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Tom Izzo Weekly Press Conference Coverage

Oct. 24, 2017

East Lansing, Mich. -

Michigan State Head Men's Basketball Coach Tom Izzo met with the media on Tuesday inside the Izzo Family Media Center at the Spartan Stadium North End Zone Complex to preview the team's exhibition game against Ferris State on Thursday at Breslin Center, and the hurricane relief exhibition game against Georgia on Sunday.

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

Opening Statement...
It's great to be back with you all. I'm looking forward to the year, as you can imagine. It's kind of fun to get started with a unique thing this week. We play Ferris who happens to be a very, very, very good Division II team. Then the situation with Georgia took place, and for the last three or four days we were trying to figure out where we're going to play, who we are going to play and what we are going to do. I guess it worked out pretty well. We will play them on Sunday. So our team has been practicing pretty good and we are pretty much injury free. Kyle Ahrens was the only guy who wasn't practicing in full, but he might be able to start practicing three-quarters full this week. Everybody is pretty much healthy and ready to go.

On how playing Georgia can benefit the team...
You know getting another game in, I just felt a little bit, almost, I wouldn't say obligated to do it, but privileged and obligated to do it because you know that you can help the Houston's, the Miami's, the Georgia's, the Bahamas', the Puerto Rico's - all those areas that have been hit (by hurricanes). With Tum (Lourawls `Tum Tum' Nairn Jr.) on our team we felt that instead of being one of the teams that didn't do it, we just thought it would be good to do it for that. Then when we were able to play some high-quality teams and I know Mark Fox pretty well and we talked about playing them and it just worked out. (Mark) Hollis worked it all out and he made the initial phone call. He and his staff did a great job with it and we're going to Van Andel for a couple of reasons. Number one, it's been really crazy around here for all of our auxiliary people. From our police officers, to our ticket people, to anybody else; they have been going nonstop. We talked about trying to get down to Detroit, but it was unavailable. We have such a great fan base in Grand Rapids, so we thought it would be a mini-roadtrip which might help us a little bit. It'll acclimate everybody back on what it's like to go on the road and get to an area in the state that - we have a lot of fans over there, but not everybody gets to come over here and go to games - and get our fans from here and other parts of the state to get there. I think the quality of the opponent is really going to be good for us in the early season. So I think, in all honesty, Ferris is a very good team, Georgia is a very, very, very good team and Hillsdale is a very solid, well, well-coached team which means they're going to play good defense and create some problems.

 

 

On playing Xavier Tillman some extra minutes against Georgia in front of his home crowd...
It's not a bad idea, but I am still going to play the game like an exhibition game as you will see. It's important to learn how to win, but I think for this year's team it's important that we try to play different combinations and different people. Maybe we will start different line-ups and try to play guys together. I think that's going to be my biggest chore is figuring out who comes off the bench better and who plays well together. Different combinations; and kind of a funny combination we found is Tum and Cassius (Winston) have played really well together. So there will be some different looks which will be confusing at times, but I think this will all be good. Taking Xavier back home is a treat, you know you don't get to do that very often for any player except Denzel (Valentine). So I think it will be a unique experience for him and a good one for all of us, including Georgia.

On what he learned about his team in this preseason that he didn't expect...
Well, the energy level has kind of maintained from the summer on and you get NBA guys in and that's the first thing they said, you know, you guys play with a lot of energy we'll see if that continues on. I've also been pleased at how people have gotten better at what they weren't very good at. Nick (Ward) has improved his ball screen defense and his conditioning. There is no question that Josh Langford and Cassius are in much better physical shape. Miles (Bridges) is in much better physical shape. It's been good to see where the two bigs, Gavin (Schilling) and Ben (Carter); Gavin has really done a remarkable job. He's come off that injury and he's really handled it well. He is almost full-go with almost zero restrictions. Ben, who is still under some restrictions, has been good. He can do a lot of things, he can pass the ball, he can make an offense run smoother. So most of our things have been on a positive side this year, so I'm just going to keep my fingers crossed that they continue to happen.

On the high expectations for this team potentially being a distraction...
I think it's a privilege and I think it's earned over a period of time. It better not be a distraction, and if it is that's my fault and then the players fault because hopefully they came here for this. We've been ranked in the top five more than a few times in the preseason, but I said the internal expectation is always just about the same. I know what we are playing for every year. Just about every year we have a chance, and that's the goal as far as to play for a Big Ten championship and play deep into the tournament and all that. As I said earlier to you guys the difference is now you just said evil twitter. It's an evil, evil, evil twitter and people are evil and that's how the outside world feels, and it distracts our guys because they are all on those phones. I think that's my job and my captain's job to see if our team can handle that and we will find out soon enough.

On if they play on adding an extra exhibition game every season...
I hope not for two reasons. Number one, I hope we don't have that many hurricanes in one season and that much devastation around the country and around the world. But two, there has actually been more talk about cutting a game. With all the games we're playing and time we're missing and, one of the reasons we had trouble scheduling the game is I wasn't going to miss another day of school. I think I told you this story, but maybe I didn't because it was after, but when our football team got back from Minnesota, which was a week and a half ago, I saw Hollis Monday morning and his eyes looked awful. I said `you alright, you doing good?', he said `yeah I'm just tired, I didn't get in until 3:30 in the morning.' I felt like slapping my AD because that's normal practice for us, and they're expected to get up the next day and go to class then have practice and have a game a day later. I think this won't be the norm, but the problem is now a day we will make an exception. I would vote for it not to be the norm. I might vote for being able to play whoever we wanted in two exhibition games, I might vote for that. I won't vote for more games, I think that's hard on the guys and I think it's good the way it is.

On Tum Tum's leadership and if he's the best leader in program history...
I just, it's just a gut feel; but when Mateen Cleaves tells me, when Draymond Green told me when he (Tum Tum) was a freshman that I should be naming him captain and that. He's inspired a lot of people. The best way I can tell you is that his teammates probably do it more than I would do it. He feels -- where it's Miles' job to maybe be the leading scorer and rebounder and all the things he's got to do and it's Nick's job to do, I think he looks at it as it's part of his job. And a big part of his job. I had one pro scout the other day that said, you know I spend, I used to spend time when I was an assistant coach in the league or in college, you spend half of the day trying to get people energetic and fired up and that kid walks in the building and everybody changes. I guess that is a lot to put on a guy, and if it is, I say it's totally a compliment. Like I say with all of my guys, if you can't handle the heat in the kitchen you picked a bad place to come. I think everybody has to do that with great programs and his is just a little different. He's looked on almost more for his leadership skills than his basketball skills. I feel if you ask, if you left here and you asked Miles or Cassius (Winston) or Jaren (Jackson) or Josh (Langford), Matt Costello, they'd all tell you the same thing. Every year you're talking about someone being the best you ever had. He is one of the best leaders I've ever had and it's strictly a compliment.

On adding an extra game on Sunday and how that allows the coaching staff to experiment with different guys on the floor...
We'll go and play like not very good against Ferris and that will hurt us, so this will be a good test to see if we can handle one game at a time, one practice at a time. Tum has been very good about relaying that to our guys - let's get a little better each day. When that day comes, because I think it's worthy to talk about it since - number one we want to sell tickets, number two it's at a late time. We're playing a quality opponent that is as well-coached, we're playing against a big man that averaged 18 a game in that league last year. We're playing against a team that gave us a run a couple of years ago and I think we had a better team, so that tells you how well-coached they are. I think it's going to benefit us. In that early regular season you know we've got (North) Florida, we've got Duke, we've got that big tournament, we play Notre Dame; and all of that is in the first couple of weeks. I don't know if experimenting will be as good as maybe getting punched in the mouth, because that team is going to come in and they're going to play very hard. They're going to play very good defensively. I'm anxious to see if we've improved as much defensively as I think we have. As I think every football coach will tell you and a lot of basketball coaches, when you get to this time of year you just need to play somebody. I think this is going to benefit us in the long run because we're still awfully young. As I said, we're still going to have two freshmen, we're still going to have two sophomores and two juniors and the seniors, those guys have been off a year because of injuries or whatever, so yeah it's going to be a good time. We'll see if Matt McQuaid can come back and can score, Kenny Goins and how he plays. How does Jaren and X (Xavier Tillman) play in these kind of games and whether our super-sophomores play like that or whether they don't, and I think this will be a good test for them no matter what happens.

On the combination of Tum and Cassius playing together...
For some reason they're playing well together. You know, you talk about a unique duo too, and even though I think everyone understands that Cassius is the guy that we sort of recruited to run this team -- and we still really plan on that -- but, him and Tum get along so well, there's no animosity there. We're moving them back and forth a lot and they get along well together and they help each other. I think Cassius is trying to help Tum with his shot and Tum was trying to help Cassius he defense. Every day, it's amazing how they get to go at each other, they make each other better because of it. I just think that, maybe some they're going to play together because when I have played them together they've been very effective. Cassius Winston right now is shooting the ball as good as anybody we've got, and as I told his dad, a couple of times now, I didn't see that in high school. I told his high school coach I didn't see that in high school, because he was so good at getting to the rim and doing things. The guy has got a nice looking shot, he's shot it well. He makes good decisions, he runs the lane almost harder than the two spot and sometimes at the point, so I think it's going to be a good combination of moving around once in a while. I think he's moving around well and I like what's going on.

On who will be in the starting lineup on Thursday...
I haven't. I honest to God haven't yet. No secrets, I don't want to hold my quarterback back so that Ferris doesn't know who I'm starting. I think in the next day -- we were off yesterday, then we'll practice today and then we're going to sit down and meet and try to put our scenarios together - number one will be who we'll start. Some of that is depending too, on, we've got Gavin yet and what we want to do with Gavin, how much we want to play him and Ben in these preseason games early. They've got to play some, but how much do I want to play them? That's going to determine that. And two, there'll be a good chance that whoever is going to start will be starting the game will not start at halftime. I don't mean completely, but I do want to make some changes just so I see how different people come off the bench and how different people start and who's ready to go. Plus I can pull the hat over their head a little bit on that. I think by tomorrow I will have who's going to start. I'm pretty sure right now, that I'll start Miles (laughter), and other than that it's kind of up in the air.

On how the football team's success this year changes Coach Izzo's job...
You know, my thing hasn't changed in 30, 40 years now. Football is my favorite sport. There are no bones about it. I like basketball, but I love football. When they win, the last two games I got to be on the sidelines for the last quarter and it just makes everybody feel better. What has been good for me is that Mark (Dantonio) always talks about how he uses me, plus's and minus's, when we had distractions and when we didn't. I've told him stories about what it was like certain years and sometimes we've won with distractions, sometimes we've lost with them; sometimes we won with average teams and sometimes we've won with great teams. Now I'm watching this team and, you know we talked after last year -- we talked, Mark and I -- we talk, and I talk with my team about how distractions can get to people. Did all the hype, did the recruiting, you know, what happened? This year, you kind of look at it -- and I always say, the mark of great programs, we're not going to be there every year. Duke, Kentucky, I mean they have struggled, Kansas, you know they've gone through years were they've struggled. The mark of a real, great program is, if you get knocked down or you get almost KO'ed, you know is the foundation of the house strong enough to withstand that? And not having to start building from scratch, but maybe start building from, you know, the second story again or maybe the first floor up or something. I think he's done an incredible job. I think he's proven the point that the best players don't always win. The best-rated players don't always win. The players who play the best win. I told our players, we're in a situation where we have a lot of good players. If they think that they win because they're good players, we're in a lot of trouble. I say, `just look across the street'. They go to all of the games, they are there on the sidelines before the games. I say, `watch, watch how people interact'. And then I ask them. I'm not going to lie to you, it motivates me and I hope it motivates my team. I think that it is a statement, it's a statement I use with my own son. If somebody falls down and gets back up, and performs to the level they've performed to -- they've got a long ways to go we all know that -- but it's just a plus. I've enjoyed every minute of it.

On how much Miles Bridges will play in the preseason...
You know me in these preseason games, I've tried to play players somewhat evenly. I am not going to change because he's Miles Bridges, and I know he wouldn't want me to. I expect to play 10-11 guys. I expect to, you know, I do not think that Kyle (Ahrens) will be able to play either way. Or we wouldn't want to play him -- I think he'll be able to start practicing full-go but we want him to get a little more practice time before we get him into the game. I think that if you were betting on the over-under - which we're not allowed to bet, but you are -- I would say that a lot of those guys will play somewhere between 16 and 22 minutes.

On Kyle Ahrens' injury...
He had a foot, like a stress reaction, he was on crutches, no surgery or anything I don't think. It was in the summer and he was doing really well. He had such a great summer -- it happened at the end of the summer and he's raring to go.

On where Miles Bridges' natural position is...
It's like saying where was a guy drafted or where would a guy be drafted? You know I don't know if anybody knows what Miles' natural position is. I watched him for three years and I don't really know what his natural position is. He played center some, he played guard some, right now I think we better realize that in most cases there's four perimeter guys and a center. In some cases there are five perimeter guys. Very seldom is there -- you know (Jaren) Jackson is 6' 11" and he's more outside than inside. It's just the nature of the way the game has gone. The adjustment that Miles has had to make was the same one Draymond (Green) tried to make, but Miles is a little better athlete, although Draymond had such a high IQ. When Draymond played here the trend wasn't quite the same as it is now, so the biggest thing Miles had to work on was - can he guard perimeter guys? Guys that those guards are running all over the place you know, and can you handle the ball when you're being guarded by a perimeter guy? If you're guarded by a four or five-man than it's easier to handle the ball than if you're guarded by Tum. Those are the two adjustments that I think he had to make; his shooting was no problem, the running in the lane last year, he didn't run the middle very well because he wasn't in the shape, this year he's running like a receiver. I think it's been really good. I can move Miles a lot of different places. Hell, like I said, if he wants to coach the team I can move him there. He's got a, he just doesn't care. He truly cares about winning. He's not worried about where he fits in. I've had a lot of NBA people say now that there are more 6' 6", 6' 7" guys playing the four than the three almost. You guys know that -- around the league everybody's gotten smaller. When someone asks me what is Miles? He's a ball player. He's a ball player.

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