Izzo in Tampa: We have come back

Players AUDIO pre-UCLA
Ben Howland, pre-MSU >
TAMPA - A special 12 Pack of quotes from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo from today's press conference at the St. Petersburg Times Forum, prior to tomorrow's action in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. His best quotes are in bold:
1. On the journey of the year:
"Well, we're excited to be here, and it's been a journey this year, not just -- we didn't sit back and wonder what seed we were in. We sat back and wondered if we are in. That's been different at Michigan State, but it's also been -- it's brought some humility to everything, and it's made you appreciate things a little bit more."
2. On facing UCLA:
"You're going to be in this tournament and you're going to be a lower seed, or a higher seed -- or a lower seed I guess it is, I think, for our guys to be playing someone from the West Coast, someone they're not familiar with, why not a program like UCLA who has a storied of a past as there is?
I've known Ben for a while. I think he's a very, very good coach. Three Final Fours explains that. His team this year is a little younger but pretty exciting and pretty athletic."
3. UCLA has some big wins but some bad losses. How do you prepare for a team like that?
"I would have liked to have been in this room when you asked Ben that question about us (smiling). What you have here is you have kind of two misfits in a way. We both had our issues. You always prepare like it's for the best, because once they've done something, that's what they're capable of doing on any given night. If you prepare that way, then if they don't play that well, I guess to be honest it's in our favor, and same for them. I mean, I'm sure they're scratching their head sometimes looking at our film to be honest with you, and rightfully so."
4. On UCLA's personnel:
"What you can see is individually they've got a lot of pieces to the puzzle. You know, Malcolm Lee is tremendous. Not many times have I been in any conference or watched any conference where there's three first-teamers on the same pick by the coaches. That's pretty awesome right in itself and I think all-deserving of it. Tyler Honeycutt - we got Magic out there trying to give us a scouting report once in a while, but he's impressed, too, with their athleticism, as I am."
5. What factors contributed to the 'journey' as you say?
"Well, if you look at it, even from this summer we released a player in August who started 28 games last year, was our best three-point shooter. We had a slew of injuries all summer to the point where we didn't play pick-up ball, from Delvon to Adreian Payne for six months to Russell Byrd, who just started playing now, to Sherman. And I mean it was just we had, I think, five major surgeries.
"Then I think our schedule early really smacked us in the mouth. We probably weren't ready for that with the personnel we had, and we got beat by some really good teams, and that's okay. But I think when you lose like three, four of them and now you're picked so high as we were -- we've been under pressure the whole year, and it really mounted in the middle of January because all of a sudden it doesn't look like we can win the Big Ten, and then it was can we get in the NCAA Tournament, and these guys haven't had a minute to relax.
"I told them yesterday, you know, that is the one thing I have great respect for. A lot of teams kind of go off the deep end and don't come back. We have come back. I mean, we've survived. We're like the NCAA Tournament, survive and advance. We've survived and we're advancing a little bit.
"I think the Big Ten Tournament was good for us, but make sure you understand for the national people here that we've been through a lot, but it's not all negative because some of it was just out of our hands, some of it the injuries, some of it the confidence because of the schedule. But we're all going to be better for it, and hopefully we'll see it in this tournament."
6. Can it be a liberating experience to get to the tournament, with the veteran players you have and the success they have had in the past in this tournament?
"You know, I think that's why the first game of a tournament is always so important. You know, for the first time in a long time, we were excited to get in. That's not meant with arrogance, it just meant we knew from January we were in most of these years, and February for sure. And so all of a sudden -- and then TV made us sit there and wait until the second or third to the last pick, and even though I thought by then we were in, it was a little nerve-wracking, and I would have understood either way. As I said, we did enough to be in, but we did enough not to be in.
"So liberating, yeah. I hope exciting, I hope a second life, I hope because of what you said is maybe the biggest factor we've got going for us. We've got six guys that have played in two Final Fours and played a lot. And we've got another -- when you look at Kalin, they've been to a Sweet 16, Final Four, Final Four. We've played in some of the biggest stages in front of the most people that ever witnessed college basketball games. I'm hoping that now that we haven't completely fallen off the deep end that that gets us going again.
"And then it comes down to winning a game. If you win a game in the tournament, now all of a sudden I think some of the advantage flips to you. But it's going to be a tough game to try to win."
7. A lot of historic programs at this site like UCLA and Kentucky. Do you think Michigan State and Florida have put yourselves in the same light in recent years?
"Well, I've always downplayed that and said that I think when you find out if you're in that club is do you select recruits or do you got to still recruit them. Us and Florida have made serious strides, but I think when you look at Duke and Carolina and Kansas and Kentucky, UCLA, I think we've put a serious dent to get our name in that next group of ten maybe that we're trying to. But I think those four or five programs have earned the right over a lot more years than I've been alive to be there. But I think the way it works this day and age, yeah, in modern time, I guess our name is at least mentioned, and I think Florida's is, and Billy has deserved that, so I'm excited and thrilled about that. That's where you'd kind of like to get the program."
8. On what it takes to beat Final Four coaches such as Howland, Calipari and Donovan, and the uniqueness of them all being in Tampa:
"I couldn't beat Billy (in basketball), but I know I could get Cal (Calipari), to be honest, if I was playing. Unfortunately, we're not playing.
"It was like the week we had down in Texas a couple of years ago in 2005 when we were able to beat Duke and Kentucky, and they were 1 and 2 seeds, I think. There might not be a greater weekend for Michigan State than that weekend, just because the programs themselves and how good they were.
"But Ben has done a great job. I mean, when he left Pitt and went out there, he did a great job right away. They got to those Final Fours. Because of losing some players, he's had to rebuild it. He's done that. He's, I think, an excellent coach.
"And Billy has proven -- you know, the only problem that some of our programs had, and we had it early on, we haven't had it recently, is when guys are leaving early it does mess you up a little bit. We're not all Cal (Calipari). He can do it, and because -- partially because Kentucky is Kentucky and because Cal is Cal and he does a good job of that.
"But this would be a heck of a weekend to win, and you know, we've got a chance. But we have to play better basketball than we've been playing, and yet I think our guys have better basketball in them. That's been proven in the past.
"It's sometimes a lot easier to ask guys to do something that they know they've done before and you know they've done before compared to asking guys to do something you really don't know if they've done before, and that's our advantage. That's the one thing we've got going for us. I'm going to try to milk that, too."
9. Delvon says he is as healthy as he's ever been, going into the tournament. And Kalin says he is feeling good. How would you rate your team's health?
"Yeah, Delvon, it's almost criminal what's happened to that kid over the three years because he came in as such a good player, and he's had to battle this knee and that knee back and forth, and I think he is the healthiest -- it seems like from a doctor's standpoint, he's the best he's been. And Kalin is definitely the healthiest and, I think, as fresh as he's been now. He got a chance to get a little fresher over the last two weeks. That does play a big part for me. I mean, we're not as deep as we normally have been over the years, and guys got to play more minutes.
"But Delvon Roe is a key guy because he can guard a lot of people, and he was just getting to be one of the better defensive players in our league and then he got hurt again in early February. So having him back moving well and practicing more than once a week is really critical to us. And Kalin the same way; he is definitely as healthy as he's been.
10. On UCLA having only 32 total postseason minutes on its roster whereas Lucas has 322 by himself:
"Well, you know, I think what's neat about college is coaches get a lot more credit, and pro ball players get a lot more credit. But the truth of the matter is there's probably a happy medium in there. We do our jobs, but players play the game, and they just do. You know, we get credit where sometimes it's due; we get blame where sometimes it's due. But at the end of the day, there aren't many coaches that get to play against each other.
"My players have tournament experience. I'm hoping one of my theories in life is a player-coached team is better than a coach-coached team. So I think my players understand what it takes to be here, and yet we've had a little rockier road to get here.
"I think the biggest question that probably when I lay down tonight I'll probably ask myself, I think we're physically a lot healthier, but mentally there's been a lot of drain on this team all year. I think we recaptured some of it, but as well as you say with his team, they don't have any of that experience. You know how exciting that is then to be in the tournament? I remember back a few years. It's really exciting. That's exhilarating in itself.
"So at the end of the day, players will play, referees will ref, and we'll sit there and act important. (Laughter).
11. You said this year brought back some humility, but isn't a swagger also important?
"That's a great question because you also hear coaches say he's too cocky, then they say I want them to be cocky. That shows you just what I said, how screwed up we are, but this game kind of does it to you once in a while. I do think you have to have that subtle confidence.
"Durrell Summers has been rocked like nobody I've ever coached. Last week after the Big Ten Tournament, he said to me, 'Coach, I'm putting the past behind me and I'm moving forward.' He has been practicing better; he has been playing better. He's got it in him. He went from 11 a game to 19 a game last year in the tournament. Why different people go through things, if I can answer that, I sure as hell wouldn't be up here, I'd be somewhere a little more safe and talking to people.
"But you do have to have a swagger, you do have to have a subtle confidence. I don't think you can be cocky and arrogant. Once in a while that works, but not very often. I've been trying to plead with my guys a little bit that -- I keep asking you to do something you've already done, so find it. Find it. When you land in bed, when you're walking down the street, when you're listening to your music, find it, because you've been there, you've done it. It's not the same as begging someone to do something they haven't done."
12. Do you and Coach Howland look ahead to Florida when preparing this week?
"Well, I learned from maybe one of the best, Mike Krzyzewski, if you listen to him talk about why he's had so much success in the tournament, he talks about winning the weekend. We didn't prepare for anybody else coming in. I mean, we maybe took a few things that we think those other teams will do, if it would be pressing or playing more zone or this and that, because the object when you get your program to the point where Ben and I are, that winning the game doesn't really -- that doesn't excite you as much as winning the weekend and moving on.
"So for a player, we make sure they don't look ahead. For coaches, I think we're looking at the whole weekend, and my assistants are preparing for the other teams. But this is a little bit of new territory for us, too. Not very often have we been a 10 seed, and usually you're hoping you are a better chance of winning the first game. This year we're the worse seed. So we'll put a little more emphasis just an UCLA and yet the objective of Michigan State is to try to win the weekend."