Izzo appreciates value of chemistry after MSU's run

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
“I’m excited about the non-conference schedule that we’ve put together,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said.

It's been more than two months since Michigan State made its surprising run to the Final Four, the seventh in coach Tom Izzo's 20 years.

And Izzo has been busy since that time.

He wrapped up a fairly bizarre recruiting class for next season, hit the recruiting trail, raised money for charity, kept tabs on those headed to the NBA draft and fit in some time for a mini-reunion at an NBA playoff game.

Needless to say, it's been an eventful couple of months.

The biggest storyline was the commitment, then decommitment of Caleb Swanigan. The five-star prospect announced in early April he was headed to Michigan State, never signed a letter of intent, and weeks later decommitted before settling on Purdue.

The News got a chance to catch up with Izzo during a quick break as the Spartans approach a summer that will include a 10-day trip to Italy in August and will welcome three new players — Deyonta Davis, Matt McQuaid and Kyle Ahrens.

Q. Have you had a chance to reflect on the Final Four run?

A. I have and like they say, when you do something special it means a lot while you're doing it but when you do get to look back I think a lot of times you even have a greater appreciation.

I felt like a few weeks earlier I was trying to save my life because we weren't struggling-struggling but we were not where we normally have been. So I look at it all and I feel like we have accomplished a lot. I still say losing those two guys (Kenny Kaminski was dismissed before the season began and freshman Javon Bess was hampered by injuries) and still bouncing back — a lot of people lose two key guys and I don't think there is any question one or both of them would have started in Kaminski and Bess, or at least definitely would have been in the large playing group. So I look back at it that way and say we overcame that.

(Travis) Trice and (Denzel) Valentine had unbelievable years and I think we got a lot out of a lot of guys and it was a fun team to coach, I think a fun team to follow. We had pretty good guys, so I'm pleased, excited, fortunate about all those things.

Q. Do these sort of years reinvigorate you?

A. Yeah, that's a great point. I think once and a while, like everybody says, you're not wanting (to be picked too high) and does it take less pressure and I always say, 'No. It's good pressure to have on you.' But once in a while maybe it brings our fans and everybody else to the reality of you don't get to do the same things every year.

And I think once in a while you find a different way to win. Maybe (your team is) not quite as talented or this or that. It is reinvigorating and it kind of gives you … there are a lot of ways to skin a cat as they say and I think the system and the belief in what you do is there and when that happens it can win different ways. So yeah I think it's reinvigorating and I think it makes it fun and I think it hopefully makes it eye-opening to the fans, but I think the same for our staff that maybe complaining about what we don't have and start appreciating what we don't have.

Tom Izzo talks to Travis Trice in the first half against Duke in the Final Four.

Q. Are you continuing to keep up with (Branden) Dawson and Trice as they prepare for the NBA draft?

A. Oh, yeah. I went over to Chicago (for the combine) to follow up with BJ. He actually played decent the first day but very well the second. I talked to some teams about his interviews and that and I guess he did a good job on that. I think if he keeps working out well I think he can really move himself up, I really do.

Travis had his first workout with Chicago (last week) and he's got quite a few teams he's going to be working out for so yeah, I'm in touch with those guys every other day.

Q. Do you think they have a shot to get drafted?

A. I really do. There are people that really like what (Dawson) has done and when they realize … you know when everybody looks at things and people recruit against you this and that with what happened to Dawson.

When you really look at the injuries those two have gone through, that's another thing that is amazing. Dawson with the knee and two broken wrists, or hand I should say, and Trice with the concussions and then the issues he had with the infection. When you're talking about losing summers, the whole summer, talk about losing six months that both of them lost at different times, it makes me reflect back on those guys.

People say like in Branden's case, was he a failure? Well, there are a lot of people that if they miss as much time as he did and had a serious injury as he had … you can look at it the other way too and as I look back on it and watched tape of some games before he got hurt, after he got hurt and think that he almost lost his whole sophomore year in a way. I think it's pretty … there are a lot more positives than negatives if you can believe that hearing it from me.

Q. With the trip to Italy, how will the summer play out?

A. We (were) off until the first week of June and gave them a couple extra weeks. There are a lot of reasons. We had some minor injuries, some cleanups of a couple of knees (centers Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling had arthroscopic procedures) and couple of sports hernias and different things that go on. But for the most part we just wanted to give them some time to get away from it.

That's one of the mistakes we're all making, so we gave them a chance to get away a little bit and they're still working out but not with the same intensity. And when we get back we'll start the strength and conditioning big time. And then when we're allowed to tour a week, sometime in July we're allowed 10 days of practice for that trip. I might not use it all. I'm not gonna make it a long, gruesome thing. I wanted to make it enjoyable and (about) camaraderie.

If there is one thing I learned about last year, I always thought chemistry and camaraderie and all those things were important but last year kind of taught me it could take it to another level. As much time as we spend on Xs and Os or jump shots and ball handling and passing skills, the skill of communication is one that's definitely going away more each and every year. So the trip in the summer will be a lot about that, too.

Q. When will the three new recruits be there?

A. Probably about the beginning of July or end of June. So that will be good too to get those three guys in here and that will be another good thing and something I'm looking forward to, for sure.

Q. What is the plan with open scholarship?

A. You know, we'll keep it open. This day and age kids are transferring about 10 transfers per week. Holding on to one isn't all bad and next year's a big recruiting class. So technically you're right, we have one to give if we wanted to and yet we have one to hold if we wanted to do that, too.

Q. What was it like to go to Memphis for the playoff game between the Grizzlies and Warriors?

A. Memphis was one of my, you know I missed out on my favorite thing because the 2000 team had a little reunion with the alumni club in Orange County (California). With my dad sick I had to miss out on that so I sent Mike Garland, but every guy was there except Al Anagonye, he's still playing over in Europe. They brought in (Adam) Ballinger, everybody. So that was really something.

But for me to go down (to Memphis) and have the first guy I recruited in Steve Smith, the first real star, the first- and second-leading scorers in our history with Shawn Respert being there with Steve … and then (assistant Dwayne Stephens) who helped win the first Big Ten championship in a new building and then Zebo (Zach Randolph) and Day-Day (Draymond Green).

It was … it just seemed like an incredible night. Everything we talk about staying up with your players once they're gone, all the good things you talk about, we got to live it that night and it was pretty cool.

Q. How do you feel about the proposed rule changes, including the 30-second shot clock and cutting back on timeouts?

A. I'm for the shot clock. I'm for moving the (charge) line. That was a good move. I hate the charge thing so I'm glad there gonna do something there. And there's enough timeouts in the game plus I don't want to talk to my guys that long anyway, so I'm cool with that. I think there's a lot of things they can do to speed the game up like administer the ball quicker on timeouts and this that and the other thing.

If they think that's what they gotta do then I'm fine with that.

Q. Will the 30-second shot clock speed up the game?

A. I don't think it's gonna help it much. I think it will speed the game up a little bit. I wish we would go to all NBA rules to be honest with you. I like moving the ball after a miss, I like those kind of things. There aresome things with the second foul in the last two minutes where you don't go to the bonus on the first. All those rules in the NBA … I'd like to go to a larger 3-point line. If we want to start talking about helping our kids get to the league where they want to go, then why should we have different sets of rules? I don't think our kids can handle the 24-second clock, I just think you gotta be so skilled to do that. I worry a little bit because we are contradicting ourselves in thinking the shot clock is gonna make a difference on scoring but thinking that not letting you touch a guy (on defense) is gonna make the difference on scoring. I'm worried that between the shot clock and not letting you touch a guy we're just gonna be playing zone and it takes longer to attack a zone and there will be less scoring. I don't really know. I think it's smart to lower the shot clock because it gets you closer to the NBA.

I think the more rules we can have like the NBA I think is a major benefit for college and a major benefit for college players.

Q. Big Ten athletic directors talked in May about reassessing the 20-hour rule. Where do you stand on that issue?

A. I think kids are working out too much and I think kids need a break. But what you do with the 20-hour rule is when you play three games a week you're cramming everything in, also. You're trying to get early morning (practices) to make sure you do this and that.

I just think it's embarrassing that you don't have more respect for coaches that we're gonna do the right things. We don't want to beat the hell out of the kids.

I struggle with some of that. What you gotta do is you gotta have them prepared and you gotta have them healthy and sometimes the combination gets you. But I definitely think there shouldn't be a rule. I don't think the average is 20 hours but there shouldn't be a rule because the way the NCAA does the games. It's like having them take a day off a week. That all sounds so good, and it's so smart and it's so right and I agree with it 99 percent of the time except all of a sudden you have three games in a week and you're asking a kid to go into a game with maybe zero days prep. Is that fair to the kid? Is that right? It could cost you a Big Ten championship.

Common sense still I think is the best way to look at these things and I don't think that's the way we do it all the time. Do I think we're making progress? Yeah. But the 20 hours, I think the ability spend more time with your kids or just go down and shoot free throws with them (is good) and I think it's ridiculous we don't do those things.