Oct. 22, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - On Tuesday afternoon at the Breslin Center, the Michigan State basketball program, ranked No. 2 in the USA Today/Coaches Preseason poll, held its annual media day. Head coach Tom Izzo and his student-athletes spoke with media from across the state to preview the 2013-14 season.
Tom Izzo Press Conference Transcript
First of all, let me say sorry for the inconvenience. Matt and I figured since I'm a big Jim Leyland fan, he deserved the day, and plus our players deserved the day, and didn't want you guys caught in the middle. So this worked out good.
As far as this year's team, I'm going to just rattle through a few things and then leave it a lot more for questions, because I think there are a lot of them. But it's one of those teams that's been exciting to be around. The chemistry this summer has been as good as it's been in a long time.
What's that mean? It means it was bad other years? Not really. It just means we had more guys in the gym. We had our best academic summer. We had one of our best athletic summers. We definitely had our best injury free summer, so we got a little bit of that. Guys have made sacrifices with the Denzels and Garys, and Costellos, and guys that work out all the time. Keith (Appling) and Branden Dawson really jumped in on that. We just had more and more guys spending more and more time. It's an experienced group. We've got a lot of guys back; all but one, really. It was one big one, but all but one. I think that's going to bode well. Yet the exciting thing is you know what you're going to get to coach, but what we get to coach is all improved.
We look back a year ago when we had this press conference, (Travis) Trice, we were worried about his life, to be honest with you. He was 22 pounds lighter than he was in May of that year, and that was a big issue. He missed the entire summer. Dawson, of course, we had no clue. He missed the entire summer. Then (Gary) Harris got hurt during the year. So we had some injuries. Yet, I think we had a good run; had a pretty good year. Not quite as consistent as I'd like, but it was pretty good.
As far as bracing the lofty expectations, you know, I can say we've been there a couple times in the last six, seven years, maybe three times where we were picked very high. One or two it worked out, and one of them, it didn't. So we've been on both sides of the coin, and kind of know where it is to be ranked real high and not get where you want to get, and ranked real high and get where you want to get. Couple times we've been ranked not as high and got where we wanted to get or almost where we wanted to get. So I think our players will embrace it. I really do. The concern I have, to bring up my favorite topic, is what happens when you lose a game or you win a big game. As everybody knows, we've got a couple of those early. Does everybody go crazy if you lose one? Yes. How does that affect your team? You never know until it happens. Does everybody go crazy if you win one and what does that do to your team? And I think those are the only things that concern me right now.
At least we have some experience. We have some guys that have been there, done that, been around the block a little bit. So they understand what expectations are. With good teams come great accolades, as we all know. (Adreian) Payne and Harris have gotten their shares, Appling's getting some of his. And Dawson is starting to get some of the things he earned this summer. He didn't deserve last year because it was a year when he was just coming off of recovery.
When you look at it, we all looked at Adrian Peterson last year and said Dawson can make it. Then you look at (Derrick) Rose or (Nerlens) Noel or all these other kids that have had these kind of injuries and they're out a year and a half, and you realize what a freak Dawson was to come back like he did. Or what a real freak Adrian Peterson was to come back and have a year like he had. It's not the norm. It's the exception. Branden was an exception, yet missed out on a lot of things that I think now are going to be better. He definitely appears to me to have all his athleticism back, and he appears to have definitely improved his shooting. I think he's improved his confidence and that's going to help us.
The schedule, you know, it's really not a lot different than other years except maybe having (North) Carolina at home and Kentucky ranked number one right off the bat. But picking up a team like Georgetown, I don't know if it benefits you or not. It's going to be an expensive place to be on Super Bowl Saturday, but it's going to be, I think, a fun place and a great event and another tough team. With the other teams we've got, it's a great schedule. But I think the last two or three years the real difference in our schedule has been the Big Ten is so much better. There are just so many ranked teams compared to what it used to be. I remember being a ranked team and playing against one other ranked team in our league. Now there will probably be seven or eight that will be ranked before the year's over. Last year I think it was the same. So that creates, when you're playing a lot of those teams twice, 13, 14, 15 more ranked teams you're playing. That makes for a brutal schedule.
I think we play six games, as Matt pointed out, against preseason top-11 teams. I'm not sure that's ever been done before even by the standards we've set. Way over half our games are against teams that participated in last year's postseason. That's going to be good. The Big Ten to me, top to bottom is going to be better. I don't think the top will be quite as good, we had some really, really good teams. I think we'll still have four or five really, really good teams. But I think you're going to see Penn State a lot better. You're going to see Iowa a lot, lot better; they're, in my mind, definitely a playoff team. And you're not going to see a major drop in some of those others. Wisconsin, it doesn't matter; I think that's the good thing about them. Doesn't matter who they've got or what they've got, they're always going to be right in the hunt. There will be some unknowns at Minnesota, a little bit at Nebraska. But as I said last year, I think Nebraska and Penn State, when they hired their two guys, those are two of the better coaches in this league. So it's going to be tough games even if talent isn't quite the same, and I think top to bottom, the league is going to be very, very competitive and very, very good.
To run through our players real quick. If you look at (Branden) Dawson, he's healthy. There is no repercussion from the injury. He's had absolutely no issues with his knee. His ball handling has improved, his shot has improved, and his mental toughness of worrying about an injury is not there.
I think if there's a guy that's maybe one of my most improved players, it had to be (Travis) Trice. He missed, (nine) games last year; but he's 25 pounds heavier than he was a year ago, all good weight. And it's something that I think he's in the best shape of his life. He's physically stronger than he was. He just had a heck of a summer. You don't know how much we missed him last year in some games. He was our second best 3 point shooter, and I think that's improved some. So with him, it's mostly his health and I think great improvement in his skills. But his strength makes him a better defender. He's dunking regularly, which doesn't mean anything except when you're his size and not a great dunker, it kind of shows that you've improved in that area.
(Gary) Harris made a heck of a sacrifice this summer to stay and not play in all the USA events or the different events. As he stated to me, he wanted to just sit back, get healthy, work on his game and enjoy college. And I think he did that to the fullest. He's definitely better with his ball skills and decision making, and the shoulder hasn't been one issue at all. Late in the summer, he sprained his ankle in a pick up game, and it set him aside for a little bit. But that was about the only injury we've had and that one was of no real consequence.
Adreian Payne was, I thought, a guy that worked almost as hard as Valentine and Trice this summer. He spent a ton of time in the gym. He's improved his body. He's definitely stronger. He's gained six, seven, eight pounds, but a lot better at putting it on the floor, and his shot is becoming more and more consistent.
(Denzel) Valentine would get my hardest worker of the summer award. He's been here morning, noon and night. He lived, ate and slept in the gym. He's shooting the ball better, and I think his number one issue for me had to be to turn it over less. I think he's working on that.
Keith Appling, most of his improvement has come with his shot and his decision making. I think he went from just trying to be a scoring point guard or maybe looking for a shot first and now sometimes he's almost looking for it second. Finding the happy medium of not being too far to the left and too far to the right is his biggest challenge. But I think Keith has been fun to coach. I think he sees things a lot better. Watched a lot of film over the summer, spent a lot of time in here, and I think we're going to get some benefits out of that.
(Matt) Costello and (Alex) Gauna are two of the guys that are back on the inside. Again, they've made improvements, which I've got to say about every guy on this team, that should mean we should be really, really good, and you know what? Maybe we should be. But I think those two guys have improved. I think there is some improvement to be made out of quickness laterally with both of them, and that will be a negative there.
Russell Byrd, much healthier, much more confident. It's a matter of whether he can come back after the three surgeries and become the shooter that I recruited. You think back and those surgeries all came from his high school injury, and it's been tough on him. He's definitely shooting the ball better. But there is a thing called a 3 o'clock shooter, a practice shooter and a game shooter, so some of that we'll find out as the game comes.
The last three guys are all new - (Alvin) Ellis, (Gavin) Schilling and (Kenny) Kaminski. Kaminski was red shirted last year. He's 35 pounds lighter. Still, as a lot of you saw at the end of last year, might be as good a pure shooter as we have. He must improve defensively. In fact, like my famous guy Morris Peterson, I tried to give him the same road map this summer to find somebody on campus that he could guard. If he can find him, then he's going to play, because he can shoot the ball. He's 6-7; he can do some things. He's just got to improve defensively. Alvin and Schilling have been surprises for me. When you sign kids late, you never know as much. They're both tough, they're both strong, they're both great athletes. Schilling is as good an athletic, 6-9 guy as far as quickness, speed, running ability and toughness. He's like an Antonio Smith with more skill maybe. But he's tougher than nails and he can run as well as anybody on this team in a race. Alvin is a kid that committed to Minnesota. When Tubby left, Tubby called me on him. He's a guy that we are growing to love because he's just a great kid; kind of a Jack of all trades guy. He does everything well. Maybe nothing great yet except compete, but I think his shot will continue to get better, and his defense and everything else.
So I think that's pretty much a quick scenario of everybody and what they've done. There is one common denominator, I said, everybody's improved. I don't say that every year, but I really believe this team, everybody has improved. How much we'll miss (Derrick) Nix? He was a unique guy in a lot of ways. But one of the ways that he was most unique is he was a 6-9, to say 300 pounder for safe sake when taken in average over the four years, that maybe his best attribute was his ability to pass the ball. We're going to miss that because you really could throw it into him. He had a great feel for the game and that's one of his strengths. How we cover ball screens, how we defend the post, I think, we'll get a little and we had to give a little in losing him. So I guess I'll open it up to some questions.
How much are you guys talking about the Final Four streak? How much have you talked about?
I haven't talked about it much. I don't think that's something that a coach in a way should talk about. My former players come back, Mateen (Cleaves) and Raymar Morgan were here yesterday. I love when players talk about it. Travis Walton, you know, he walked around all summer. I haven't had anybody like that yet. But I think Adreian and Keith are more than aware of it. We've talked about it in a big picture thing, but it's not something I use every day. That's a streak that, I don't know anybody that's had it. I guess John Wooden would have had one like that, but there are not many people that have it. Yet, like every other streak on record, it's one that's made to be broken; I just hope it's not this year because it is something that I'm very proud of. I hope they're proud of it, and understand how important it is to at least live up to or more than the players that played before you. Not something I harp on every day. They've got enough pressure on them. I think there are so many reasons to get to a Final Four that are beyond being just good enough. But they're aware of it. That's for sure.
First of all, Travis said the other day that this team is more about them and how they handle problems and them setting aside for five months for one goal. That if they do that, they know you can get them there. To hear that coming from those guys this early, is that something you haven't seen around here?
Yeah, and I think you haven't seen it for two reasons. Number one, very seldom you have many veterans back. That is one key we have. We have a lot of veteran players back. Number two, I think guys like Travis, we have a lot of guys that are trying to play for the program and the players before them. We're in a very selfish Twitter area, you know? I had to get that in. I have to throw it in one time every press conference. But it is, it's more of a selfish society and teams go that way too sometimes. But when teams spend as much time as they did together this summer, those are impressive things to a coach. There will be a million things that go on this year. As I said, it will not be just handling failure, it will be handling success too.
I think we have a bunch of guys that understand that this is an opportunity of a lifetime. I mean, how good are we? You know, it's so hard to say. You can look at it, when I look at the years that I've been here, I thought we had a good chance to get back to a Final Four in 2000 because of what we did in '99 and what we had back. In 2001, I thought we had a good chance to get back because even though we lost a couple key players, you bring in a (Zach) Randolph and you had some players that were juniors and seniors around you. It was pretty impressive. Other than that, I don't think we've ever had as good of a chance.
We've gotten there three other times; we still haven't won another one. This year's team has a chance. Then you start looking on YouTube or something, and you see Duke's team or Louisville's team or Kentucky's team and you say, wow, there are a lot of good teams out there. I haven't seen much on Arizona. Then you look in our league. There are a lot of good teams in our league. We had some publication that had four in the top 10. So I mean what you've got to do is keep getting better every day and stay away from injuries. If you can do those two things, I don't see this team getting fat and sassy. I don't see this team taking things for granted right now. So if you keep getting better every day that gives you a real, legitimate chance. But how many times do they talk about that first weekend with us and Kentucky and Duke and Kansas, and it's like a Final Four. How many times did the four, five, six top teams in preseason end up in Final Fours? Almost never. So that's what we've got to buck the odds.
You talked about your team being veteran, but Kenny certainly isn't. He told me it doesn't matter if he can score. This team doesn't need points. It needs defense. To have a young player embrace that. I mean he told me it doesn't matter how many points I score. If I don't play defense, I'm going to sit the bench. For him to have that mentality that young, what's that say about Kenny?
He's got a good dad and a jerk for a coach. That's what it says, because he couldn't have said it more eloquently. I'm hoping he said it to you but looking in the mirror while he's saying it because it really is something that he has to learn to do. Yet, if it was me, as I've always said to my staff, even though you like a tougher kid or this kind of kid, that kind of kid, I'd rather coach defense than offense. My chances are better at making a guy a great defender than a great offensive player. So Kenny's got a dad who feels the same way. Asked me the other day, is he guarding anybody? Did he get a rebound? I said that's good stock. So, hopefully, he'll do both those things. If he's open, he can hit shots.
Can you talk about Gary Harris and what kind of difference he can make fully healthy?
The question is, I said we did not see the real Gary Harris. Last year, once Gary got hurt, the third game in or second game in, whatever it was, we never had him go to the offensive boards. It's something he can do very well. He couldn't run as much. You know, sometimes you saw him dragging his shoulder. Dawson didn't run nearly as well. So I think the Gary Harris that I see now is as good a shooter but a lot better with the ball, lot better decision maker, still a great defender, and I think will be a much better rebounder. He's running the court more like the Shannon (Brown)s and Mo Agers, which is what I think he have to get back to. And he has the ability both as a speedster, but he's also strong. He's not quite as strong as Shannon, but he's as quick as either one of those guys and he has good strength. I think he's improved his game, and I think he's injury free. I think last year he played hurt the whole year. He just didn't tell anybody. That's what I think. You've got to love that about him in a way, but it also has to excite you on where you think he could be because of it this year.
To a coach who hates getting fat and sassy with a team, do you coach differently because of the expectations? Are you harder on them because of the lofty perception of them, if you will?
I try to tell them the same thing I just told you. You think you have a chance every year. You don't. I mean, you have to sell it that way to them, to sometimes alums, to sometimes media. But every year you don't have the same chance you have in certain years. This is just one of those times where you have an opportunity to do something that will last a lifetime. So consequently I told them I'm going to be more demanding of them and hold them to a higher standard. We're trying to do things now that few teams will do. We're trying to get to another Final Four. I don't know how many teams had a streak like that going for 20 years. It's not many. We're trying to win another National Championship. You know there are not a lot of margins for error when you're trying to do that, as we all learn. We've been to five or six of the last six or seven Sweet 16s, and we put ourselves in a position. But that's not good enough; just not good enough. It's nice, and some day, thank God now I get to go 10 more years to try to catch (former Detroit Tigers manager Jim) Leyland. But if I was him, then you get to enjoy it when it's over, but you don't get to during it because you just know there is so much more out there. So I guess coach a little different.
This team I don't seem to have to be on as much because they're more self motivated and self driven. That's what you really like about a team. If a team's self motivated and self driven and good at self evaluating, then you have a chance to be really, really good. If Kenny Kaminski can tell you that or somebody else says I didn't play that well in practice, or if you ask a question after practice how did you play and he says great and you watched him and you thought he was awful, I've got problems. So I've become bigger on self evaluation and self motivation. If those two things work hand in hand like I think they are with this team, it gives us that chance. I think I don't have to coach them maybe as hard. I just have to make sure they understand what their goals and dreams and what they decided as a team they want to accomplish.
You've talked about how Keith Appling has really embraced becoming a better point guard this offseason. What part of your message to him particularly resonated with him to make him make that change more so than maybe in the past couple years? Second part to that question is do you have a decision on the team captains?
Well, as far as Appling goes, you go through a lot of things. I thought about pulling him in the seventh inning and I decided to keep him where he's at. I mean that kind of jokingly, but I also mean that seriously. Last year you wonder, everybody was questioning why are you playing him at the point? And there were a variety of reasons. One of them was Trice was hurt. But that wouldn't have been the deciding factor.
I think this year you'll see them playing together some which will give Keith a little ability to get off the ball once in a while. That constant grind of being on the ball, that can be good. But he spent a lot of time watching film. The only thing I can tell you is it's helped his decision making. He's throwing better passes. He's involving his teammates more at the right time. Keith was not selfish. He wasn't out there taking 25 shots a game. But I think when he did pass sometimes, it wasn't where a guy could do something with it. I see him much better in that respect because our break's been better. Our break's been better because, as I told him, if you have a great quarterback and bad receivers, you don't have a good passing game. If you have great receivers and a bad quarterback, you don't have a good passing game, or running game for us. They have to go hand in hand. I think with the guys we've got and the fact that we can play at a faster pace because of the depth we have, I think it's going to benefit Keith a lot.
As far as our captains go, I haven't done anything yet. For the first time in my whole career it doesn't bother me one bit. Keith's going to be our leader on the floor right now. But as far as the position he plays. But this group has gotten along so well, if it ain't broke, why fix it? It's almost they're determining things themselves which is really cool. It's not quite as comforting. Do I have a Draymond (Green), Travis (Walton), a Mateen (Cleaves)? No. Not totally. I think the best guys that aren't afraid to hear their voice are Valentine and Trice. I think Keith's improved in that area. To be honest with you, Adreian Payne has improved in that area. I've watched him help players and do more and things like that. So I'm going to let it go for a while and see where they take each other. It's a different approach for me. But most years I've panicked over it and I've said we've got to do this and got to do that. This year I'm trying to embrace it. I've almost enjoyed it. We'll see what happens as we go.
It seemed to me some of your best players, Dawson, Payne, Harris, are guys that haven't really shown their ceiling yet. Beyond our expectations outside the program, are you intrigued by what they can become and what you can push them to this year?
That's a great question because that's what I told my staff. I said we've got to make sure that players play the game.I said the other day, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink. I heard that when I was this big, and I heard it now and I think everybody else does. I said this year we're going to make some guys drink. We're going to make them drink. If they don't want to drink, they're going to drink. Okay? Water. Let me make sure I finish that.
Yeah, it is exciting because I don't think there is any question Dawson is still one of the more talented guys. Harris and all four of those guys. I don't think Valentine's seen his ceiling yet. I think Trice is starting to see his this summer, and I really like what he's doing. But those three or four guys that have great basketball skills and talent. Try to remember, here's Dawson going from a center in high school to playing what he did and becoming a real good defender by the end of his freshman year and then go down with a serious injury. Of all the things he had to improve on, it was skill development and he had just no time to do it; didn't get to do it at all. So that was understandable. As far as Harris goes too, I don't think any of us will ever know what he went through last year. I don't think it was anything serious, but I think it was discomforting. It was a question mark every game. And Payne, he did start coming into his own halfway through last semester. Thank God for fist fights, I guess, not to make fun of it. But it is what it is. If we've got to fist fight somebody to get them to play, that's cool. I just want to see some end results.
I think our job this year is to push them farther than they thought they could go. I think we've got enough maturity and enough guys that are driven that we can accomplish that. I don't think they'll take it as anything bad. I just had Payne and Dawson in this morning and talked to them about, we had a film session last night, can you consistently do the things you did in some of those spots? And consistently means every time. It's going to be fun to work towards and I am looking forward to that.
What kind of challenge will it be to leave the mentality and the grind of playing in the Big Ten season to play an out of conference game on a big stage right before the Super Bowl?
When I negotiated the deal, I got two Super Bowl tickets and then they pulled them from me, so I'm kind of upset I made the deal. But it is going to be a lot of fun to be in New York at that time. A little bizarre, everybody will be running around there like a normal day in the U. P. Most of those people that come up from the south that are freaked out by the weather, it's going to be fun to watch them with an outdoor game in February. But I am worried about the challenge, a little bit. I haven't done that in a while. Last time we did it I think was against UConn and it was very successful for us, but it was a home game. But the Big Ten wasn't as good then. Now if you look at that lineup of games during some of those stretches, I mean, it's murders row. But as my guys say to me, I don't say it to them, they say it to me, that's why we came. Came to play the best schedules; we came to play the best teams. Sometimes you get what you wish for, and sometimes it's negative, sometimes it's positive. I think this is a positive thing. They're going to play the best teams. I've tried to tell them we've got to keep things in perspective. I think most of the Final Fours I've been in, we've had the team with the most losses, and I think some of that is because of what we do. But it will be a little challenging during the middle of that thing. (Mark) Hollis and I talked about it. You know him. He thinks any marketable good idea is a great idea, so I jumped on it.
What do you foresee as being the biggest challenge to get this team playing at its peak this season? Two, what are you going to get out of the post with Nix gone? You mentioned the offense going through him last year? Will that change and who do you see is going to be in there?
I think it will a change a little bit; both Matt and Alex and Schilling, who we've been really excited about. But they don't have the passing skills he has. They might be able to score a little bit more down there in some ways. I know for Alex and Costello, for sure, they're a lot better shooters from range. But every year you've got to do something. I think the neat thing about this team, like a lot of my really good teams we've had here, we could do a lot of things. We could play Payne and Dawson and go small and really go athletic. With Valentine and Harris and Trice and Appling, we could really put on a small athletic team at times too. Depending on how it's going, we'll have to make those adjustments until we see where these centers are. What they can do is they can defend. They can rebound. They are physical. I'm hoping the scoring we're going to get from Trice, a lot more from Appling. I think more from Harris. I think more from Valentine I think more from Dawson is going to make up for the scoring we had. But the passing part, and that's why I said it first, will be a concern because he was pretty unique in that way for a guy his size.
I was going to ask about the bigs too, specifically Costello. Would he be in the lead? Sounds like you like Schilling a lot, but what do you need Costello to do to play more minutes?
I think right now Costello would be. Still have two and a half weeks to go, I guess. Because both those guys are smart academically, I'd tell them they have to get a little smarter on the basketball court. Costello can really run too. It's funny. He does not have nearly the lateral quickness that Schilling has. Schilling is about as good laterally as any big guy, Andre Hudson ish, maybe a little better. He really moves his feet well. So, they're going to have to set screens. They're going to have to rebound. They're going to have to defend. To me, they're going to have to make free throws, because I think both guys will get to the line a decent amount.
It's no secret teams that have won the national title throughout the years have had NBA talent. Not just one guy or two guys. Your national title team in 2000 had five guys in the NBA. You have the potential four players right now that have NBA talent talk about needing that NBA talent to win a national title?
Well, the difference is the NBA has some Kentucky talent. I think it's been flipped a little bit. They've got the most talented team in college basketball. No question about it. Just go look at the draft board right now or go look where those guys are ranked coming out of high school. It's something when you can get six or seven in the top 10 or 12 in the country. John (Calipari) has done that. He's got a niche. He's done a great job of it. You do have to have talent, but we just saw in (baseball) the Yankees and the Dodgers are not in the World Series. You ever watch Moneyball. It makes it easier, but it's not the end all be all.
I mean, we've had teams you look at our 2010 team, we kind of stumbled into Indianapolis with a lot of injuries and lot of things that were going on. Maybe had as good a chance to win a National Championship as we have when we won it. Then in other years when you play (North) Carolina, kind of like Kentucky this year, they actually had an experienced NBA team, if you ask me. So it helps. I mean, we've got enough players to play deep into the tournament, if we play well. We've got enough players to win a National Championship if we play well. But there are six or seven other schools that I think have similar things in different ways. Some young but more of them. Some veterans, and so many things happen. ou look at Louisville, and what is going to happen with their players. Where's that fit in? All of the things that go wrong during the year, the injuries, there are so many factors. I don't make any bones about it. We're a good enough basketball talented team to do as well or better than anybody else in the country. But talking about it or having it on paper for some reason does not make it a go come that time of year in March.
You talk about the experience and talent of this team. What do you think this team will do best and what do you hope it does best? What should its strengths be and what do you think it will be?
I still hope it's a good team defensively because you've got Appling and Harris who are, I think, the two best defensive guards in the country. I really do. I've gone through and looked at a lot of guards. Harris is illegal because I ask NBA guys that come in, I asked one that came in today, how many have a shooting guard that is maybe one of the best defenders? They say the same thing. That's un American. That's not allowed. So I think that will help. I think Dawson has a chance to be as good of a defender as there is, and Payne is definitely more than adequate. So defensively we should be pretty good. I hope that we rebound well and run well. That's what I hope from this team.
We're athletic. Our point guard is pushing it a lot better. We have a backup that can push it. I think we should be a team that can run, run, run and run. And I think we should be a much better shooting team than we were a year ago. I don't want to hang my hat on that as the reason we should advance or play well in our league. But I think those three areas are definitely ones that I would like to see, and I think I'll see this team do well in.
Over the years, why do some players such as Gary Harris choose to come back when they're pretty much locked to be first round picks? It's hard to say. You had a chance where when I started coaching as a head coach, if you weren't a top-5 pick, you didn't come out. Then it got to be quickly if you weren't in the lottery, which is the top 13 picks, you didn't come out. Then it went to the point where if you're in the top 20, and right now if you're breathing, you've got a pulse and you can make a shot, you think you should come out. So it's changed. It's changed a lot.
Leyland gave a comment I loved. I saw one from the St. Louis Cardinals today that I read a story on and I loved. It's not old school to come back. It's not old school to leave. It's right school or wrong school, and I'm going to continue to harp on that. I don't think that I do anything because Judd did it or this guy did it or Knight did it or John Thompson did it. It's old school stuff. There's still, when you cut through the cheese of all the thing that's go on, no matter how much we tweet and use our computers, it is still nice to talk to somebody face to face. Had a couple of interviews today. It was enjoyable to talk to somebody face to face. That is the right school. It's not old school.
I think Gary Harris had a lot of factors. Parents that didn't want to see an 18 year old in the league. I think he enjoyed college; he's a very good student. I think more and more people NBA people are convincing all of us, do you want to get drafted in the first round, have a cup of coffee, or do you want to have a career? I think to have a career nowadays when they are sending, I think, last year 19 (draft picks) went down to the D League. Now Gary Harris, I think he could have handled that, but I'm not sure everybody can handle that. So there are so many different factors than there were a couple years ago. Things have changed with the different player agreements and now with the different salary caps and different things. So there are a lot of different things that are going on. To be honest with you, I did some checking on Gary. His parents asked that we did, and they did, and that thing was over so fast I didn't even get a chance to give my answer. That's what Gary decided to do.
AP's was a lot longer process, to be honest with you. And the good news for me is I don't think it's affected either one of them. I thought it would affect AP, if you want the truth. I thought it would affect him. I told him when he said I'm coming back, I said, no, you're not. Not until me and you sit down. Don't tell me over the phone because I'm in Virginia recruiting, because that's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for you to be dying to come back or otherwise I would advise you to go. You know, his high school coaches, as you know the story, were very involved and what happened, happened. I thought for a week I was a little bit like this. But, boy, after that week, he had one hell of a summer and has really matured as a person and it was fun to watch him grow.
So it is different for every guy. I think you're going to see stats that we haven't seen yet. A lot of guys that are coming out, first of all, didn't get drafted. A lot of guys that are coming out, in five or six years from now we'll see how many had one contract and then were out. As we know, one contract worth two million dollars for two years, we all pay taxes. We know where half of it is. It's gone. And I do feel for some of these kids and the ones that if Gary Harris would have come out and made it, nobody would be happier than I would be.
As I said, you all better understand this, I get accused of wanting my players to stay. I do. I get accused in recruiting of that, and it's such a joke. Because if a player goes to the NBA, it's better than winning a National Championship from a recruiting standpoint. There is no question about it. So anybody that's good enough and I think is going to better his life, I'm happy as 10 men for him. I really am. I would have been happy for both those guys. I'm hoping that this year I'm happy for a lot of guys, because I think I've got some guys that are capable.
How much do you think those players enjoy spending the summers here?
I hope that's part of it. I hope a lot of them. Draymond (Green) last year was on everybody's quick dial because hopefully when those guys come back and they talk, like Draymond was here all summer, and I think he'd just as soon spend every summer here the rest of his life. You have to remember Magic (Johnson) spent five summers here. Even though he as in L.A. I hope that's some of it, but I really hope what's best for them. What's best for them will end up best for me. I mean, don't kid yourself. We'll get good players. And those players that left will help make the good players great players. I know that's what DayDay did this summer. He spent a lot of time.
I don't know how our year will end up, but I had something happen this summer where we had a couple years where we had good teams and maybe not as good of chemistry. Pretty well documented, everybody knows it. Still went to a Final Four. You have those years, everybody has them. Don't kid yourself too. All of those other schools have them too. But this summer when we were in the weight room in August, and went walking in to see my team. And DayDay came over and said to me, coach, `I'd die to play with this team.' From Draymond Green, that was a statement of all statements. And you know, Mateen's been down. He was here yesterday. When Andre Hudson was here a couple days ago, and when people say that doesn't make you a champion. It doesn't make you a Final Four team. It doesn't make you anything. It gives you a legitimate chance to be really good because the players that have been there and gotten to those places see some of those same qualities in the players that we have now. So that statement by DayDay, as Mike Garland and I said, that was a big statement because, like myself, he doesn't pass out a lot of compliments for any other reason than ones that are real. So I appreciated that statement.
You've talked about Travis a lot being healthier. Is it almost like he's got to carry a rabbit's foot around at this point with the injuries he's had? What can he do to that offense in terms of being healthy?
Yeah, that's another funny topic. Like, boy you have a lot of injuries. We've had the freakiest of injuries. alf our injuries have been high school, Delvon Roe, Adreian Payne, Russell Byrd. Those are all high school injuries. I mean, Travis, just think about him. He gets an infection in his brain. That was a strange injury and strange illness I should say. Then the two concussions, they didn't happen in my practice, they happened in the game. We've got other teams out there maiming my guys. So it happened, it happened. He missed a lot though. He missed a real lot. I just think he's going to be a better player. I don't think he has to carry around a rabbit's foot. I really don't. Those are freak injuries, especially the infection. But the other ones, they happen. I don't lay in bed at night worrying about injuries right now after the summer we had. If they happen, we'll deal with them, but that's not something I worry about.
Lot of people mentioned Denzel Valentine and Draymond Green in the same breath. I was curious if you saw that comparison to be true.
Draymond Green and Valentine is a good comparison. Valentine's a little better with the ball and a little better shooter. But they both have great passion. DayDay used his voice a little more. Maybe Valentine will as the years go. But as far as leaders and workers, to be very honest with you DayDay became one of our best workers, but Valentine has been a worker since he's been in junior year in high school. I think he's been an incredible gym rat. So, all in all, if he turns out anything like DayDay from Michigan State, for our basketball program, and for the people in mid Michigan, that would be a plus. That's all I have to say about that.
I'll close up by saying this. I hope you enjoy our guys today, because I think we have a bunch of guys that are a little quiet, but pretty sincere people, pretty good people. We're going to graduate two more guys. Adreian Payne, who you all read the story or know the story, he's going to be within a class of graduating at the semester, three and a half years in. And Keith is going to be a graduate. I think Russell will finish this year, even though he's got another year. He's going to be close to it. So that's been good. We've had a great summer. That gives you a chance, but now is when the real work begins and the real fun begins. I hope you enjoy the schedule. I'm going to enjoy it one way or another. I hope you enjoy that first week of McNeese State and then Kentucky. I know we will, and I'll look forward to all the things during the year. Things will be as open as they can be. It is getting to be that Twitter day and age when you almost feel you've got to be a little more guarded. I hope that bug doesn't hit me because it's not one of my strong suits, to be guarded. Yet I've enjoyed you guys, appreciate you, and thanks for coming today.
Senior center Adreian Payne
On his expectations for this year...
I'm really looking forward to this season.
On the team's performance during practice...
I think we've been performing pretty well. Our offense and defense are looking really good. Branden (Dawson) is playing a lot better. He had his knee injury, but he's in good form now. He's been jumping over and getting rebounds. He looks like the Branden before he got hurt. He's shooting the ball much better.
On who has improved over the summer...
I think Branden (Dawson) and Travis (Trice) have been the most improved players on the team. Travis had been sick and hasn't played a full season yet. I think he's been doing a lot better. He hasn't been turning the ball over as much. He's been working on his decision making. We've been pushing the ball, so I think we're looking pretty good.
On some of the challenges that lie ahead...
I think our biggest thing, because we have a good team, is if we lower our turnovers, we won't have that much of a problem with anybody. Everybody's good, because we play such a tough schedule and it's going to come down to the little things. If we execute on the little things, I think we have a great shot at making it to the national championship. That's the biggest goal. Our first goal though is to lower our turnovers. When we do that, there will be progress from there.
On what he learned during his summer experience with USA Basketball...
I learned a lot from that. Over there, I wasn't the man. I wasn't the go-to guy. We had a lot of great players. I had to learn how to adjust to the game and be able to be a different type of player, as far as supporting the other players and being a good teammate.
On his contribution as a senior leader...
The biggest thing is being consistent, trying to lead, help the younger cats through it and continuing to get better.
Senior guard Keith Appling
On what he's looking forward to about the season...
I `m just excited to have the opportunity that we have. We're ranked in the top-three in a lot of the polls. We obviously have a pretty good team. We have high expectations for this year. I'm just ready to get it all started and see what happens.
On how training has been going...
Summer went pretty well. Each and every guy got better in many different areas of their game. I feel like that should really help us this year because we already know that each and every player on our team is capable of many different things. But over the summer, as we work to get better and better, it should help us improve as a team.
On what he's been working on to improve from last year...
Me personally, I just really wanted to get my shot back to where it was at, so I spent a lot of the time in the gym on that. I watched a lot of film so I could get better at making decisions and getting my team mates involved. Those were two of the main things that I feel like will help me become a better player and help lead this team to where we want to go.
On this year's team chemistry...
I feel like our team chemistry is great this year. We all spend a lot of time with each other. We enjoy being around one another. There's never a point in time where it feels like its drudgery. We all have fun together and that should translate out there on the floor.
Senior guard Dan Chapman
On being a senior?
I feel excited and disappointed at the same time. I'm excited because of what the team could be this year because it should be fun with a lot of big games and a lot of fun times, and disappointed with the fact that it's the last go-around. I'm excited that we can go places, but disappointed that when the year's over it will all be done. I have very mixed feelings.
On his own progress as a player over the years? It's funny you ask that because as a kind of immature player in high school, you kind of realize why people always tell you to practice. You say, `how much better can I really get?' Over four years, it's been just a different type of game with how much faster it is. Your game is forced to improve, otherwise you won't even be able to practice. I've seen through so much intense practice how far my skills have come just so I can be out here, to help compete, to help the team get better. It's crazy to see how much your skills have gotten better.
On what he's worked on this off-season? It's been the main thing I've tried to do my whole career here. Obviously, I don't get too many minutes here, but my whole goal is to keep everybody's mentally into it and pumped up always and to make sure we're all pulling for the same common goal. If everybody is on the same page, you have a much better chance of accomplishing what you want. That's what I've been trying to do around here this summer.
Redshirt junior forward Alex Gauna
On thoughts on the season...
I'm excited to see what we can do. I think the preseason ranking is big time for this program and I think it's going to give us another opportunity to see if we can live up to that.
On how training has been going...
Everything's been good. I think a lot of us have been putting in a lot of time, especially over the summer. Everyone has really made some huge strides and improvements. I'm just looking forward to continue to get better.
On what improvements he's been working on...
For me, just being more comfortable on defense and helping out the younger guys a little bit more. I've just been working on everything really, nothing specific, but just making sure we're all in the right positions and making sure everybody's doing their job. It's amazing what we can do when we're all working together.
On the team chemistry this year...
It's great. The best I've seen it at least in my four years here, which is exciting because I think that that's a big part of what we're going to do this year. Our chemistry is really going to be helping us a lot. We can try to use that to our advantage and be able to trust one another a lot easier than maybe year's past.
Redshirt junior guard Russell Byrd
On the team's overall performance during practice...
We're doing great. We're in a good spot. We're just trying to be as prepared as possible for the first game of the season. Everybody's put a lot of work in. Everybody's improved this summer. The freshmen are doing great. The older guys are doing great. Everybody's doing great. They've all been putting in extra work. We're just trying to get ready for that first game. Guys come back later; they get work done before practice. They're watching extra film. Usually, guys are getting a lot of work done. They aren't taking a break. We're in the gym a lot and we're watching a lot of extra film, too; trying to correct our mistakes.
On the challenge of the schedule...
Obviously, the Kentucky game and the North Carolina game are ones that are going to stand out on the schedule, but as a team, we're just staying focused on every game. We're trying to take it one at a time, not getting ahead of ourselves.
On how the team performs at its best...
We've got to finish - finish games, finish halves. That's about all there is; we've just got to finish better. I need to hit shots. It's what I got recruited to do, so I've got to go out there and knock them down.
Redshirt junior guard Keenan Wetzel
On the team's performance during practice...
I think it's been extremely competitive, more competitive than most years, because I think we have a legit 13-14 guys who can play. I think it's been more competitive. I think we've been really good and continue to get better.
On who has improved...
It's hard to single out one person. This summer's been crazy with how many people have been in the gym working on their game, in groups and by themselves. It's hard to single out one person. I think personally, I had to work on my ball handling and that was something I wanted to work on. I wanted to work on not turning the ball over if I got the opportunity to play.
On the team's goals...
I think our goal is to win championships. That's the reason you come here, to play in those big games.
On the freshmen...
I think both of them are going to contribute and help us win games this year. Alvin and Gavin have both been really good in practice, so I think they're both going to contribute.
Junior guard/forward Branden Dawson
On whether Tom Izzo's feelings about being able to make a title run is a mutual feeling...
It's definitely a mutual feeling. We have a lot of great guys that have great character which has led to great chemistry. Draymond (Green) talked to us this summer and told us he would die to play for this team right now. So that in itself says it all.
On this team's biggest difference from last year...
I feel it's team chemistry. The team chemistry wasn't really there last year like it is now. We didn't really know what we were last year with the new freshman coming in. We have a better feeling of each other this year since we've been playing together for over a year. Everyone is buying into what Coach is telling us and we trust each other and get along well.
On how he's improved as a person and a basketball player...
I'm very mature now. When I first came in, it was an adjustment from high school. I didn't really understand the coaches as well as I do now. On the court I've been working a lot on free throws - close to five hundred shots a day. Coach Mike Garland and Coach Miller have changed my whole jump shot around where I can be more confident to shoot. Also, my conditioning is much better than it has ever been. My ball handling is better, as well.
Junior guard Travis Trice
On how this summer has been different for him personally and for the team as a whole...
For me personally, this summer was very different because it's the first time I've been healthy. It was nice to have a complete summer where I could work out and focus on my game. I feel like this summer has helped me improve in a lot of different aspects of my game. As a team, it was different from the past because guys were in every day. It was clear that guys were all individually working on what they needed to improve for this season.
On how he and his teammates have handled the expectations surrounding this season...
We take the expectations as a sign of respect. We don't let that change our outlook though, because we always have high expectations of ourselves. A high ranking doesn't win you any games; in fact it makes it harder because of the target on our back. What wins us games is how hard we work and how well we execute.
On what he is most excited about this season...
I'm excited to finally be healthy and come in and contribute right away. Getting through the whole season healthy is something that I haven't been able to do in the past and it was hard finding my stride. Having to find my way back into the swing of things took away from my game last year so being healthy, staying healthy and contributing is what I'm looking forward too.
Redshirt sophomore forward Colby Wollenman
On the team's preparation and chemistry this summer for the upcoming year...
Guys this year were in the gym 24-7. No matter when you came in, there were always a few of the guys either working out or working on their game to get better. Coach (Izzo) told us that this has been one of the best summer's he's had here. Everyone on the team has improved a lot this year both on and off the court. I feel like our chemistry is at an all-time high right now.
On how he feels the team has responded to being nationally recognized as a championship contending team...
I think the guys on our team have taken some of the pressure put on us and used it to our advantage. We've been using it as motivation to get better each and every day. I feel that we are more excited than nervous because we've worked so hard and want to make sure we reach our goals.
On his personal goals for this upcoming season...
My goal right now is to do whatever I can to help our team win. No matter what my role is, I need to continue to do what has gotten me here which is work hard in practice, play good defense, and come down with rebounds. I'm going to continue to push my teammates in practice and make them better as well.
Sophomore guard Gary Harris
On what he worked over the summer...
I would probably say everything - my ball handling, my shooting, my midrange game, definitely getting stronger. I watched a lot of film. I've been conditioning too; we're going to run a lot. In practices, that's all we've been doing is run, run, run. And when we're tired, they're on us even more about running. We're looking to get out, looking to push in the wings, looking to get out there fast. We're looking forward to definitely putting the pressure on teams in the fast break.
On what he's most excited about for the upcoming season...
Just getting out here and being able to play in front of the fans at the Bres[lin Center]. You know it's going to be rocking. We should have a pretty good team and we should win a lot of games hopefully. I just like embracing the moment, just not really trying to think too long term or down the road, just focusing on what's in front of us and doing what we have to do in front of us. I feel like that's what is most important - to stay focused and to figure out what you want to do. To complete your long term goals, you've got to complete your short term goals first.
On importance of staying healthy this summer...
I was playing through pain since the beginning of the season, so that was all I had to do. I'm looking forward to getting through the year right now and I've been able to play injury free for the most part and have a good year.
Sophomore guard Denzel Valentine
On thoughts getting ready for the season...
We're ranked No. 2 in the country and it's just going to be a really exciting season for us. We've been working hard all summer, so I'm really excited.
On how training has been going...
As a team, we've been working really hard and holding each other accountable. We've been focusing on making everything and not being lazy. We've just been working really hard.
On the team chemistry...
Our teach chemistry has gotten really tight. We've been bonding. We've got the same team as last year, besides Nix. We know each other more and we've become more comfortable with each other. We know where we're going to be at. We've been hanging out off the court, so it's just better.
On what improvements he's been working on...
One thing we really want to improve on is our turnovers. We were one of the worst teams in the nation last year, so that's something we want to improve on.
Sophomore forward Matt Costello...
On the team's work ethic leading up to this season...
We've all spent a lot of time in the gym this summer so it's been good. Me personally, it's been different because last summer I came in a few times here and there but not what it's like now. We're not just coming in, but were excited to come in and be with the guys and know that we're constantly improving. There are specific parts of our game that we each need to improve, but with the amount of work were putting in, its obvious were all getting better.
On what part of his game he's been working on specifically...
My jump hooks and finishing in traffic have been my biggest downfall in the past. I've been doing a lot of different things to improve those aspects of my game. I have been working with the coaches and it's come along way.
On what he's been looking forward to the most about the upcoming season...
We really have the ability to do something pretty special this year. We have a good group of guys that are good people and great players, so I'm looking forward to being able to capitalize on that opportunity.
Sophomore guard Trevor Bohnhoff
On what he's excited about for this season...
I'm excited about our potential. We've got good leadership, good upperclassmen and we have a lot to look forward to with them and going far.
On how practice has been going...
It was my first summer, but everybody's been in here working hard. There were a lot of people working just to get better in the gym a lot, just working on every aspect of the game.
On the team chemistry...
I think we all get along pretty well. There are a lot of leaders and a lot of people pulling us together and making sure we have the right mindset when it comes to practice and the game.
Redshirt freshman forward Kenny Kaminski
On what's he worked on this off-season?
I think I've been improving my shot as much as possible and then growing defensively. That's been the biggest thing that Coach Izzo and I have been working on. Being 6'7"-6'8" it can be difficult sometimes to stop and put up a shot on the perimeter, because in the Big Ten you almost never have a shot that's not contested. I've been expanding my range as much as possible, because guys don't like to defend that far out on the floor, and if I can add that to my game it makes me that much more deadly.
On the team's improvement over the off-season...
I think the difference is experience. Last year, we were kind of a young team, but this year we've got guys who have played in big games and all of the guys here coming back have played in a Sweet Sixteen already. A couple of guys have made it to the Elite Eight, but haven't gotten to that Final Four yet. But that experience just adds on to everything. We are so motivated to win this year. No question, our goal is a national championship , we think about it every day.
On what he expects to contribute to this year's offense?
I think shooting is the biggest thing. I look at previous teams and I feel that at times we have needed a shooter at certain points and haven't had one at certain times. I think that's the biggest quality I can bring to the team this year if I can work on my defense.
Freshman guard Alvin Ellis III
On his expectations...
I'm looking forward to a great season for the team. We've been tough in practice. I've been getting stronger. It's been a fast-paced game; way different from high school, just another level of toughness. I'm looking forward to winning a national championship, going to the Final Four this year and hopefully winning it all.
On the transition to the college game...
The biggest transition is not so much the speed because I used to do a lot of running at my high school, but just the physical play, stuff like that. The whole team, all of the older guys, they're telling me what I need to do and whatever I'm doing wrong. They've all been leaders for me and are just helping me out.
On what he hopes to contribute to the team...
I'm going to bring whatever Coach needs me to bring. I try to be versatile, do whatever Coach says I need to do and improve wherever I need to.
On working with Coach Izzo...
He's been coaching me well, telling me what I need to do and what I'm doing wrong. The relationship is going well.
Freshman forward Gavin Schilling
On how the adjustment to college basketball has been?
It's definitely been a great adjustment, because last year I was at Findlay Prep and they really got me prepared for college, for the next level. Obviously, coming here I've had to adjust, but it wasn't as hard as a regular freshman would to college, so it was easier for me. Just living away has been the biggest adjustment I've had to make, stuff like that. On-the-court adjustments, just the physicality - playing with college bodies and stuff like that. Coach Izzo has helped me a lot. Over the summer, he really worked hard with me, and I've improved a lot individually.
On the chemistry he has developed with freshman guard Alvin Ellis III...
We actually went to the same high school our junior year at De La Salle in Chicago, so the chemistry was already there. We knew each other before we came here and that just makes it better on the court, because we know how we play and we just know how to play with each other. Reuniting with him has been great - he's my roommate so we see each other every day, we talk all the time, and we're really good friends. It's been great so far.
On the influence that the older players have had on him...
I'm learning a lot. They're great leaders, especially to us freshmen. They guide us in the right way and tell us what we're doing right and wrong and it's helping us a lot.