October 15, 2009

Izzo Roundtable: start big first, go small if need

EAST LANSING - As Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo gears up for the 2009/2010 basketball season, his two primary concerns for his team are filling the leadership void left by the graduation of three-year captain Travis Walton and getting the young big men ready to step into a frontcourt void after the losing three fifth-year senior low post players from one year ago.

Most of what Izzo had to say on Wednesday during Media Day had to do with the road ahead, as his program prepares for a daunting non-conference schedule and an even trickier conference slate. But the veteran Spartan head coach did take time to reflect on some of the more enjoyable moments both he and his team experienced during their memorable run to the Final Four at Ford Field.

Even though Michigan State was beaten handily by North Carolina in the championship game, Izzo says he came away from the experience with few regrets. In fact, the Spartan basketball coach may have enjoyed his Final Four experience in Detroit, as much if not more than each of the other four that preceded it.

"We got video of the streets, we got video of the stands, we got video of the locker room," explained Izzo. "I think when you go through it you don't get to enjoy it enough. I took my team to the pep rally. It sounds crazy, I never take my team to the pep rally. I did this time, not knowing where it was and all of a sudden we had this phenomenal event. I let them enjoy the shoot around more and I told them in the huddle before the shoot around, 'make sure you walk out of here and thank the people.' That is not done a lot and I thought are guys did a good job. I tried to feel the Final Four a bit more.

"Hopefully, I will do that with the year because I think you can get so ingrained in what goes on, trying to feel the pressure and trying to live the pressure that you forget to enjoy the ride. And I guess if you are too driven, you forget to enjoy the ride. I think all coaches are driven, I don't think that I am any more driven than anybody else, I have just had more opportunity to be there. So it would be nice if I got smarter and said, you do have to enjoy the ride some. It is part of it.
"Last year, I tried to do that more, and even though we got our butts kicked in the last game, there was zero regrets on preparation, on player focus, and on any of those things. To do that in that environment with so many families, girlfriends, buddies, this and that, my own included as far as all of the family members, it kind of taught me a less that it can be done if you sell it right. I am trying to work on that."

Izzo spent a lot of time discussing the unknowns as his team attempts to replace two pivotal players in Walton and Goran Suton during media day conversations. But the Spartan head coach does believe that his players showed the commitment during the off-season to improving themselves that could help overcome whatever void exists currently.

"I think the way the players worked out in the summer, I think the commitment here," said Izzo. "This gym got a lot more use this spring, summer, and fall than I think any other year I've been in this building. I think the guys were in here more. I would call back from recruiting trips this summer and the trainer would say that so and so was in, and Kalin has been every day, and that Durrell has been in a lot. That Chris has been living in here. He has been coming in at 10 o clock at night when I'm here.

"Those kind of things, were the commitments that Cleaves and Peterson, especially, and then Richardson came aboard, and even as a freshman he was a junkie. He just lived in here. I see some of that."

  • Big, then small if necessary: Michigan State's core of experienced players reside in the backcourt. And Izzo made it clear on Wednesday that his team would be able to go small if they weren't getting the type of production or execution in the frontcourt that they need to be successful.

    But Izzo also said that he would prefer to start with some size on the interior before going to a smaller frontcourt.

    "I want to start big," explained Izzo. "Is this going to be a work in progress like Texas was last year? The year before they started him, he played 10 minutes a game. They started him both halves. I would rather start big and go small than start small and go big because I think they are going to need some experience those guys, whether it be Herzog, Nix, or Sherman. I really don't know yet, I am going to know a lot more in the next two weeks than I know right now."

    Herzog has the most experience of the group and the 7-footer from Flint Powers is up to 250 pounds after struggling to put weight on throughout his Spartan career. Michigan State could also take a look at both of their true freshman in Garrick Sherman or Derrick Nix, who is expected to have his weight down in the low 270s during the first week of practice.

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