MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY BASKETBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 11, 2017
TOM IZZO: As I get older now, got to use glasses a little bit here (smiling). Unbelievable week when you really look at a lot of things. We're just about ready to open up this building. That's something to talk about in itself. I'm going to gloat and say the Michigan-Michigan State game was something to feel good about for me. I enjoyed just about every minute of that game, except almost the crazy ending.
I got a real good team that I absolutely appreciate. I think we got a lot of things to talk about there. But like everything else, I'm just going to get ahead of the questions.
What has gone on with college basketball, there's a couple things that aren't quite as good to talk about. But I do want to tell you, just like everything in life, I think there's maybe a few, and I don't know who's right, wrong or indifferent, nor do I care any more, but there's a few that screw it up for the rest. Don't paint the brush over everybody because it's not the way it is.
It's also a day that, as I spend time with my players as we get ready, I talked a lot to my team about all the social problems that we're going through, all the things that are going on, and try to get my arms around it a little bit. These issues affect the team. These issues affect our society. They affect all of us.
So there are problems in society. The issues involving race, equality is important to me for a lot of reasons. One, my own household. Two, my own team here.
One of the things I love about sports, it's a true brotherhood. I mean, you think about it, we got guys from Flint and Okemos, Alabama and Ohio, we have guys from Dallas and Detroit, from The Bahamas and Grand Rapids. As a team, we spend a lot of time discussing these issues and allowing everyone the opportunity to explain things from their unique and their own perspective.
A lot has been made of the protests. Unfortunately I think we've kind of lost in the protests what's really been important in this whole thing, and that's to try to make our country better, to try to give us a country that has more equality instead of the social injustices that I think we have.
Make no mistake about it, in my humble opinion, we have some. It's kind of up to all of us to do something about it. But we need to be looking at real solutions rather than tearing each other apart. I don't have all the answers. My players didn't have all the answers. You don't have all the answers.
But I can promise you one thing: if our team does anything, ever, it's going to be our team, it's going to be all of us, our coaches, our managers, it's going to be everybody, because that's what teams do.
I can also promise you that it will be something that will be thought out and we'll look at it as realistically as we can look at it. But I'm happy to say I think we have had a good handle on it. Whatever you agree and disagree with, it's helped us with our conversations. That is one of the main things we've been lacking.
I heard something that said, Are we about the protests or about the progress? Hopefully we're going to be about the progress.
So it's a difficult thing, you know, when you're talking to 17- to 22-year-olds. I just thought I'd address to you the best thing I can address to you, that we're talking and we're trying. We're trying to make the world a better place. In some areas the world needs to become a better place. Yet, you know, it's hard to try to post up players on those questions if you ask me.
So now with the basketball problems a little bit behind us, the social problems that we're in the midst of, but at least have been addressed, I want to talk to you about how excited I am with this team this year.
It's a team of a lot of good players. We enter the season and we understand there are lofty expectations. There are many goals that we have, some goals that our fans have, some expectations that a lot of people have. It's been a team that's been driven all summer and fall. It started back in April when Miles made his big announcement. I think it just kind of -- I don't know, he's loved by these guys so much it helped flourish an incredible spring, summer and fall.
There's no goals that are any loftier that you're going to put on us that we haven't put on ourselves. Handling expectations or success is always a key. Do you handle it the right way? Do you get big-headed? Do you think you've arrived? Do you believe your own press clipping?
I saw my man Nick Saban the other day telling the media that he asked his players, Are you listening to me or are you listening to them?
Well, as Jud Heathcote, my boss, always said, You guys got a job to do and I got a job to do. Hopefully we're both going to do it well this year.
Last year we featured a pretty good soccer team, a pretty good hockey team. But as Dick Vitale says, when we walk through the airports, we look like a soccer and a hockey team.
This year we have one of the tallest teams we've ever had. I think we've got more than a few guys 6'7" or bigger. Last year we were hold hostage to average play on the defensive end, sometimes inside, to foul trouble, to injuries. I don't see that happening this year.
Those weaknesses have turned into strengths. What we were lacking last year in depth, especially inside, I think now could be a strength of this team. With our guards, what we lacked last year was any real experience. I think now we have, even though it's only sophomore experience, when I watch our sophomores, juniors and seniors bringing along our freshmen, it reminds me of old times. Even though sophomores aren't real experienced, these sophomores are because they had to play so many minutes.
We return four of our top five scorers and eight of our top 10 players. We really think we have a chance to be a good team.
Our roster starts with two captains. Tum Tum Nairn, third year as a team captain. Probably go down as one of the greatest program guys of all time. He doesn't let playing time on the court, his role, his leadership, doesn't worry about scoring, doesn't worry about all the things. I've had a lot of good and cool leaders over my time here, but none maybe that has done more for not only our community, our school, our players, our coaching staff, this is a special kid.
Miles Bridges, our other elected captain, deserves all the attention he's received. So far he's handled it with humility and humbleness like hasn't been seen around here that often. I say that not insulting our other guys but more or less complimenting him. He's handled it with class. If you talk to him, he'd much rather talk about his teammates, the program, the coaches than himself.
He's an unselfish guy, and it filters down through the team. He's got some things he's got to get better at, you know. He's going to be moving around different positions, got to get better with the ball, better guarding. Sometimes point guards, if we start switching a lot like we've done in the past. There are going to be some things that are more difficult for him. I can't think of a guy that's worked harder all summer to make sure he's ready. I think he'll be more than ready for an incredible season.
Our seniors, Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter, other than Tum Tum, kind of are similar guys. They both had knee injuries the first day of practice, first week of practice. They had serious knee injuries. But as Dwayne Stephens said the other day in practice, he's amazed how fast Gavin has come back. Kind of like we had Branden Dawson a few years ago that blew his knee. By the time we went and played in Germany, he was almost everything that he was the year before.
Right now Schilling is moving around pretty well, considering the time he was out. He's improved a lot. I promise you this, when I say it, I think he'll be one of the best ball screen defenders not only in Michigan State history but in the country. So one of our weaknesses last year was we struggled defensively guarding ball screens. I think he's going to give that a big lift.
They give us different looks, the two guys. Ben is kind of a Draymond Green, intelligent guy. He understands the game. He has a great feel for the game. He is not 100% yet. This is his second knee injury. He is playing, though, practicing almost full-go now, everything except the livest of live contact. He's doing scrimmaging. He's been such a good teammate to these guys. I think he's an inspiration how hard he's worked.
I think Gavin has been, as I said, a great post defender. Ben has the great IQ. The combination of the two I think we're going to be able to utilize a lot.
I do not know how long Ben will be able to play or how much he'll be able to play. That is in the future to be seen. Gavin I think will be 100% by the time the season starts. Ben I think is going to take a little while longer.
Our juniors, McQuaid, Goins and Ahrens, Kyle has been hurt, a little bit of a stress reaction. He's been out for four or five weeks, is just starting to come back now. He's had an incredible spring and summer. He's one of the toughest kids on my team. He's played a bunch of positions. Gained weight to play the four when we didn't have anybody. Now he's lost some weight, back to being what I would consider a pretty big three and a backup to Miles. Can hit open shots. He got his athleticism back. He's been hurt since he's been here. He was hurt in high school. Just kind of freak accidents, though, broken leg, things like that. I'm expecting, if I looked at how he did in the spring, summer and fall, until he got hurt in the middle of August, him to have a very good year.
The other two guys, Goins and McQuaid, were the two guys that we really needed to step up last year. One had that double sports hernia and missed all summer, and the other had the knee surgery and missed all summer, and did not have great years. They, too, have had a great spring, summer and fall.
Kenny is not wearing a brace any more. I think he's really benefited from the healthy summer. Last year Kenny was asked to play the role of backup center, sometimes starting center. His weight at the time, which is up about 15 pounds now, and his size, he didn't fare good against my man from Purdue. It was like David against Goliath.
I think Kenny has really made some strides. He's shooting the ball better. He'll be playing a lot better back at the position that he should be playing.
McQuaid, he gives us the one thing, it's not Bryn Forbes, but he gives us an outside shooter that can really shoot it. We need that. His ability to knock down open, outside shots will be a big key. He, too, is maybe one of our better defensive perimeter players. He's got a good basketball IQ. He plays hard. He's been a good defender as a freshman. He was one of our better defenders that year.
Our sophomores, our super sophomores, besides Miles, of course Langford. If I looked at his last month or so, I think he's really elevated his game even from the summer. He's gotten himself in the best shape of his life. It's been really funny how you still give John Calipari a lot of credit. It's interesting, when you talk to these guys, they thought they were doing so much last year, and just didn't realize as a freshman what it takes to be great.
John always tells me his guys go through the same thing, but he's got to do that year after year after year. In my own way, I've learned to respect that because I think it's so hard to do.
This year, as Miles said to me this summer, I just feel more comfortable because I know where my classes are, I know what basketball is going to be like, I know how to handle the other situations. They always say your best improvement is between your freshman and sophomore year. I think this kid, I've got a bunch of guys that are working their tails off, none work harder than this kid. He's probably in here more and spends more time on his game, very good student, and it's worked out well. We expect Josh to take a monstrous stride on both the defensive and offensive end this year.
There's no question that for us to be great, Cassius Winston has to be the player we all know he can become. Without a doubt, his play will be a major key to our season. His thing started back in May when we got done with the season, done with school, we let everybody go home for four weeks just to get out of here. He went home for two days and came back up here and started lifting and running and getting himself in the best shape of his life, changing his body. I mean, he transformed his whole body. To me, that spoke wonders. He was the only player on campus most of that time. Just did it not on his own because he had help from our strength coach and everything, but did it with no other players around, which speaks volumes.
He needs to be an adequate defender, and I think he's made some progress. Make no bones about it, that was not a strength last year. Never has to be a strength, you just have to be able to do it somewhat. I think this year so far he's proven to be a much better defender.
One of the goals I set for my team this summer is everybody has to play one-on-one against somebody that's better than them, that's quicker than them, that's bigger and stronger than them. So Miles had to play Tum Tum some. In Cassius' case, he had to play Tum Tum for the speed, play against Bridges or Langford or McQuaid for the size. Everybody would probably get better in all ways, shape and form as far as developing different abilities.
Nick Ward, the last of the sophomores, last year when I think of some of the pregame talks, those Knute Rockne speeches that never work, when you're trying to rev a team up, get them to go, the only knock 'em on their butts, do this, play hard. By the way, Nick, don't touch anybody, don't look at anybody, don't see anybody.
Now, he did a hell of a job of that defensively. I mean, he accomplished the goal that I set for him. But that's got to change. He knew it. I knew it. I don't blame him totally because what I just said, that's the speech I gave him before we played Miami. If any of you were down there, I told him, Nick, they got big, athletic guys. We just can't get you in foul trouble. We got no bigs. We lost our two guard. We had nobody left. Don't get in foul trouble.
So Nick, the respect he has for me, he listened, went out there. He set a national record. He got the first foul a second and a half into the game, oven a jump ball. Hard to do.
But I think those days are behind us. He's even in better shape. He's worked his tail off. This year we're going to get back to the Nick Ward who is tough and strong. As I said, he's moving up and cutting off the poor, poor Zach Randolph. He's subtracting poors on that. We're getting closer. One of the ways he can become more like Zebo is if I can let him play without telling him he can't touch anybody.
I think you'll see a more physical Nick. I know you'll see a better conditioned Nick. I think you'll see a lot better defensive Nick. If those things happen, he's coming off one of the best freshmen scoring seasons statistically in MSU history. So he's got that going for him, but we need more if we're going to get to another level.
The other area that I really want Nick to improve on is he's a very good offensive rebounder, because he wants to score, but not as good a defensive rebounder. This year we've got to get him better on the defensive boards. That will be the goals for him.
As far as our two freshmen, you know, actually we got four of them. We have two walk-ons, Brock Washington, Jack Hoiberg. I've been very pleased with both of them. Brock can really shoot the ball. He's got some size. Jack does not have the size of his father, but he's got the smarts of a coach's son. They've been great on our scout team so far. Much needed when you think of last year, what we had. A walk-on that's capable of playing at another Division I school is one thing. A walk-on that's not capable of playing at many places is another. These guys are capable of playing places.
Xavier Tillman, he's probably been the biggest surprise at camp. I thought he'd be a good player. I think before he's done he's going to be a great player. Again, just changing your body makes such a difference. He's lost 20 pounds. He looks so much more athletic. But he is very cerebral, very well-coached in high school, and very tough. So he brings something, you know, like Nick, now we got Gavin back, we got three hockey defensemen. Guys are not going to be afraid to bang some people and get back to the way we play. I think Xavier is going to fit in there very well.
Jaren Jackson, just a wealth of talent there. Every once in a while I got to remind myself that he just turned 18 about a week ago. He's a very, very young player, but very gifted, very skilled, very long. 6'10" and a half, a 7'4" inch wingspan. His length creates some problems already. But he doesn't just have length like some guys, he has great length, but he also has the ability to shoot threes. He can combine both.
Defensively, you know, like all freshmen, he's got to improve. But one of the things he did this summer is went from 225, now I think he's -- 224 to 242 right now. That's a decent amount of weight to gain. We had one lose 20 and one gain 18. I think that's a tribute to our strength and conditioning guys.
I've kind of gone over all the things. I guess I'll just leave it up to your questions.
Q. You hit jackpot last year with Miles to have that talent but with this character. It was a rarity to see. This year we were standing with Jaren, and a person told him, We're going to enjoy you for the one year we have you. He looked at them and goes, I have so much to get better, why would you think that way? Do you feel lightning struck twice with two kids of that character back-to-back?
TOM IZZO: I think lightning struck twice, two character kids, incredible families. You know, I don't know what Jaren will do. He doesn't know what he's going to do. What he's got to do is get better to make us a better team this year. I think that's what he's setting his sights on. From his family's standpoint...
Everybody, you two are the only one in my building that aren't one-and-done right now. Every kid thinks he's one-and-done. Every kid wants to be. No insult to either one of you, but look in the mirror and you'll understand why. You're just not ready to play at that level.
But I think in Jaren Jackson, he's got a good role model to learn from. Take care of your business, let the rest handle itself. Don't worry about all the other things. Worry about being the best freshman you can be. If that turns out to be good enough, that he moves on because it's what he should do.
The nice thing, his mother is involved with the WNBA, his dad played in the NBA. There will not be a bad decision made. That makes me feel good.
The problem is, like all freshmen, he's got a long ways to go. He's got to get better at some things. Yet kind of a treat to coach. Very smart kid. He's a very, very, very smart student. So put those two things together, he works on his game, he's around those guys that are guys that play so hard, meaning Tum. Kind of lives with Josh and Miles. He's got good people to look to to try to get better. I think he will.
I think he'll do something that a lot of kids don't do: let the process happen. Let the process happen, see where it takes you. Good news, you reiterated it, not coming in thinking he's already accomplished the world. He realizes he still has a lot of things to do. One of them is to help us get to be the best team we can be.
Q. Can you expound been Xavier Tillman, calling him the biggest surprise at camp?
TOM IZZO: We say that because we thought he would be a very good player, but he's just come on faster. I really attribute a lot of it to losing the weight. He's more athletic than we thought. He runs the court better. He's got great hands, and they're big hands.
I say 'surprise'. I guess you could take that as insulting. We offered him a scholarship. Of course, we thought he was good. A lot of times you get guys, the rankings are always so high, this and that. They never can live up to it themselves.
He's a kid that wasn't ranked off the charts but is better than the ranking given him. Those are what I call nice surprises. Just such a good class, too, with him, Jaren and Brock and Jack. They all get along well. Hopefully keeping the tradition, keeping the culture alive here. I think those guys will do a good job of that.
Q. You talk about telling your players to not focus on the media. When you look and see your team is ranked pre-season 3, 2, 1, what is the message you tell them? Do you embrace this or tell them that you still got a long way to go?
TOM IZZO: I did tell them the stories. I told them the stories when we weren't ranked at the beginning of the season, made to it a Final Four. I told them the stories that we had different rankings. I told them the stories of how we've gone to Final Fours with no pros, we've gone there with three. I told them the story we didn't get there with three pros sometimes.
The advantage of either being old or experienced, whatever you want to call me, is I have a lot of experience at different things. The one thing I told them is through all those things I've talked about to my guys, I said, I've been unranked and looked like nobody cared, and we've been ranked 1 in the country and had pressure on us.
I much more like the pressure because that's better for the program, it's better for the players. It means that we're legitimate contenders for something. I mean, we got a lot of work to do. We needed to get better defensively last year. Moving people around in positions, we've got more depth. I'm going to have to do a better job coaching them.
I always kid that they held me hostage last year. If they didn't play bad, I looked on the bench, I had nobody to put in. On the other side, now we got a lot of depth, I'm going to have to do a lot of work. Last year was harder on me to look down there, but it was easy because I just said, I'm playing who I'm playing.
I told them that, You better embrace it. Not all the time do you get it. Really if you can't handle it, you shouldn't have come here. I mean, we've proven over the years now enough times that we're a quality team, we've been ranked in the top 10 a lot more than we haven't in the last 15 years. Hopefully that's why you came. You came for that.
The only pressure that you'll put on yourself, if you don't prepare to be as good as we think and they think. It's like not preparing the test. You should go in there nervous as hell. But if you've done your preparation work, you should go in confident, feeling good. That doesn't always mean you'll win, evident by the Middle Tennessee. I have a lot of things I can bring up to my team good, bad or indifferent. They're all facts of life. They're all part of the way the world works.
I'm telling them this year, learning from two years ago, that we got to try to have great practices every day. Never going to be satisfied with anything less. As we learn in one-and-done time, one bad day...
So let's practice with the mission in mind that we don't want to have a bad day in the Big Ten tournament, not have a bad day in the NCAA tournament, we don't want to have a bad week, if we got three big games in a row, because we'll have a couple of those kind of weeks. Let's work on being as good as we can be every time we take the floor.
I think that's kind of the Mission Statement of the year.
Q. You talk a lot about the freshmen and sophomore jump. With the talent that the freshmen had last year, moving to their sophomore year, is Michigan State going to go as far as the sophomores take them this season?
TOM IZZO: You know, I don't even know who I'm starting yet. I have a decent idea. But just think about it, I could start four sophomores and a freshmen. I could start four sophomores and a senior. I could bring three guys that played in the Final Four, two might have even started, one for sure did in Tum, and I think Schilling played a lot in that game if he didn't start, coming off the bench maybe. There's a lot of different ways we can go.
I think our sophomores are going to be important, but I do think Gavin Schilling, Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, those guys, Jaren Jackson, maybe Xavier, those guys are going to be important. We're going to play more guys. We're not going to play 12 guys, but we're not going to play six like we went through last year either.
Q. You talked about Langford a little bit earlier. How much of it is he's healthy now, maybe a mindset because he's healthy now? We saw a glimpse of it late last year.
TOM IZZO: You did see a glimpse late. If you want poor coaching, I'll give myself a D in something right off the bat. He missed that whole last month of the pre-season. He was hurt. We got him healthy a week before we went to Arizona. We played him there. I tried to play him a lot. I thought I'd play him into it. I acted like an NFL quarterback coach, like you can play a guy into it, he's going to get better.
When you play a guy into it, he's not ready to do it, sometimes he loses confidence, sometimes he never gets healthy. I don't think he did a bad job. I think I did a poor job in maybe how I handled that.
He's such a good kid, you kind of go by what they say. There's no question he was injured over half of the year last year. Nothing serious, should have been held out. It was a hamstring. That's a tough injury for an athlete.
I think he is more confident this year. I think he got better with the ball. I think he's a much better defender. When you ask those guys to be good defensive players last year, then with the lack of depth we had, they had to play a lot of minutes, it's just a bad combination of things.
I do think what you saw at the end, you saw tidbits of, I think you're going to see that on a more consistent level. Like I said, that kid has worked his tail off all spring, summer and fall.
Q. You talked about the different things you did with the guys going against smaller guys against bigger guys, vice versa. From that standpoint, what development growth did you see from those guys? Also from a practice standpoint, how much is it going to help those bigger guys to go against the bigger guys this year?
TOM IZZO: Well, I think that's going to help a lot. I think what you in the first part of the question was, again, Miles got to guard Tum. I mean, Tum is a hard guy to guard if you're trying to guard him to not let him go around you. If you want to segue off of him, he's easier to guard. He had to push up on him and guard him. Not many people can guard him. He's the quickest guy I've ever coached. That helped him.
I think with our bigs, I mean, last year Austin Thornton played center some. Matt Van Dyk, when he wasn't starting, played center some. We had guys playing center that, God, I could have posted up a couple of those guys. So it wasn't a good situation.
Every time Nick Ward turned around, he made a shot last year. Now the first two weeks, every time he turns around, he got a shot blocked. We have to learn to adjust.
My good friend Doug Herner, on our staff kind of as the assistant to the assistant video coordinator, he said it best to me after the first three days. He said, You better be prepared for some ugly practices.
I said, What do you mean? You don't like the team?
He said, Yeah, I like the team a lot. You got a lot more guys now that are playing for their lives.
Nick is going to get up on those ball screens or enjoying a seat with me. Guys are going to be playing harder with the length. It's not just that we have more size, Kenny Goins has a 7'1" reach. Xavier is right around 7. Jaren is a 7'4" reach. We have length. There hasn't been a lot of times, those of you that follow us a lot, we've had tremendous length.
What does that mean? It means that all of a sudden the pass that was there isn't there. Our guys have to adjust to this. We've turned the ball over too much. That was one of the things last year that was a thorn in our side. This year I think it's for different reasons.
But they have helped our guys grow already. I mean, ball goes up, there's some bodies going after the ball this year. Nick is at times one of the smaller bodies. Last year he was the Jolly Green Giant over a bunch of small guys.
That's been an adjustment. Like Doug said, I can't be frustrated with our defense is better so shots aren't as easy. We have subs that could be starters and starters that could be subs. That's a good problem to have. In '05, we were able to play a lot of guys that way. We got size, which we didn't have then.
Putting them together is still going to be a job in itself. But it's a job I'm looking forward to.
Q. You mentioned the pressure. Last year Miles as a freshman seemed like he dealt with it a little bit. This year as a sophomore, I imagine you have had some conversations over the summer. How is he handling it? How does he recognize his role?
TOM IZZO: Miles is an incredible kid. How he handled it last year was great. How he handled the situation was great. How he stayed so humble. How he's done such a good job in school. All the things that you think would start to drift away because, you know, he's in his second year, maybe more fat, sassy and comfortable have gone just the opposite. I think he's more hungry than he was even. He's handled it.
I think we're all kidding ourselves, including me, if we don't think there's more pressure on him than anybody, because there is. Sometimes he's going to have to handle that in different ways.
Of all the times, I can tell him things from other players, but this is going to be the great time, this is where Gary Harris and Magic and Draymond, people like that are really going to help. I didn't have a chance to leave after my freshman year, sophomore year. I had a chance to leave, it was going to Gogebic, transfer to a junior college, because I wasn't good enough to play at Northern. A little different scenario for me.
I think we all think he's Superman and he can handle everything because he's so humble, all that. But he's going to go through some tough times. We just got to be there for him because there will be a lot of pressure on him, some of it self-imposed.
Yet, boy, I haven't seen a chink in the armor yet. I really haven't. If there is one, I'm going to help him patch it. If there isn't one, you know, then he's even more special than I thought.
I think a lot of people, you know, when you get into your sophomore year, I know Gary Harris, he's kind of flourished in that role. Not quite the same at Miles in some ways, but similar.
Q. How has the team helped the freshmen transition, especially with you guys predicted to go to a Final Four?
TOM IZZO: I think we're projected to be a good team. I think some project is to be a Final Four team. We got so much work to even think about that.
I mean, we know what our goals are. But our goals don't change many times. Last year we probably changed them because I think you have to do two things. You have to dream big and keep your goals big, but you have to be realistic with your goals or otherwise it's phoney and they'll see right through it.
There's been a lot of years here that the goal was to win the Big Ten, the goal was to get to a Final Four. It's just now there's a lot more people talking about it. That was the internal goals.
But I think those upperclassmen have helped a lot. We've had a kid like Ben and Gavin, who have had things taken away from them. We still have Eron Harris here rehabbing to get back, by Christmas is going to go to Europe or the D-League. These are guys that have had it taken away from them like that.
With Miles and Josh and Cassius, these guys are good players that are really good students. So we can help with the academic side of things that way. Gavin has already graduated. Ben has already graduated. Tum is this close to graduating.
I mean, I guess maybe there's no pressure on them. Maybe it's all on me. I've said way too many good things about my team today already. So hopefully I don't see you guys for two months so I can get back to being a jerk. This is hopefully how I feel about my team, but I just don't want to tell them that every day.
Q. Jaren, most freshmen of his caliber don't walk into a situation like this, all these guys back. How do you think he will handle not having limitless minutes, shots, all these opportunities that other guys like him usually get?
TOM IZZO: I think he'll handle it great. He's been raised really well. Like I said, mom and dad are both in the athletic world. They understand it. At La Lumiere, where he played, not positive but I think he might have been the third leading scorer just because of situations there.
He's a very unselfish kid. You never know until things happen. You never know how guys handle something until something goes wrong. But I like our chances. I think I got enough good guys around him to help him through those things.
It's going to be a learning process for everybody. It's not new for me, but it will be one of the two or three deepest teams in 23 years. Not like you have deep teams every year, especially this day and age. So it will be one of the deeper teams that I've had, too.
I understand that. Most of the kids don't. I think they get along so well, they're going to embrace it, I really do.
Q. I was going to ask you if it's the most talented and deepest team. We'll just go to talented. Is it the most talented team you've had in mid October?
TOM IZZO: That's the hard part. In mid October, can I compare it to other teams? I never remember what mid October was. Yeah, I still think one of the most talented teams I had was in '01, believe it or not. Even though we lost (indiscernible) and Peterson, we had Hudson, David Thomas, just talented freshmen in Zach and Marcus. Jason Richardson. That was a pretty talented team. We had some depth because we had some guys that we sat out the year before when we won it, like Ballinger, Wolfe. That was a fairly big team, fairly talented team.
We really were a little bit lacking a point guard. Remember we played Charlie there some. We had to play David there some. Now I think we got two guys to run our team. JR and Miles had some similarities in a way on some things they do. Zach and Nick have some similarities in some things they do.
I don't know. I'd say it's one of, one of the two or three deepest, and one of the two or three more talented. But yet, like I told you, we could be still very young. That gets blown away because of Kentucky for the most part, Duke a little bit. It gets blown away like it doesn't matter.
If you ask John even himself, you know, to stay consistent with a bunch of young guys is hard. We still could be playing a lot of young guys. Some of them are really talented and some of them are just talented.
We still got a lot of work to get better. It usually ends in the defensive end and the turnover end. Those are the two areas that youth usually fumble a little bit. Hopefully these guys won't.
Q. In the past year how have you seen Tum and Cassius dynamic evolve? How much of a role is Tum going to have in helping him get to a level he needs to get to?
TOM IZZO: Tum is going to help me get to the level I want to get to. I talked to a couple of NBA guys that were in yesterday. Seth Greenberg was in from ESPN doing something yesterday. I walked up to all of them at the end. Their words were, He's incredible.
I said, Who is that?
They were talking about Tum. I tell him this, I guess I could tell you this, he might be my ninth, 10th most talented guy. Depends how you rate talent.
The neatest thing I've seen in those two guys is they embrace each other like it's special. There's no jealousy between Cassius and Tum, and no jealousy between Tum and Cassius.
I think everybody's aware that on paper there's no doubt, they're going to play together some. I played them together a little bit yesterday. I mean, Cassius is shooting the ball really well. If he ran as hard at the point as he does at the wing, he'd really take his game to another level. He did some impressive things yesterday.
I think they'll help each other. I think they compete against each other every day. It helps make Tum a little better shooter, because Cassius teaches him that. It makes Cassius a little better defender because Tum teaches him that. I'm blessed with having two guys that get along and understand that we need them both. I think they'll do that all year.
Q. When Gary Harris decided to come back, you talked about second contracts, guys just jumping for the first. You're as much on fire as any school in the country with recruiting. How much does it help when he signs those second contracts like he just did?
TOM IZZO: Well, I was happy for him, man. I talked to him that night, talked to his mom. That's one of those moments where it's a fun time to be a coach. You watch guys that have worked their tail off. You watch guys that have a dream. They all think they're going to be there, but then the numbers show that a quarter of them, a quarter of 1% of them are going to be there, you realize how long a shot it is.
We knew in the summer when he was here in August, they were working on his contract. Just happened early in the week we had a scout in from Denver. What are you going to do with my boy? It's been dragging on.
He said, We're going to get it done.
Sure enough, three days later, the guy didn't lie to me, they got it done.
Sure it will help recruiting. But to be honest with you, in talking to Gary, his mom and dad, that's even better for me than helping in recruiting. It was such a good feeling. I'm proud of him. I'm proud of him because he did it the right way. He worked his tail off, got better every year that he's been in basketball. Right now he's playing pretty well.
Another good thing about this week, maybe it's our week. Denzel, I watched him play well last night. Bryn Forbes to you nights ago had 20 in a game. He's doing well. So, you know, some guys are doing better and better. That always helps recruiting. But I think it helps the program because it means our guys are getting it done out there, and I appreciate that.
Q. You spent the last half dozen or so years talking a lot about chemistry. With this group, was there anything you had to do in terms of trying to build the bond? Is it to the point now with these guys you can let them go and enjoy that?
TOM IZZO: I spoke a little bit more corporately this summer. One of the things I talked about was culture. If your culture is good, as things change, as people come in and go, the culture of your place is part of that.
Thanks to the Draymonds of the world, our culture is really, really, really good. Thanks to him dragging people back, what we do. But again, Tum, I told my assistant coaches first week of school, I said, I want to have an academic meeting here tonight, make sure you call all the guys. I called one at night. I said, Did you get everybody? Make sure they're there at 7:30 tomorrow morning. First day of class, I didn't want anybody screwing anything up right off the bat. I said, Did you get ahold of everybody?
I got ahold of Tum.
What the hell does that mean? That's one guy.
He said, He's got everybody on the list. He says, That's taken care of.
So about a week later, after we did this a couple times, they said, We called Tum, we called Tum, we called Tum.
I said, You guys better enjoy the vacation because once he leaves...
That's one area that I can't think of a better guy I've had in that as far as rallying a team, keeping them together.
If you ask Miles, I'm not sure Miles didn't half stay for Tum as much as the program itself. Just has an incredible impact on people.
I think the culture's good, and the base is really good, but that kid makes it a little special for everybody. I think every player would admit that. I don't have to do as much with the chemistry. I just got to figure how who plays, who plays which place and when they play, do my job now.
I don't know if my assistants get the year off or what, but they need to start realizing when he goes, it's a whole new ballgame.
Q. You talked earlier about you like the pressure as a coach, you'd rather have the pressure than not. Evaluating yourself, how do you feel you coach with pressure as opposed to some of the teams where maybe you came in and people weren't having expectations that they have this year?
TOM IZZO: You can look at it two ways. My first three years, nobody thought we were any good. That pressure was to keep my job. So when I think back, that was real pressure, you know. Having a bad year, having 550,000 alums mad we didn't win as much as we should, that's a problem, and that's not good. But knowing that you might not get a paycheck the next month, that was real pressure.
I don't know if I coach any different. Last year I tried to have a little more patience. They always say there's a reason for everything. Maybe last year helped me have, you know, this much more patience. They say it's a great virtue. I'm not really fond of it personally. Don't think it's as cool as everybody else thinks it is.
I don't know. I figure that every year I'm here there's pressure. The day there's no pressure, it's time for me to leave. I tell players, If you don't like the old adage, you don't like the heat in the kitchen, get out of the kitchen. I don't know what they say, something like that. What do they say? Somebody is laughing.
Q. (No microphone.)
TOM IZZO: That's about what I said (laughter). Geeze, Rico, don't have to get so specific on me.
There's heat in the damn kitchen. If you don't like to be in it, then you're not made for this program. How is that? That's the UPer way of putting it. That's how I'm going to put it.
There should be expectations. There better be expectations. There should be pressure. There better be pressure. If that pressure isn't there...
Last year there was pressure coming in. We got so decimated early, I think people gave us a hair of a hall pass. All of us. I think everybody understood.
But, no, I think they know why they came here. I know why I'm here, why I haven't left. I love it. I love the pressure because it means you're in the right place. It's not so good not to be cared about.
Q. You talked about the state of the game earlier, that it's a few who have been involved in this. At the same time when you see a coach of the status of Rick, you see multiple programs being involved in this more likely to come, is this at a point where the current model can be fixed or is this a breaking point where sweeping change needs to occur?
TOM IZZO: Wow, that's a good question. I think change needs to occur. But I've been saying that for 10 years. I think the summer model has got some issues. I think some of it is issues for the poor players that are playing that many games.
So I think in general most people would agree that there's just too many people that touch these players now. Like everything in our society, everything in our society, my boss Jud Heathcote used to say, 10% of the things are bad. Everybody's got some 10%. Might be 12, 8, this and that.
When you have a bunch more people touching you, you got a lot more chance for a bunch more problems. I think that's what has disappointed me. I tell every recruit that comes here as a freshman and sophomore, when they come here with their family, my only piece of advice, don't let the process ruin you, because we will. I blame myself. And keep your group small, whatever that is, keep it small. You've been raised by mom and dad for 17 years, and things are okay. You've been raised by mom and grandma, whoever it is. For the most part that's who is your group. They've done a pretty good job because you're eligible in school and you can become a big-time basketball player. Why all of a sudden do we need 20 other people coming into your world?
That's the advice I always give.
The process, the process that I'm involved with, the recruiting process, hurts people. I don't know all the particulars. I don't know a lot more than you guys know. I know that I think kids are put under a lot of pressure at young ages. I know there's too much. I don't think too much basketball, basketball, basketball is good. I don't think too much playing the trombone, trombone, trombone is good. I don't think working in medical school, medical school, medical school, medical school is good.
I think we're beating people up at a young age. I think the process has to slow down a little bit. I don't think it's going to change how good you are. Some of the summer things, in my humble opinion, have to change. Does that mean it's got to be blown up or not? I don't know.
It's a little scary because I don't think we know what else is going on, you know. Hey, I've been suspended for a game for, I don't know, I'm still trying to figure that out. Anyway, I was. So I'm not saying. Everybody makes mistakes, everybody does something wrong.
But I look at most of you media are from the state of Michigan. To compliment my other coaches in this state, I think our state is sleeping fine. I think they're sleeping fine in Ann Arbor and sleeping fine in Detroit and sleeping fine in Mt. Pleasant, over at Western Michigan. I think they're all sleeping fine.
I feel bad because some people involved were friends of mine. Some people involved, I don't know all the particulars, but just too many people touching these kids. That's hard.
Q. You've seen so much obviously in your career. Down low.
TOM IZZO: Can you stand up (laughter)? I decided to dedicate this year to Jud Heathcote. I'm going to give Jud-isms. If that was me back there holding that mic, he would say, Tom, why don't you stand up. I don't want to insult you, but since he insulted me, I'm going to throw it on you (laughter).
Q. It's okay, not the first time.
TOM IZZO: I love it.
Q. You've gone through every season, seen so much. This will be the first year you won't be able to pick up the phone and call him. Have you had time to reflect on that?
TOM IZZO: Yeah, I've had a lot of time, especially the six, seven hours that it was to fly out there and back. We went out there on a plane, we took Gregory, myself, Edgar Wilson, Doug Herner, one of Jud's best friends, Paula. It was an interesting trip. So, yeah, you reflect on a lot of things.
Had to miss the Notre Dame game. But it was sure worth it to get out there and meet more of the people that he touched out there.
Jud is a unique person. It will be a little more difficult. It will be easier when we win a game, and he tells me how bad my guards are. I'll be able to relax on that. It will be a little more difficult because when we lose a game, he always came with all the good things we did. I'll have nobody doing that now.
But I feel blessed that I was able to -- I have so many Jud-isms that I even started writing them down because they've withstood now 23 years. I might not have his voice to tell me, but I've got it etched in the back of my head because he told me and told me and told me and told me again and again and again and again. I think almost any situation I go through, I've got a memory of him telling me what I should do. I think I'll do pretty well with that.
I was lucky to have him, fortunate. As I said at his funeral, you know, I had 12 years with him as an assistant, I had 22 years with him as a mentor. We've had 90 years with him as a community, or they have. Now God's got him for an eternity. Personally, I think God cut off more than he could chew. Having Jud up there for an eternity is going to be a hell of a deal.
Q. Thinking back to when you recruited Tum Tum, it feels like just the way he's carried himself, he's been a senior ever since he's gotten here. Can you describe the change, if any, what you've seen out of him from the day you recruited him? You talk about his leadership, how he holds guys together.
TOM IZZO: Yeah, when we got him, I appreciated him. But that very first year, Draymond was back for the whole summer and told me that I should name him captain. I said, We don't have freshmen captains.
He said, You got one now.
We didn't, but he acted like it then. There hasn't been many three-year captains. Matt, you're the statistical guy here, what does your Duke education? Have we had many of those? Maybe two? So not many three-year captains.
He's worthy of that accolade, and I just think he's a guy that makes you appreciate life. He started a motto at the beginning of the summer. One day somebody was complaining about being there for some reason. He said, You don't understand, we don't have to do this, we get to do this.
That has kind of been a motto of our team every day. It's so true. The neat part is I believe it, but he lives it. He's taken it one step farther. He lives it. That makes it good for me. He teaches me probably more than I've taught him. Hopefully he's going to will this team to have one of the great years in Michigan State history. That's what we're looking to do.
In a nutshell, in closing, you know, I do appreciate all the support you guys have given us, ladies, men. Hopefully we're going to continue to do what we've always done. It is getting a little crazier out in the world where questions get tougher for these guys and it gets harder.
But just have some patience with them, as far as their youth, maybe their answers. But I think you got a good group to work with. I think we should have a good year.
Our schedule, I didn't even talk about it, is going to be difficult for different reasons this year. Last year we were traveling 16,000 miles in the first couple of weeks. This year, yeah, we go out to Portland. This year we play six games in 13 days against all BCS schools. We're starting the Big Ten season in December. That's going to be different. Play the Big Ten tournament a week earlier in New York. That's going to be different.
There will be a not of unique things. Doesn't mean they're bad, they'll just be different. We'll grow from it. So enjoy the team, enjoy the day with them for whatever time you got. We're going to practice today. It's going to be crazy weeks coming up.
Rico, you sleeping out with us this year? No. My crib is a hell of a tent. I got an eight passenger one. You get your butt there, you got a spot. How is that?
We got that coming up Friday. We have the midnight madness, grand opening of the building. A lot of cool things. I don't know how many of you have seen much of the building. The weight room, the new locker rooms, they're going to have it done in a week and a day. It's going to be an exciting time around here. Hope you enjoy it. Hope it's better for you. Thanks a lot for all the support. See you.
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