East Lansing — For 25 years, Tom Izzo has made his share of sacrifices.
To be the head coach of a major college program like Michigan State’s, time can be difficult to manage, even more so with a young family at home.
Through nearly a quarter of a century, it was something that always gnawed at Izzo, especially when his son, Steven, was in high school and playing basketball at Lansing Catholic. Izzo didn’t get to see many of those games as he was tied up leading the Spartans.
So, when Steven graduated with plans to go to Michigan State, he told his dad he wanted to play for the Spartans. He could have been a manager or worked in the video department, but Steven wanted to be a part of the team, one he’d idolized growing up.
And almost as importantly, he wanted to play for his dad, who happened to be a Hall of Fame coach.
“I always wanted to play for him and I always dreamed about kissing the Sparty on Senior Night and all of that stuff,” Steven Izzo said. “When I talked to him he said he’d gladly take me in. He would help me out with that if I did my job in school and on the basketball court. If I did everything I needed to do and worked hard that I would have a spot, so it all worked out.”
It did, indeed, and Izzo is now a walk-on member of the Spartans, all 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds of him, and if anyone has an issue with Tom Izzo allowing his son to be a member of the team, then that’s their problem.
“All the time I missed in high school, I probably made up for in the three weeks they've been practicing,” Tom Izzo said. “I made up for the 16 games I missed his senior year. So I figure I'm getting something out of it. Hopefully, he's getting something out of it, and most importantly, I think he's a good teammate and a good locker room guy for the rest of the guys.”
No, Steven won’t be in the starting lineup when Michigan State opens the season against Kentucky in the Champions Classic. In fact, more often he won’t even travel with the team.
But the bond he’s already strengthening with his father has made any criticism worth it.
“Every day I see him and that's been the best part so far,” Steven Izzo said. “Just being able to come in the office and know that he's here and just go up to him and talk to him about what class I have next year, what I'm doing the next day. So, it's been awesome to see him even in practice. He's always helping me, giving me tips, same with all the other coaches and all the veterans. They're always helping me get better and better prepare myself so that I can gain that basketball knowledge and all that stuff.”
There’s been no special treatment so far.
Izzo never has taken it easy on his players, and the same goes for his son.
“No, it’s not any different,” Steven said. “I just think of it as a coach getting on a player. When I’m on the court, he’s not Dad and I’m just a regular player, but when he’s off the court then, he’s Dad. I don’t really treat him as my dad on the court.”
And dad doesn’t treat Steven as his son. Instead, he’s a player.
That player, Izzo admits, isn’t the typical freshman. When Steven joined Julius Marble, Rocket Watts and Malik Hall at media day for a group photo of the first-year players, he was dwarfed by his teammates.
But that hasn’t limited his value.
“What he's doing is a little different than the other guys,” Tom Izzo said. “He's learning how to be part of a team, learning how to work. He’s been on the scout team. He's kind of been the manager that does all the drill work with them.”
And he’s getting a few tips from teammate Jack Hoiberg, a sophomore walk-on whose dad, Fred, is the first-year coach at Nebraska. Jack Hoiberg had the chance to join his dad, but opted to stay at Michigan State and is now helping guide the younger Izzo.
“Ever since I came in me and Steve-o have had some talks about what it is like being a coach’s son,” Hoiberg said. “We have been able to relate in that area. Obviously, having two fathers that are pretty successful in the same craft, so we definitely have had some talks about that stuff.”
For now, Tom and Steven Izzo are taking advantage of the chance they have. Steven hopes to one day have a Senior Day ceremony when the head coach is walking out with a player.
For Dad, he’s just happy to have his kid around.
“Am I going to redshirt him in case he grows six inches over the summer? I might do that,” Tom Izzo joked. “Am I going to play him in a game sometime just so he can say he played in college? You’ve got to appreciate that.
“Whether people think so or not, I bleed, I cry, I get excited, I get sad. I'm no different than anybody in this room. Some of you, I've been around as your kid follows you around in your job. And mine's following me around in mine, except I get to yell at him once in a while. It's a cool deal.”