Payne
Excitement for the trip to Germany...
Mentally getting through a tough schedule...
Chemistry with Nix...
Feeling a difference adding weight...
Sophomore Guard Branden Dawson
Talking with Purdue player Robbie Hummel ...
Thoughts on the toughness of not being able to play ...
Sophomore forward Alex Gauna:
On season highlights ...
On the freshmen ...
On rankings ...
Sophomore guard Brandan Kearney
On being a leader ...
On what he brings to the team ...
Sophomore guard Travis Trice
On goals for the season ...
On travelling to Germany ...
Freshman Forward Kenny Kaminski
Thoughts on playing in Germany...
Playing the top teams in the nation...
Personal goals for the year...
Freshman Guard Gary Harris
Thoughts on team chemistry ...
Leadership role of Gary Harris ...
Expectations going into the year ...
Thoughts on playing for Tom Izzo ...
Freshman forward Matt Costello
On pushing his teammates ...
On becoming a Spartan ...
On goals for the season ...
Freshman guard Denzel Valentine
On assets brought to the team ...
On playing for the Spartans...
On goals for the season ...
at the official