MSU coach Tom Izzo's Big Ten media day comments

The Detroit News

Transcript of Michigan State men's basketball coach Tom Izzo's comments at Big Ten media day in Rosemont, Ill., on Thursday:

Tom Izzo: Yeah, those nine lettermen unfortunately a couple of them weren't on scholarship. I kind of like this team. I think it's a team with the same kind of passion we had last year, the same kind of camaraderie, but a little better leadership. Last year just wasn't -- it wasn't a strength of our team. It wasn't necessarily a weakness, but we had -- we didn't have quite the leadership that I think we have with Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine. So with Trice and Valentine, there's no question, thee big losses were Appling, Harrison and Adreian Payne, but in Appling's case he had a tough second half of the year and Trice was playing pretty well so he got a lot of experience. And because Payne went down for eight or nine games, Costello got some experience, but our big three will be those three with Dawson being a big key this year. Does he take another step up, does he average the 15, 16 points, eight, nine rebounds that he did the last six, seven games of the season once he got back? If he does that, I think this team could progress greatly here in the months to come.

Question: Tom, you've been to Final Fours consecutive years multiple times. I'm just curious when you try to go back that second time in a row, what are the positives you can use in your favor, and what are the obstacles and challenges you might face to keep kids on track to get back there?

Izzo: Well, you know, the positives are you have something to point to. They know how much fun it was. It's an experience of a lifetime. It's hard to explain to anybody what it's like to win that Elite 8 game and know you're going -- like for us, going to Detroit or something, and then to be able to come back the next year as we did when we went to Indy that next year, it was a goal because it was a realistic goal.

I think the negatives are, that was right about the pre-Twitter era, and I think it's harder now because so many people are telling them how good they are. But I think Bo can handle that. He's been there, done that. He's done it at different levels. I think he's got some grounded kids, and I think that's a big key, too.

Back when we went to three of them in a row in 2000, we just had driven guys that had nothing but winning championships on their mind. I'm not sure anybody has that anymore, just a little more difficult in this more "me world" than "we world," but I think that'll be his biggest challenge. Can his kids handle the things that will be said about them around them.

Q: Media poll, all the preseason magazines, everybody is picking Wisconsin. Do you see them clearly separate from the rest of the league, and after that it seems to be a real muddle for the next eight to ten teams. Is that also how you see it?

Izzo: Well, first of all, I saw us picked anywhere from second to eighth or ninth, and our fans kind of rumbled about that. I told them, 'God, that's probably where I would have picked us.' I think that's where I'd pick a lot of teams. There's no question that Wisconsin is the class, but Wisconsin gets picked second or third when he's got nobody back, so I think that tells you a lot about Bo and what he's done. But he does have a very, very good team and a lot of guys back and stability, and he's got guards and he's got bigs, so he's got a little bit of everything. He's got a great wing, a great point guard and a great center. And when you have that, a lot of good things can happen as did for us last year.

But as far as the rest of the league, I think what you're starting to see again is, yeah, we all lost some pretty talented guys or a lot of us did, but all of a sudden Minnesota wins the NIT, you look at the job Northwestern, that he's done there. You've got some perennials that have been down last year, like Indiana and Purdue, and both those guys are great coaches and I think they're going to have much better teams.

So it's the bottom -- Nebraska, they've come out of nowhere, and Tim has done such a good job there, and now they're going to be contenders. So I think the bottom again has moved up. The top other than Wisconsin has maybe moved back a little bit, but I think there's an eight, nine, ten-team race, and with who you play once and where you play them, muddled up is a good word. I've got a couple other words that mean the same thing. Not as many letters, but I think you spoke well about what you're saying.

Q: Obviously, this has been a strong league for a number of years, but your program is the last Big Ten team to win a national championship. How do you think that drought has affected perceptions of the league overall?

Izzo: Well, you know, I do think it affects it somewhat. It's not kind of like what's happened in football with the SEC. It's not to that extent. But I just know that to win one you've got to be so good and so lucky, both, and what I've enjoyed about our league is we've sent a lot of people to that Final Four, and we've been in the mix. When you're in the mix, sometimes it's a call, sometimes it's an injury, sometimes another team just plays better that day.

But I think I'm proud of the fact that even though we haven't won another one, we have had a lot of teams either in that Final Four or those Elite 8 games, and that really speaks a lot about the quality of your conference and the number of teams we're getting in. The team that doesn't quite get in that maybe should have last year, goes and wins the NIT. That talks about the strength of your conference. Does it hurt it? I don't know if anybody looks at winning national championships that hurt it as much as who's going to the NBA.

Q: You've been in the league since there were, I think, 10 teams and you played each other twice every year, and now with eight one-plays this year, you mentioned a lot depends on who you play once, who you play twice. In your mind has it devalued the regular season?

Izzo: I don't know if devalued is the correct word. It's complicated. It's confused it a little bit. You know, I still think the value of who we're playing and where we're playing -- unlike the ACC and the Big East for so many years, our fans aren't used to the conference tournaments maybe becoming bigger just because -- even it's happened in football now, when you don't play everybody -- I mean, one or two games on who you play or don't play can make a two or three-game difference in the standings. I don't think we want to educate our fans on that. We still want to try to win championships, but that's what's a little harder for the coaches, I think, is the concept that there's a reality to it that if you don't play everybody and you get one of those breaks with the top four teams you play once and the bottom four teams you play twice, there's going to be a big difference in your win-loss record probably, especially in basketball where home and away seems to have such an impact. I mean, football it does, but basketball it's off the charts.

Q: With the conference growing and with the level of play just getting better across the board, how does that change the way you approach recruiting?

Izzo: Well, you know, recruiting, we're all trying to get better players, and you know, when you have the national impact that now we are beginning to have, I think in our meetings last night, you find out what kind of TV numbers there were just in football out east, and it's going to bring us more nationwide. But at the same time, recruiting has always been important, it always will be important. I think what's harder now is to figure out what is a five-star, four-star, three-star. If I'm not mistaken, there's a football team from Mississippi that everybody claims is filled with two and three-star recruits.

It's about getting the right players and the right chemistry and putting them together that I think is the most important thing, and yet we have a bigger base now to recruit out of because we're going to be more well known in the East Coast and throughout the Midwest, and with Nebraska pushing down a little bit there into the south Midwest, I think.