Michigan State's Adreian Payne, left, and Gary Harris, right, both could go in the first round of the NBA draft on Thursday night. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — Tom Izzo will be in New York on Thursday night, likely watching two of his players get selected in the first round of the NBA draft.
Gary Harris is projected by some as a lottery pick and Adreian Payne shouldn’t be far behind. It would be the fourth time Izzo has had two players go in the first round and the first time since 2006 when Shannon Brown went to Cleveland and Maurice Ager went to Dallas.
But Izzo is rarely concerned with what spot his players get selected. He’s more concerned they go where they fit.
“I’ve always been a big believer— it’s nice for your ego to get drafted first, third, fifth,” he said Wednesday, speaking to a group of Michigan sports editors. “I’m bigger on getting to the right team, because I think so many guys are having a cup of coffee in the league right now, if you look at the last couple of years. There’s gonna be more guys that are in and out or in the D-league or over in Europe, compared to staying in the league. So whenever I talk to a player about leaving early or anything else, I say, ‘Do you want to get drafted in the first round or do you want a career in the NBA?’ ”
Izzo has kept in close contact with Harris and Payne, as well as Keith Appling, by talking with NBA contacts after each of the players has worked out in order to gain feedback on their performance.
And while winning championships is Izzo’s goal on the court, Thursday night’s draft represents the bigger picture of his job.
“If a kid gets drafted, for my basketball program, it’s better than if we win the national championship because of the distorted view that we now have on what it takes to make a kid successful,” he said. “So there is no way I would want to hold a kid back if I looked at my program. I get accused of that some. There is no way.”
Harris is the first early entry from Michigan State since Brown left after his junior season in 2006 and just the sixth overall since Izzo became the Spartans’ head coach.
“Jason Richardson came in, sat down, went through the process, called the right people, made a great decision,” Izzo said. “Gary Harris, made a great decision. If Adreian Payne came in and I had the same information, I’d tell him to go.
“I want every one of my guys to make it in the NBA, I want every one of my guys to graduate, I want every one of my guys to experience a national championship and a Final Four. If the process is right and it’s been handled right, I’m all for it all, but I’m not for someone in the street telling them they’re an NBA player when three-fourths of all the teams I call say he should stay a year.”
Pay for play?
Izzo had a back-and-forth with the editors about the issue of paying players. He admitted he didn’t have all the answers but made it clear he supports the student-athletes.
“We are painting everything like it’s the adults against the students, and I’m for every one of my students and I feel so strongly about that,” he said. “I’m for ‘em. If I knew that some kid needed money to pay for his mother’s rent, I’d pay it out of my pocket. But if they needed it to get their 18th pair of shoes or something like that, I probably wouldn’t be for it.”
But he also believes there needs to be a clear line between professional and college sports, believing that line is getting blurred more every day and saying he favors a rule like baseball where a player who goes to college must stay three years, unlike the one-and-done rule in basketball.
To Izzo, being successful means going through the process of college and not being pushed too quickly.
“Bottom line is, I’m for everything the kids can get, but I want them to be successful human beings,” he said. “Athletes live in Disneyland. It’s Disney World over there. They got to work their tail off, (professors) don’t give them a break when they go on the road, there are some things that are so different than you would think. But the Disneyland part is … how do you beat what they get to do? That is great, but I hope we don’t lose the process.”
No more beer and burger
Izzo was asked if he agreed with the rule that essentially led Michigan’s Mitch McGary to enter the NBA draft. After testing positive for marijuana, the Wolverines sophomore faced a year-long suspension so instead opted to leave for the NBA.
“I wasn’t crazy about that rule,” Izzo said. “I try to stick to how I raise my own kids: You can make a mistake, it just better not be a life-changing mistake. And if it’s the same mistake twice, it goes from shame on me to shame on you. I think most schools have policies and programs in place that give you a chance to make your immature mistake and then figure it out.”
Izzo added it is tougher for people in the spotlight, including coaches, because you are held to a higher standard.
“I’ve said this a million times: I’m from the U.P. I’m a beer-and-burger guy, you know, until something happened at Michigan with their football coach,” he said. “And there ain’t one guy in this room that ever saw me have a beer in public. I made a decision that day that my job is more important. Players have to do the same thing.”
The good 'ol days
One of the lighter moments came when discussing the pressures of being highly paid and in the public eye. Izzo talked about heading back to Northern Michigan with his best friend and former Lions coach Steve Mariucci.
“I don’t know about you, but I’d go back to college today,” he said. “I’d back to college today. Mariucci and I would have a good time up there, nobody would care. They haven’t even gotten Twitter yet up there, so it’s safe, it’s fun.”