Oct. 12, 2010
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Head coach Tom Izzo and the men's basketball team hosted its annual media day inside the Breslin Center today (Oct. 12). Coach Izzo and all the student-athletes discussed the upcoming season and how the team has progressed through off-season workouts with the local media.
COACH IZZO PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
COACH IZZO: Well, kind of good to be back. I figured that I spent a little time this summer thinking about the meetings I had with the media, the Cleveland situation, and I decided that I'm not going to listen to you guys anymore, and I'm going to have to get back to the way I was and try to be more available than I was that week.
I think somewhere in there, there's a happy medium, but I didn't feel very good about how that went. I talked to some people in the meantime. So that's a small item I just wanted to get out of the way. But the good items I'm going to spend some time talking about and open it up to questions.
Most people see the preseason polls have us very high, I guess anywhere from 1 to 5 in most of them. And the Big Ten has us anywhere from 1 to 3, and I think as I looked at the Big Ten, I still think Purdue is still the best team coming back with players in place. There are three key players.
But I think Ohio State is going to be awfully good. I think Illinois is maybe the unsung team. I saw some people had them in the top 10, but definitely I think they're going to be a major player in this thing, because of all the guys they have back and the new kids they have coming in.
With expectations high, you can look at it two ways: I've always tried to look at it as it's going to be a plus for us. It's going to be fun to try to meet expectations instead of trying to downplay it.
I also think that, you know, in a case like Lucas, who is a guy that maybe could have left last year if he would have stayed injury free, and Summers, I'm trying to make them out like Cleaves and Peterson were, where they came back to try to do something they haven't accomplished yet. Those are lofty goals to try to win a national championship or another Big Ten championship.
And when you have goals like that, I think you're trying to accomplish something you haven't accomplished. And yet as we all know it's very difficult to even get back to a Final Four to win a Big Ten championship. So that's going to play out as it goes.
Every year our schedule is difficult. I think what concerns me this year is we have a difficult schedule, and we have some injuries that we still have to deal with.
But we've always said we're going to have one of the best schedules in the country. I think we've done that again. Non-conference, we have like five opponents that have made the Big Ten tournament or the NCAA tournament, included in that are some of the teams that we may play over in Maui and Washington and Kentucky.
But I think the problem is going to be the Big Ten is going to be a lot stronger than it's been, even last year, which I thought we made great strides last year. I think it will be a lot better this year, and I think the polls have shown that, where there's at least seven teams in a lot of people's top 35.
So that means there's going to be no weak sisters. And I think there's going to be and in that group sometimes Northwestern wasn't in there. I think they're going to be awfully good.
Wisconsin is going to be good because they're always good. But with us and Ohio State and Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, you know, they're in most people's top 25. And I think we'll be there.
There's four teams that have been in a lot of people's top 10. Illinois did get moved in with some, and I think that's going to be important. Because how we do against ranked teams usually tells a better story on where you are nationally.
Michigan State, in general, we lose a little bit more than you think. You know, we lost, of course, Morgan, and we lost Allen. And we got seven players back that have started. That's the good news.
We returned, you know, 70, 75% of our scoring and our rebounding and assists from last year. What we lose is an intangible in Morgan in that he was able to guard so many different people.
He could guard a point guard one minute. He could guard a center the next. But I think the key to our season is going to be the injuries right now.
Especially early on, we've had, I think, seven guys missing at least three weeks. And we've had six guys missing at least a month and a half since last May.
And it's led by Lucas, that had six months off. And then Payne, and he was a guy that missed four and a half months. Byrd has missed five months, and will probably be out another couple months. Garrick Sherman had the screws taken out of his foot and he missed about five or six weeks. Thornton had the back injury where he got undercut in a pickup game and missed six weeks.
And, of course, Summers, who sprained his knee a little bit which cost him probably a good chance to be on the U.S. Select team, missed about a month with those injuries.
We had a lot of guys out. And especially three that missed months and months and months. And, of course, the one is a key player in Kalin. Now, he has done an incredible job getting back.
But he's still got a long ways to go. When you look at the fact that we'll have some pressure on us from the standpoint of our accomplishments the last few years, again, I think that's an area that means you get respect. And that's what I'm looking for, is get this program at a point.
What remains most important is still the guys coming back. And, you know, they have to come back with a different a different maybe mindset on how we can finish the job.
We've gotten to a couple of Final Fours, and yet we've not finished the job. And that's going to be the battle cry. And maybe in every practice that we finish practices stronger, can we finish weeks stronger, can we finish the preseason stronger, the Big Ten season stronger. And hopefully work our way into that national tournament.
As far as individually, you know, to talk about some of the players, Lucas has had a miserable summer. I mean, the guy was in rehab twice a day since May. And I mean, twice a day religiously. If there's one guy to talk to about that was Tom Mackowiak he said of all guys he's seen here he's had none that had that long of a rehab but he's done the rehab on a day to day basis.
And I think you always hope with players they continue to grow up. They continue to mature, and sometimes setbacks help you speed that process. And I think Kalin has such a greater appreciation for playing now than he ever had just because it was taken away from him. He's had some great honors in the first time all Big Ten two years in a row.
But with this injury, my biggest worry is this: We've practiced three times a week for 40 minutes for the last three weeks. And he's done a damn good job. But now you start going six days a week for two and a half hours, and that changes things immensely. And I don't think anybody can predict. I mean, he had his moments when he was sore here, sore there. For the most part, knock on wood, he's been able to keep going each day. But you turn that into now, six days a week, for two and a half hours a day, and you know, I don't know how long of a stretch he'll be able to go. And we gotta get him some rest in there sometime. But with only two weeks to a game, it really does put a crimp in things.
If I looked at who's had the best summer, Durrell Summers might have had the best summer other than the three and a half weeks of the injuries. But you know his 18, 19 point per game NCAA tournament, that's what we're looking for, that's probably what you're looking for. Can he maintain that? Can he continue to perform at that level?
Looking at the conditioning part of him, if you look at his body, he's had a great summer. I think he's in the best shape of his life. He runs now almost effortlessly; but can he maintain the consistency he had in that tournament? Only time will tell. This summer and spring, and so far in the fall, if you hear a ball bouncing in our gym, it's been him and it's a tribute to him, but I think it's also important because his maturity and process I think is growing. And I think guys always realize when they get to be seniors they run out of time. But I think he's putting everything into it that he can put into it.
His running partner this summer, we've got a bunch of guys that I think made some improvement, but Delvon Roe, after the six, seven weeks, when he had the surgery in May, has been swelling free, injury free for the first time in his Michigan State career he is shooting the ball better, but he is running, jumping. He's got some quickness back, and most importantly he's been pain free also.
Now, am I concerned about six days a week with him, too, because nobody's been tested. One of the things that's been hard with the rules is going from two hours a week to 20 hours a week, there's going to be an incredible change in that period.
And guys like Delvon and Kalin will be two that we're going to have to watch. But the toughness that he provided, the fact that he played on one leg the whole last half, from February on, you know, it's incredible. And he deserves a ton of credit for it.
If you saw Draymond Green during the summer, he too has lost another 10, 12 pounds. And besides his leadership, he really improved. As conditioning, he's worked extremely hard on, his weight he's worked extremely hard and his perimeter shooting he's worked extremely hard on. Last year he got a lot of recognition for his unique skill set for his size. He was a good passer. He could make decisions. He was kind of a point forward when we got in the NCAA Tournament and utilized him that way a couple of times.
But I think what he got the most credit for was he was a winner, a winner who led people, a winner who understood that winning is the most important thing. And everything he did was built around winning. So I was really happy that this summer I saw every time I came back and I was here I saw him in the gym. I saw him in my office, sweating his butt off. He put in a lot of time this some summer, and I think you'll see just by his body where it's paid some dividends.
And Korie Lucious. He, too, was having a phenomenal summer. Before he got injured, he was just shooting the lights out of especially this fall when we were with him. He showed in the NCAA Tournament that he's capable of handling pressure, and dealing with things. And then unfortunately went down with the meniscus tear, and already, though, you know, as Mackowiak said to me about him, he played with a broken foot. That thing was like that for a month. He's tougher than nails. And he's bouncing back pretty quick already. I don't know when he'll be back. But he was actually shooting a few shots the other day, yesterday.
And you know, I think he's still got a week or so before they hope to have him doing much.
But he's doing more than I thought he would do already. So hopefully like Goran Suton, this is going to be a quick recovery because we need him back and we need his shooting back.
The fifth guy I guess, sixth guy, is Derrick Nix. And last year he played about, he got down to 280, 282. But he played probably at 285, 290 most of the year. And now he's actually hit the 267 mark a little earlier, but he's leveling off around 270, which is it's great what he did this summer. I don't think you can have a summer where a guy has changed his body or his conditioning.
We run a sprint thing called 22 22s, you've got to do 22 down/back, down/back, in so much time, and to do that continuously, usually the guards do it and the bigs struggle. And this year he made it. And I think if you see him or if you watch the first couple of practices, you're going to see a guy that's not lumbering like he was. He's running, jumping, he's dunking things.
His offense shot I think has improved some. Gotta make sure his free throws improved some. But he's rebounding the ball and running the court so much better. He played some key minutes, especially late last year.
But I expect him to be seen out there a lot more this year. (Garrick) Sherman was a guy that, also a sophomore, big man who we had out last year. Started a few games. But in the offseason, when he was a sophomore, we didn't know this when we recruited him, I want to say he had like 20 screws in his foot. He had a serious ankle injury. And the screws were left in there. And I think they removed most of those early in the summer. And because of that, he missed about six weeks. He's lost some weight and hopefully gained some strength. But he, too, worked on his shooting, which he needed to. And I think he's made some great progress.
Thornton is kind of our more versatile player. Not a great athlete, but he came in a shooter and last year he didn't shoot the ball very well. And I think this summer he got his shot back, because he shot the ball very well so far.
Now, he missed six weeks when he got undercut out at a local place playing in a pickup game, and broke two vertebras or something in his back. And missed six or seven weeks. He came back almost not meeting a beat. I think his issue last year was confidence. I think he's a lot more confident than he was and he's shooting the ball better.
Which brings us to our five freshmen and our transfer. And Anthony Ianni who transferred from Grand Valley. Big body. That's where he'll have to help us. Not as athletic. He can shoot the ball. Big body.
Keith Appling, a dynamite guard. Maybe as good an athlete as anybody we got, and that includes Durrell Summers. He can really run and jump. But he can shoot it. Score points in bunches, which impressed me in our short practices, is he's becoming better as a passer, which I think he needed to do.
Russell Byrd, unfortunately, has had very little this summer. We had him for about three weeks. He had the broken foot. It did not heal. It was that fracture in the fifth metatarsal, that doesn't heal sometimes. And he had surgery again Friday. It went very well.
But your guess is mine. It could be six to eight weeks on a minimum, and it could be 12 weeks, probably, on a maximum. So as far as what we do with him, the injury will kind of tell us part of that and part will be told by how we're doing and whether we have any other injuries.
Alex Gauna has been a surprise for us. We recruited him thinking he could be a good player. We've kind of upped our standard now a little bit. We think the way he can shoot the ball, and he's a very good athlete this way. Not as good an athlete this way. But he has strength. He has toughness. And Adreian Payne, somebody that we haven't had here, a long 6'9" guy who is right up there with Durrell as far as being one of the better athletes on this team, can really run and jump, capable of shooting 3s, has very good left and right hand. I think he writes left handed and shoots right handed. He's either backwards or amphibious or ambidextrous, whatever the word is.
He's going to be a guy that we think will help us some immediately.
Byrd is the question mark on whether we redshirt him or not. I don't know. So I'll open it up for some questions, now that I've kind of bumbled through everybody.
Q. A year ago you mentioned leadership, chemistry things like that as your number one key to the season. Where are you at with this team and that area going into this season?
COACH IZZO: I think definitely Kalin and Durrell have made some strides just working on being a better teammate. Spending more time with guys, bringing guys in together more. Durrell has been shooting a lot, and he brings more guys in. And Day-Day is still the vocal leader, who I think on a day in, day out basis and I think even Derrick Nix has made some strides in that.
So I think we're getting some good young guys, we've got our veterans that have improved and Dayday has still been the rock.
Q. Do you feel better about it?
COACH IZZO: I definitely feel better about it. Last year it was a big question mark to me. And I definitely feel better about it this year.
Q. Do you think you've reached the illusive goal of being an elite program, or do you need another national title to get there?
COACH IZZO: God, I think we need another title. But I'm proud of what we've done. It's not been easy. It's not been easy to maintain as we all know. I mean, I guess now I start moving to the 13 tournaments in a row as being almost as big of a accomplishment as some of the other things we've accomplished, just because it's hard to maintain a standard like that and still play a very tough schedule.
And maybe still the only thing that doesn't get recognized is the schedule, the preseason schedule, because we're playing more good teams and a lot of people. It means there could be a loss or two, which could put you in or out of those tournaments.
So I just feel like personally I think we need two things. I think we need another championship, but if we don't get that, I still think you can get the elite status with a little longer period of time now. I said ten years would put us in a position, and it has.
But when you still look at the programs that most of us call the elite of the elite, some are 20, 30 year programs. I won't be here in 30 years, but I think we can build it enough and I think we're in a fast enough society now where it doesn't take quite as long as it used to take, but we still you know, we still have to keep the consistency in a night in/night out basis and that's what I'm going to be looking for this year.
Q. Two things: Draymond, do you anticipate him moving into the starting five? When Sherman was recruited, a lot of people saw him in his ability to play a 3 and 4. Do you see him having that ability at all?
COACH IZZO: I don't (on Sherman). I see him having the ability to play the 4, the 5. He just doesn't shoot it well enough and maybe the lateral quickness, but he does have a knack around the basket that he can use his right hand, left hand.
He's kind of a very, very, very poor man's Zach Randolph, he has a knack to do things with his hands and arms. He has very long arms. He gets things done.
As far as Draymond, it's funny, I haven't even talked to him or myself about it in my own way. There's so many things I'm waiting to see happens. Would I play him at the 3 some. Would I play him and Delvon and Nix together some? I think we're going to have the ability to go very big or go very small. You know, could I play Delvon, Draymond in there and go with the three small guards.
We're going to have some different options to go with. And probably if I looked at another weakness right now with this team, it would be the number of guards we have. Especially now with Byrd out who was a long range shooter, and maybe wouldn't give you a lot of minutes but would have given you ten minutes. Ten minutes sometimes is a lot of minutes.
So Draymond, he deserved to start last year. I think it depends a little on him and I and a little bit on what the team has to offer, and a little bit on which way we decide to play a little big or a little smaller.
Q. The way your team handles adversity, even going back to last year, I mean, it seems with the injuries, you know, the distractions, even going to this offseason, it was kind of wild: the Cleveland situation, you having to dismiss a player. But it seems almost the motto of this team is if it ain't rough, it ain't right. And they get through it. And I mean it's a testament to this team's strong will.
COACH IZZO: Well, yeah. I'd have to agree with you. I mean, there always is some adversity. Jud used to say the pot is always boiling, there's just somebody else stirring it.
Look at the teams, there's always something you have to deal with. And the Cleveland thing was something for those guys and for me to deal with. And I apologized to them for it, but, again, that's what had to be done.
You know, dismissals of players as you look around the college campuses nowadays, unfortunately, it's getting very common. I hate to use that word, because it's almost embarrassing. But you know what, it was left on good terms. I still pull for Chris. I just felt like, you know, everybody's not meant for everywhere. Everybody wants to make that look like it's a player/coach relationship. It's what you want to get out of your program or what you want to get out of yourself.
And you know, there's no secrets. We're looking for guys that are willing to sacrifice a lot of things to be what we think they should be. And that's part of Spartan basketball. There's always going to be mistakes and things you work through, and probably everybody or anybody who has ever been dismissed in any sport, in any program, has never been it's never been done on one or two things. It's usually a combination of things and it could be different things.
So adversity, as they say, sometimes can make you grow stronger. What it does is usually it brings a team closer together, because you get that you against the world mentality.
But I'd like to do it a different way, too. I don't need adversity all the time. I think one thing about this year's team right now, I think with Day-Day and Durrell and Kalin, I think they've seen it. They understand what going to Final Fours are. They understand what playing for Big Ten Championships are. They understand the Robbie Hummel situation, how fragile, and now the Kalin Lucas situation, how fragile things are and how it can change not only you but your team and it can happen in a blink of an eyelash.
I don't think there's any question that Purdue was a Final Four question. Doesn't mean they would have made it. But they were one of the eight or ten teams that had a legitimate good shot. And one guy damaged that immensely. I guess in some ways our guys deserve credit for how we could lose Kalin, Chris, half of (Delvon) for a couple of those games in the tournament, we didn't have any of them, and we survived.
And we survived because I think my staff did a great job, and I think the guys bonded together and delivered.
Q. Just a follow up to that. You did talk last year about distractions and now this year with the injuries and all the attention. Do you think having gone through that last year, what you just touched upon, that it will be easier to handle or do you worry about, because you're not the feisty underdog anymore, you're the top dog, I guess.
COACH IZZO: Yeah, I worry about it a little bit. But the injuries are such a different animal. I just don't know how I feel the worse for Kalin. Because I think he's grown almost as much as anybody. But I look at him and I say I have to remind him, okay you're not going to feel as good next week. It's just not going to happen.
If you go by the standard theory of athletics that usually it takes you half the time to come back with the time you've been out, so you've been out six months, you could be looking at at least a couple of months to get back to where you were, we'll be talking sometime in the end of November, middle of December.
When you look at our schedule and so many of those tough games are early on in November and early December, you know, then you go by the thing that we talked about many a times is does your confidence get rattled? Does the media get on you? Do fans get on you? Does a coach get on you? And how you handle those things are going to be important in how you do.
And that's why I said the number of injuries we had as Mackowiak said we had more surgeries this year, and some of them were from high school. Even Korie's, they think it was an injury from way back when.
And so I think at least the one thing we've shown over the last couple of years, what you said, is we've been able to handle adversity. And that was there's something good about that. I'd like to go without having a lot of it. But there is something good to be said about that that your team can rise above and persevere and get through it.
Q. You mentioned Alex Gauna, with his strength and skill, are you thinking at this point that he will be in the playing rotation, is there any chance that Sherman may be a candidate for a redshirt year?
COACH IZZO: You know, yeah, there's a chance either one of them could be, I guess, a candidate. Because if we have a little more depth it's with our bigs right now. If we have a little more ability to change up, it's to go small easier than to go big, big, because usually most teams now are going with sometimes four guards or they're changing now the landscape of college basketball has changed some.
But Sherman still gives us something in there that's a constant. I mean, we know what we're going to get out of him. And I think he has improved some. Gauna, you know, again because of these rules, you see them so little now before that then you have such a short time to practice.
The women got it right. They get an extra week in here. And we don't. So that means we have two weeks. Now, the one advantage is we can play a guy in an exhibition game and still redshirt him his freshman year or one time during his career. So we'll look at that. And we'll do what's best. I mean, no kid wants to redshirt, but what's best for him is what we'll do, not what's best for us. That's usually the player's decision.
He'll get a good feel for where he is compared to some of those players, and then we'll make that decision probably early in November.
Q. You talked about Durrell, trying to get him to perform like he did in the tournament, on a consistent basis. Is there something specifically he can work on, or is it just a matter of him becoming ...?
COACH IZZO: It's the same as last year, which I don't see at all being a problem this year. But Durrell, I mean, we've talked about it a lot. So there's no reason to rehash it. But there's no reason to hide behind it. He's got to stay focused on what he's doing. And every play, when he's focused in, he has incredible skills on both ends.
When you look at who we lost, it might have been two of our better defensive players, definitely our best in Raymar. And Durrell will definitely have to be better defensively this year. There's going to be a lot of weight on Durrell's shoulders. I think what's encouraging for me is I've seen an incredible amount of maturity this summer in just how hard he's worked, even coming in and watching some film. Even calling all the time or texting.
I mean, you know, players know what they have to work on and what they have to improve on. And I think in his case it's not his jump shot. It's not his jumping ability. It's just staying focused and maturing a little bit so that you keep all the little things, making sure we're in class, making sure we're doing the job there, we're not worrying about that stuff.
And he's done a much better job this summer in all those areas. And hopefully that will play out this year.
Q. Tom, how important has it been that you're able to keep your staff together? Mark mentioned this morning how valuable it is.
COACH IZZO: I learned a lot from football. I really did. I think a couple things here. Both his coordinators did an unbelievable job but Donnie having to do both, being the head coach and call the plays and the way he handled the interviews, I thought, did about as good a job as any assistant coach I've ever seen. I wish I would have been that good in the situation he was in.
But I loved I was sitting in the hospital room with Mark one day, and he was on a conference call with his two coordinators, as I was sitting there.
And he used terms like, "Just do what we do." Those guys have been with him so much they knew what that meant. And I'll never forget, even I can't remember which game I think it was the last game, the Wisconsin game, I should say not the Michigan game, the Wisconsin game, and he said, you know, don't be afraid to pull out all punches. We ran a couple of trick plays and this and that. And I think he has great confidence in them. But they have a great feel for what he wants. And I think that's the way it's going here right now. I have a lot of confidence in them.
And I think they have a feel for what I want. And then they start thinking like you, which might always be great, but I think it is. And so I think having those guys around and having guys recruited by the same guys that are coaching them is important.
And if anybody is showing that true to form it's been football. The job they've done with that. And when Mark sat there and said, I don't know if it was in a press conference or whatever, if it was just to me, that win against Wisconsin was one of his proudest moments. Well, you'd say: God, you would think you would want to be there for one of your proudest moments.
But he kind of said what I've said a million times and I've told him this building a team is one thing. Building a program is the other. When you can win without your leader there, you got yourself a program. And that's what he wants to build. That's what we want to build. And I think that took big steps in showing that. So I think it's going to help me, too.
Q. The quicker question is, what percentage is Kalin at, and when do you expect him to be at 100?
COACH IZZO: You know, he doesn't have all of his speed back, which has helped him. He's shooting the ball better than he did last year right now because he's slowing himself down and not relying on his speed. He's been a better passer in a few practices we've had. He's been a better shooter. He's really shot the ball well. Now, part of that is I think, you know, again, focus and concentration.
I attribute it to like golf. You know, I used to play with Jud, at the Stag, the first week that the course was open. And I always shoot great and make him money. And then I would realize that swinging a little harder doesn't necessarily make the ball go farther. Because I just take nice, easy swings, I do the job that I'm supposed to do. Then once I played and shot well, I wanted to swing harder, wanted to do things more and my game went downhill the rest of the year.
Right now Kalin is like that. He's really focused on what he's doing. He knows he doesn't have the speed to always go around a guy. So he's pulling up. He's using that mid range jump shot a little bit more.
What he's at? Fred, I'm having trouble deciding myself. I think his conditioning is pretty good. He's ridden a bike hard. He's been in the pool.
I'm telling you, guys, he's rehabbed better than any player I've known since I've been here. But what happens when it goes to the six days a week? After a week I'll be able to tell you more where he's at. I just don't know how he'll respond to that to be honest with you. He's not going to be the same player the first month of the season, in my mind.
In some ways, he could be a little better, but in most ways he won't be quite there yet. But maybe the injury helps him in the long run, because it taught him how to do things a little different. He did get some rest away from basketball. And hopefully it helps his focus even more, because he watched a lot of film this summer. He did things he wouldn't normally do because he couldn't do the things he normally does do.
Q. The bigger picture one, the football thing, you've talked every year about how you need that to be strong, Mark Hollis has talked about it. Have you seen it in tangible ways now three years beating Michigan, 6 and 0. Why does a football program need to be strong to give energy to an athletic department that already has a basketball program that's top 5 every year?
COACH IZZO: Well, we're small potatoes compared to a football team. I don't mean it in a negative way, shape or form; but if you look at it from a financial standpoint alone, exposure standpoint alone.
I did something amazing last week. I've had a bad cold and just coming out of it. And I didn't go down for the game. I decided to stay home and watch it. And when I did that, I ran my errands for my wife that morning, and you know I never get to see the fun things. I always say instead of being at a Final Four I wish I was in some sports bar with all the people enjoying it. But as I went through the town, stores or supermarkets or this or that, I mean everybody was wearing something green and white. The checkout people, this, the that and some were wearing their amazing blue, if that's what they were but you just realize how big football is.
And it encompasses so many people. And it was kind of fun to walk by, and some knuckleheads were saying good luck today. I used to get it a lot with Nick because they thought Nick and I were kind of alike. They should know the difference between me and Mark. I think they thought I was shopping in the morning and coaching in the afternoon. It was like we're all one family.
What that has done for us, in fairness, I'm not one big on the "we beat Michigan three times or this many times", because, you know, the other side of that shoe was there for a long time, too.
I think what's more important for us is our program is getting to that point where we're becoming a program. Our teams are becoming to the point we're becoming a program. And we can compete. I mean, we didn't always play great those first couple of games, but we were a football team.
And Notre Dame weekend we had every kid, two pregnant moms up just in case those kids turned out to be players, we had that many people up for those games.
And we're just trying to get we're trying to live off them, to be honest with you. But that Saturday, it was worthwhile to stay home even though I would have loved to have been there, because I just saw something I never get to see because I'm always at the game. Or if it's my games, I'm always in my office sweating out what's going to happen that night. And I got to witness something that, in about a three hour stretch, taking Steven around, it was pretty cool. So that's why football, we can win nine national championships here, and I've always said and I'll always believe until the day I leave here that football is still the most important.
And I hope that we get it where we're co right there, one and two, them one and us two, and that would be fine with me. And some day maybe we can win one of those illusive championships together would be the ultimate. I think only Florida has really done that. And that would be cool.
Q. Two things, your point guard situation, the way it is now with Kalin and Korie on the mend. Is Appling going to be forced to grow up faster, get thrown in the fire right away? And two, talk a little bit about the Duke game, similar to '09 when you guys played North Carolina, a lot of prognosticators out there say you're going to be in the title game. Similar again this year?
COACH IZZO: They said we were both going to be in the title game, but they didn't say it was going to be a 30 point differential. I think as far as the point guard thing, I think one thing about both Kalin, all three of those guys can play both positions.
What I've been a little more impressed with Appling, is he's getting better passing. You know, he did not have a great offseason passing the ball at some of his tryouts. And I think that probably helped him, because he realized that this is what he's gotta do, he's got to do both. He's a phenomenal athlete. He should be a good defender.
With three small guards, we'll have to have guys check. Kalin is the strongest by far of that group. He could check different people. But I could see playing I wouldn't want to mix them up all the time, but I could see Kalin being a 2 guard especially the way he's shooting it right now, and the other guys, one being a point and one being a 3, and we could go with Durrell there and again put Dayday back at the 4 and Delvon and be small. We can do a lot of things.
But sure, I mean we have to play I mean, there's no question that Thornton, Appling and maybe even Mike Kebler are going to have to play more, because Allen's out and Raymar played a lot of 3, especially late in the year when we were playing Delvon and Draymond in there together. And Ray had to play a lot of minutes just at the 3. We're short a little on the perimeter and that's what's going to make it important that, number one, that an Austin comes back, number two, that a freshman steps up.
Q. With Mark Dantonio's recent health issues, have you maybe reevaluated your own health situation and maybe tried to work out more or eat healthier or get more sleep?
COACH IZZO: I don't scream that much. I'm mellow. I keep telling you. But I say anytime something happens to anybody that's close to you, you reevaluate. And you look at yourself in the mirror. After I did, I threw up and I decided I better start adhering to some things myself.
But, you know, I try to workout a decent amount. I don't think any of us ever eat like we should. But it's kind of funny, as I looked at everybody's profession, this summer was an interesting summer for me. And I looked at what a lot of you do, all of us, and again I keep going back to there's pressure on us; but you've got pressure, you've got editors breathing down your throat. And people to please, too. Everybody has their pressures. The big key is what can you control and what can't you control?
And the problem with coaches, when you're dealing with 17 to 22 year olds, you don't control as many things as you think you can control all the time. And that usually gets to you more than the game. The game's, this is what we've done our whole life. We are who we are. We're coaches.
I think in Mark's case, I don't know how much is hereditary or not, but the guy's in great shape. He works out. I mean, he says he doesn't eat totally proper, but probably pretty good. And nobody gets enough sleep. Nobody does. But I'm not sure you guys do either. You know, I mean you guys are on early morning flights and late night things and deadlines.
But during that six month period or five month period, everybody, not Tom Izzo or Mark Dantonio, everybody at Michigan, at Indiana, Illinois, Duke, they're working 16 hour days. That's the way it works.
Do I look at it? Yeah. Do I worry about it? Probably a little. Do I try to change some things? Definitely for a while.
It's whether I can maintain that. And you try to get a little more rest. You try to have salad a little more often or whatever.
And I think you do that, but I don't want to worry about it every day either. I'm not going to live my life wondering if I step off a curb I'm going to get hit by a car.
I'm going to try to do things right. I've never been a guy I don't drink, do other things. Everybody has their pluses and minuses. And you pray to God that, like they say, it's not your time. I just don't want to be in an airplane when it's the pilot's time. (Laughter).
Q. You talked earlier about the distractions and things that happen. Just how hard was this summer for you?
COACH IZZO: You know what, there's certain things that you have to deal with as a coach. I think you'd be surprised that everybody's got big things to deal with. I mean, you take a look at Krzyzewski. He turned down way more money than I did, and he had to coach the Olympic team. And everybody's got issues.
It's just the way it works. You look at every football team. Everybody's got to deal with things. And I don't blow it off like it's nothing. But what I like more than the distractions are seeing guys start to buy into what you say, too. Buy into the workouts, coming back and hearing from your strength coach what's going on.
There's always some pluses. There's always some minuses. And you just deal with them the best you can. But I do know this: That if you think we're going to live in a distraction free world, that's not happening anymore.
And sometimes we all have to realize, in my mind, with everything we do, is figuring out whether things have changed that much or the exposure has changed that much.
And that's difficult to do. But I definitely would err on, as I look at the era of people that work for me, from Doug Herner, who turns 100 next week, to, you know, Jordan Ott who is 25, and trying to look at different ten year segments of everybody. I think you find out that right now there's so many things that are out there, with everything, you just gotta deal with it. And you gotta keep preaching to your guys to try to do the right things the best you can and understand that you're in a different fish bowl than most people.
Then when you have job things, this and that, as I look back on it, I wouldn't have changed anything except maybe try to handle a little better with all you guys, because I had some good friends in there that probably I got negative with. But I wouldn't have changed I'm still thankful the university gave me the opportunity to look at it, because I think I would have wondered on a job like that.
Now I don't. And I feel good about it. And, yet, I know it was hard on you guys, hard on me, hard on my family, and hard on my players probably.
So the thing I feel best about is I think we've got a chance to do something that few teams have done. Whether it's a long shot or a short shot, we got a chance to win three Big Ten championships in a row. We've got a chance to go to three Final Fours in a row. I mean, there aren't many people that get an opportunity to go to one and even win one.
And so, you know, the pluses way outweigh the minuses. It's just that you gotta make sure you keep perspective on it yourself, meaning me. And that's what I'm trying to do. And that's what I have done. And probably feel as good as I have felt in the years about the work that our guys have done in the offseason to hopefully reach some of those goals.
Q. It seems year after year you always say you never know what your team's going to present, where you're going to be at the end of the year, but we consistently see you in the tournament in the Final Four. What is it that you instill in your team at the beginning of the year that keeps producing that success? Big or small?
COACH IZZO: Threaten them (chuckling). I don't know. I really think good players, good staff, I really do have good players. We have players that can play right now. And it's I think we reloaded this year with some good players.
And consistency, as Earle said, with the staff means that you don't have to deal with a lot of those things. And you know, again, I mean, it's the reminders of those great days which brings football to my heart again when the Notre Dame game and the Cleaves and Petersons and those kind of people are back with you, Zach came back this year, and you just kind of realize, and have those guys talk to them and also realize yourself how many of those guys if you didn't hang with, where would they be? You did hang with them. Look at what they did for you. Look at what you did for them.
And I just keep trying to sell that to our players, you're in a place that you have a chance, a legitimate chance. And there's so few people that get that chance. And I try to bring out the things that are unique. I don't know what will happen this year.
But one thing I tried to come up with for Draymond and Delvon and them, I'm not sure anybody has gone to four straight.
You know, back in the UCLA days, you weren't allowed to play as a freshman. So I try to come up with gimmicky things that seem kind of crazy, but different things motivate different people, but I think it's not the pressure you put, on our fans put on, or I put on, sometimes I think it's the camaraderie, that as your program grows, your former players let you know that you expect that.
I saw Drew Stanton the other day at a function I was at in Ann Arbor, and he talked about going back to the locker room and we were playing Michigan the next day. And some of his buddies were on the Michigan team. And when people can do that and they talk to our players about it, I think it brings some pride back in what you can do and what you can accomplish, when they see what players have accomplished or where they've gone there might be some bumps in the road but I think that's where everybody wants to get in the end.
Q. Do you think Lucious will be healthy enough to play against Eastern Michigan? And also, what do you think this team's upside is defensively? You mentioned the losses of Morgan and Allen? Do you feel like you have the pieces to be as good as you want to be defensively by the end of the year?
COACH IZZO: Number one, Korie Lucious is one kid we all know about what happened, probably won't be playing in that game anyway. I don't know if he'll be healthy enough or not.
But as we go through the difference with us and football right now, is I have to deal with we're not in season yet.
So some of the things I've dealt with Korie were put in place to make sure that mistake doesn't happen again. One of them will be definitely we'll be looking at that game or games.
But as far as his health goes, God, looking at him yesterday, I think he's got a great chance to be able to start practicing at least by the end of next week. And, yet, I'm saying that without any doctor's or trainer's advice. I'm just looking at him compared to looking at Suton and trying to figure out where he is.
He's got a great chance. I think he's going to recover. He lifted really hard this summer and he spent some time on his shot. I think if it's a two or three week deal, you don't lose that. When it gets to be five and six weeks or months, it's almost like learning how to walk again. You have to start over.
Q. The team defense?
COACH IZZO: That's a worry. We've taken ten points of emphasis for the first two weeks of practice, and the defense is definitely high on that list. It's always in the top 5, but it's probably in the top 2 now. Because we think we lost a guy that nobody appreciates, including me, in Raymar. He had that ability to guard so many different people and he was so smart that he could guard them physically and he could guard them mentally.
But because of that, I think that he's going to be a bigger loss. The other thing he was, I always said he was, you know, you look at him as a little more inconsistent because he can have a 20 point game or he could have an eight or nine point game.
But what he really was, was pretty consistent that he was going to get you 10, 11 points every game, seven to eight rebounds every game. And guard very well every game. When he did that, we won. I can't remember going into the NCAA tournament what the stat was. But I think when he had 12 points or 11 points, eight rebounds, we won a huge amount of games.
Unfortunately, in that game he had, what, five points and four rebounds. But I think we have a chance to be better defensively. We're going to have to change. We're going to have to play some zone, because of the lineups, which is, you know, foreign territory for me.
We're going to have to look at our switching. If we play Draymond at the 3, are we going to be able to switch as much as we have in the past, do some things here. We're going to have to make some adjustments and some of it is going to depend on how some of those guys come around in the next week or two.
Q. You mentioned Delvon being the healthiest you've seen him. Can you talk about just his development over the summer and what you're seeing out of him and, again, how he's looking?
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, I've said a million times that I feel bad for all of you. I feel worse for Delvon, but nobody has seen that kid play yet.
You barely ever see him I don't know if we'll ever get to that again, unfortunately. I don't know that. But that poor kid, I mean, when we got him, as some of you did see him, either out there or on some film, he has got freakish athletic skills. And around the basket he was unbelievable. In the open court he was unbelievable. Offensive rebounding, he was just great.
And we haven't hardly seen any of those things. And just those couple of practices, he's hitting 15 , 17 , 18 foot shots. But what he's done best right now is put the ball on the floor and got to the basket. And I think we'll get him in the open court. His conditioning is better. Last year, he played 20 minutes a game because he was playing on that one leg. Probably shouldn't have played that many. But never in great condition because he couldn't do anything.
Now he's done so much in the offseason to get a better base, something he never had the last two years, that I think he's going to be much, much improved. And if he just stays injury free, I think you're going to see a big jump in Delvon Roe, which would really help this team, because he brings something to us, not only the athletic inside player, but he's got a toughness about him that is he doesn't have to talk it, he just walks it. And that's kind of an impressive trait to have.
Q. I forget the wording Draymond used this summer, but seemed like he was putting all his eggs in the national championship basket. Is that dangerous talk for you, or how do you use that as a carrot to kind of drive this team?
COACH IZZO: You haven't heard me say that, because it is dangerous talk. I mean, it's dangerous if it's utilized in the wrong way, I think is a better way to put it.
We have gotten to the point where I joked about it being on our schedule, and I joked about I look at the Midnight Madnesses over the years and the last couple of years, it's wherever the national championship is. Riding on an Indy car, you do Motown and look like idiots in shorts and different things you do. They're kind of geared to the Final Four.
I'm hoping when I find out more tomorrow what I'm doing, it's just geared to the season, in a way. But I don't think it's all bad that Draymond Green sat in a locker room at two Final Fours as a loser wanting to get to that next spot. I don't think that's bad at all.
Again, if you understand what it's going to take to get there, that's what I'll use as the motivating part of it.
And when I can talk about why I think we didn't get there, didn't quite finish the job, if we use that as a motivating factor and try to, you know, get a little more focus, get a little bit more leadership I mean, if you look at some of the teams that have won things and some of the teams that haven't, that goes hand in hand. Eventually it catches up with you. Sometimes you still get to a Final Four. Sometimes you get to the championship game.
But sooner or later I think you have to have certain characteristics to be a championship quality team. And talent is a big part of it. Luck is a small part of it. Decent coaching is some part of it. But eventually, my favorite line of all lines is, you know, players play the game and a player-coached team, still, in that situation, ends up better than a coach-coached team because there's so many things that go on on the floor that are going to come down to the nitty gritty and that's why you need some leadership.
So I think we're ahead of where we were by a long shot last year. That will be good questions you get to ask them when you meet them in a little bit.
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