SPARTANS COACH TOM IZZO TALKS BASKETBALL
October 23, 2013INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
TOM IZZO: First of all, let me say sorry for the inconvenience. Matt and I figured since I'm a big Jim Leyland fan, he deserved the day, and plus our players deserved the day, and didn't want you guys caught in the middle. So this worked out good.
As far as this year's team, I'm going to just rattle through a few things and then leave it a lot more for questions, because I think there are a lot of them. But it's one of those teams that's been exciting to be around. The chemistry this summer has been as good as it's been in a long time.
What's that mean? It means it was bad other years? Not really. It just means we had more guys in the gym. We had our best academic summer. We had one of our best athletic summers. We definitely had our best injury?free summer, so we got a little bit of that.
Guys have made sacrifices with the Denzels and Garys, and Costellos, and guys that work out all the time. Keith and Branden Dawson really jumped in on that. We just had more and more guys spending more and more time.
It's an experienced group. We've got a lot of guys back. All but one, really. It was one big one, but all but one. I think that's going to bode well. Yet the exciting thing is you know what you're going to get to coach, but what we get to coach is all improved.
We look back a year ago when we had this press conference, Trice, we were worried about his life, to be honest with you. He was 22 pounds lighter than he was in May of that year, and that was a big issue. He missed the entire summer. Dawson, of course, we had no clue. He missed the entire summer. Then Harris got hurt during the year.
So we had some injuries. Yet, I think had a good run. Had a pretty good year. Not quite as consistent as I'd like, but it was pretty good.
As far as bracing the lofty expectations, you know, I can say we've been there a couple times in the last six, seven years, maybe three times where we were picked very high. One or two it worked out, and one of them, it didn't. So we've been on both sides of the coin, and kind of know where it is to be ranked real high and not get where you want to get, and ranked real high and get where you want to get. Couple times we've been ranked not as high and got where we wanted to get or almost where we wanted to get.
So I think our players will embrace it. I really do. The concern I have, to bring up my favorite topic, is what happens when you lose a game or you win a big game. As everybody knows, we've got a couple of those early. Does everybody go crazy if you lose one? Yes. How does that affect your team? You never know until it happens. Does everybody go crazy if you win one and what does that do to your team? And I think those are the only things that concern me right now.
At least we have some experience. We have some guys that have been there, done that, been around the block a little bit. So they understand what expectations are. With good teams come great accolades, as we all know. Payne and Harris have gotten their shares, Appling's getting some of his. And Dawson is starting to, I think, get some of the things he earned this summer. He didn't deserve last year because it was a year when he was just coming off of recovery.
When you look at?? we all looked at Adrian Peterson last year and said Dawson can make it. Then you look at Rose or Noel or all these other kids that have had these kind of injuries and they're out a year and a half, and you realize what a freak Dawson was to come back like he did. Or what a real freak Adrian Peterson was to come back and have a year like he had. It's not the norm. It's the exception.
Branden was an exception, yet missed out on a lot of things that I think now are going to be better. He definitely appears to me to have all his athleticism back, and he appears to have definitely improved his shooting. I think he's improved his confidence and that's going to help us.
The schedule, you know, it's really not a lot different than other years except maybe having Carolina at home and Kentucky was ranked number one right off the bat. But picking up a team like Georgetown, I don't know if it benefits you or not. It's going to be an expensive place to be on Super Bowl Saturday, but it's going to be, I think, a fun place and a great event and another tough team.
With the other teams we've got, it's a great schedule. But I think the last two or three years the real difference in our schedule has been the Big Ten is so much better. There are just so many ranked teams compared to what it used to be. I remember being a ranked team and playing against one other ranked team in our league. Now there will probably be seven or eight that will be ranked before the year's over.
Last year I think it was the same. So that creates when you're playing a lot of those teams twice, 13, 14, 15 more ranked teams you're playing. That makes for a brutal schedule.
I think we play six games, as Matt pointed out, against pre?season top 11 teams. I'm not sure that's ever been done before even by the standards we've set. Way over half our games are against teams that participated in last year's postseason. That's going to be good. The Big Ten to me, top to bottom I think is going to be better. I don't think the top will be quite as good, we had some really, really good teams. I think we'll still have four or five really, really good teams. But I think the teams you're going to see Penn State a lot better. You're going to see Iowa a lot, lot better. They're, in my mind, definitely a playoff team. And you're not going to see a major drop in some of those others.
Wisconsin, it doesn't matter. I think that's the good thing about them. Doesn't matter who they've got or what they've got, they're always going to be right in the hunt. There will be some unknowns at Minnesota, a little bit at Nebraska.
But as I said last year, I think Nebraska and Penn State, when they hired their two guys, those are two of the better coaches in this league. So it's going to be tough games even if talent isn't quite the same, and I think top to bottom, the league is going to be very, very competitive and very, very good.
To run through our players real quick: If you look at Dawson, he's healthy. There is no repercussion from the injury. He's had absolutely no issues with his knee. His ball handling has improved, his shot has improved, and his mental, I think, toughness of worrying about an injury is not there.
I think if there's a guy that's maybe one of my most improved players, it had to be Trice. He missed, I think, 13 games last year, maybe 12, maybe 14. But he's 25 pounds heavier than he was a year ago, all good weight. And it's something that I think he's in the best shape of his life. He's physically stronger than he was. He is?? he's just had a heck of a summer. You don't know how much we missed him last year in some games. He was our second best three?point shooter, and I think that's improved some.
So with him, it's mostly his health and I think great improvement in his skills. But his strength makes him a better defender. He's dunking regularly, which doesn't mean anything except when you're his size and not a great dunker. It kind of shows that you've improved in that area.
Harris made, I think, a heck of a sacrifice this summer to stay and not play in all the USA events or the different events. As he stated to me, he wanted to just sit back, get healthy, work on his game and enjoy college. And I think he did that to the fullest. He's definitely better with his ball skills and decision making, and the shoulder hasn't been one issue at all.
Late in the summer, he sprained his ankle in a pick?up game, and it set him aside for a little bit. But that was about the only injury we've had and that one was of no real consequence.
Adreian Payne was I thought a guy that worked almost as hard as Valentine and Trice this summer. He spent a ton of time in the gym. He's improved his body. He's definitely stronger. He's gained six, seven, eight pounds, but a lot better at putting it on the floor, and his shot is becoming more and more consistent.
Valentine would get my hardest worker of the summer award. He's been here morning, noon, and night. He lived, eat, and slept in the gym. He's shooting the ball better, and I think his number one issue for me had to be to turn it over less. I think he's working on that.
Keith Appling, most of his improvement has come with his shot and his decision making. I think he went from just trying to be a scoring point guard or maybe looking for a shot first and now sometimes he's almost looking for it second. Finding the happy medium of not being too far to the left and too far to the right is his biggest challenge.
But I think Keith has been fun to coach. I think he sees things a lot better. Watched a lot of film over the summer, spent a lot of time in here, and I think we're going to get some benefits out of that.
Costello and Gauna are two of the guys that are back on the inside. Again, they've made improvements, which I've got to say about every guy on this team, that should mean we should be really, really good, and you know what? Maybe we should be. But I think those two guys have improved. I think there is some improvement to be made out of quickness laterally with both of them, and that will be a negative there.
Russell Byrd, much healthier, much more confident. It's a matter of whether he can come back after the three surgeries and become the shooter that I recruited. You think back and those surgeries all came from his high school injury, and it's been tough on him. He's definitely shooting the ball better. But there is a thing called a 3 o'clock shooter, a practice shooter and a game shooter, so some of that we'll find out as the game comes.
The last three guys are all new. Ellis, Schilling and Kaminski, and Kaminski was red?shirted last year. He's 35 pounds lighter. Still, as a lot of you saw at the end of last year, might be as good a pure shooter as we have. He must improve defensively. In fact, like my famous guy Morris Peterson, I tried to give him the same road map this summer to find somebody on campus that he could guard. If he can find him, then he's going to play, because he can shoot the ball. He's 6'7"; he can do some things. He's just got to improve defensively.
Alex and Schilling have been surprises for me. When you sign kids late, you never know as much. They're both tough, they're both strong, they're both great athletes. Schilling is as good an athletic, 6'9" guy as far as quickness, speed, running ability and toughness. He's like an Antonio Smith with more skill maybe. But he's tougher than nails and he can run as well as anybody on this team in a race.
Alex is a kid that committed to Minnesota. When Tubby left, Tubby called me on him. He's a guy that we are growing to love because he's just a great kid. Kind of a Jack of all trades guy. He does everything well. Maybe nothing great yet except compete, but I think his shot will continue to get better. His defense and everything else.
So I think that's pretty much a quick scenario of everybody and what they've done. There is one common denominator. I said, everybody's improved. I don't say that every year, but I really believe this team, everybody has improved. How much we'll miss Nix? He was a unique guy in a lot of ways. But one of the ways that he was most unique is he was a 6'9", to say 300?pounder for safe sake when taken in average over the four years, he was a 6'9" 300?pounder that maybe his best attribute was his ability to pass the ball. We're going to miss that because you really could throw it into him. He had a great feel for the game and that's one of his strengths.
How we cover ball screens, how we defend the post, I think, we'll get a little and we had to give a little in losing him. So I guess I'll open it up to some questions.
Q. How much are you guys talking about the Final Four streak? How much have you talked about?
TOM IZZO: I haven't talked about it much. I don't think that's something that a coach in a way should talk about. My former players come back, Mateen and Raymar Morgan were here yesterday. I love when players talk about it. Travis Walton, you know, he walked around all summer. I haven't had anybody like that yet. But I think Adreian and Keith are more than aware of it.
We've talked about it in a big picture thing, but it's not something I use every day. I mean, that's a streak that, you know, I don't know anybody that's had it. I guess John Wooden would have had one like that, but there are not many people that have it. Yet, like every other streak on record, it's one that's made to be broken; I just hope it's not this year because it is something that I'm very proud of.
I hope they're proud of it, and understand how important it is to at least live up to or more than the players that played before you.
Not something I harp on every day. They've got enough pressure on them. I think there are so many reasons to get to a Final Four that are beyond being just good enough. But they're aware of it. That's for sure.
Q. First of all, Travis said the other day that this team is more about them and how they handle problems and them setting aside for five months for one goal. That if they do that, they know you can get them there. To hear that coming from those guys this early, is that something you haven't seen around here?
TOM IZZO: Yeah, and I think you haven't seen it for two reasons. Number one, very seldom you have many veterans back. That is one key we have. We have a lot of veteran players back. Number two, I think guys like Travis, we have a lot of guys that are trying to play for the program and the players before them. We're in a very selfish Twitter area, you know? I had to get that in. I have to throw it in one time every press conference.
But it is, it's more of a selfish society and teams go that way too sometimes. But when teams spend as much time as they did together this summer, those are impressive things to a coach. There will be a million things that go on this year. As I said, it will not be just handling failure, it will be handling success too.
I think we have a bunch of guys that understand that this is an opportunity of a lifetime. I mean, how good are we? You know, it's so hard to say. You can look at it, when I look at the years that I've been here, I thought we had a good chance to get back to a Final Four in 2000 because of what we did in '99 and what we had back. In 2001, I thought we had a good chance to get back because even though we lost a couple key players, you bring in a Randolph and you had some players that were juniors and seniors around you. It was pretty impressive. Other than that, I don't think we've ever had as good of a chance.
We've gotten there three other times; we still haven't won another one. This year's team has a chance. Then you start looking on YouTube or something, and you see Duke's team or Louisville's team or Kentucky's team and you say, wow, there are a lot of good teams out there. I haven't seen much on Arizona. Then you look in our league. There are a lot of good teams in our league.
We had some publication that had four in the top 10. So I mean what you've got to do is keep getting better every day and stay away from injuries. If you can do those two things, I don't see this team getting fat and sassy. I don't see this team taking things for granted right now.
So if you keep getting better every day, that gives you a real, legitimate chance. But how many times?? they talk about that first weekend with us and Kentucky and Duke and Kansas, and it's like a Final Four. How many times did the fourth, five, six top teams in preseason end up in final fours? Almost never. So that's what we've got to buck the odds.
Q. You talked about your team being veteran, but Kenny certainly isn't. He told me it doesn't matter if he can score. This team doesn't need points. It needs defense. To have a young player embrace that. I mean he told me it doesn't matter how many points I score. If I don't play defense, I'm going to sit the bench. For him to have that mentality that young, what's that say about Kenny?
TOM IZZO: Got a good dad and a jerk for a coach. That's what it says, because he couldn't have said it more eloquently. I'm hoping he said it to you but looking in the mirror while he's saying it because it really is something that he has to learn to do. Yet, if it was me, as I've always said to my staff, even though you like a tougher kid or this kind of kid, that kind of kid, I'd rather coach defense than offense. My chances are better at making a guy a great defender than a great offensive player.
So Kenny's got a dad who feels the same way. Asked me the other day, is he guarding anybody? Did he get a rebound? I said that's good stock. So, hopefully, he'll do both those things. If he's open, he can hit shots.
Q. Can you talk about (No microphone) what kind of difference can that make?
TOM IZZO: The question is: I said we did not see the real Gary Harris. Last year, once Gary got hurt, the third game in or second game in, whatever it was, we never had him go to the offensive boards. It's something he can do very well. He couldn't run as much. You know, sometimes you saw him dragging his shoulder. Dawson didn't run nearly as well. So I think the Gary Harris that I see now is as good a shooter but a lot better with the ball, lot better decision maker, still a great defender, and I think will be a much better rebounder. He's running the court more like the Shannons and Mo Agers, which is what I think he have to get back to.
And he has the ability both as a speedster, but he's also strong. He's not quite as strong as Shannon, but he's as quick as either one of those guys and he has good strength.
I think he's improved his game, and I think he's injury?free. I think last year he played hurt the whole year. He just didn't tell anybody. That's what I think. You've got to love that about him in a way, but it also has to excite you on where you think he could be because of it this year.
Q. Back to my favorite topic, fat and sassy. To a coach who hates getting fat and sassy with a team, do you coach differently because of the expectations? Are you harder on them because of the lofty perception of them, if you will?
TOM IZZO: I try to tell them the same thing I just told you. You think you have a chance every year. You don't. I mean, you have to sell it that way to them, to sometimes alums, to sometimes media. But every year you don't have the same chance you have in certain years. This is just one of those times where you have an opportunity to do something that will last a lifetime.
So consequently I told them I'm going to be more demanding of them and hold them to a higher standard. We're trying to do things now that few teams will do. We're trying to get to another Final Four. I don't know how many teams had a streak like that going for 20 years. It's not many. We're trying to win another National Championship. You know there are not a lot of margins for error when you're trying to do that, as we all learn. We've been to five or six of the last six or seven Sweet 16s, and we put ourselves in a position. But that's not good enough. Just not good enough. It's nice, and some day, thank God now I get to go ten more years to try to catch Leyland. But if I was him, then you get to enjoy it when it's over, but you don't get to during it because you just know there is so much more out there.
So I guess coach a little different. I don't know. This team, I don't seem to have to be on as much because they're more self?motivated and self?driven. That's what you really like about a team. If a team's self?motivated and self?driven and good at self?evaluating, then you have a chance to be really, really good.
If Kenny Kaminski can tell you that or somebody else says I didn't play that well in practice, or if you ask a question after practice how did you play and he says great and you watched him and you thought he was awful, I've got problems. So I've become bigger on self?evaluation and self?motivation. If those two things work hand in hand like I think they are with this team, it gives us that chance.
I think I don't have to coach them maybe as hard. I just have to make sure they understand what their goals and dreams and what they decided as a team they want to accomplish.
Q. You've talked about how Keith Appling has really embraced becoming a better point guard this off?season. What part of your message to him particularly resonated with him to make him make that change more so than maybe in the past couple years? Second part to that question is do you have a decision on the team captains?
TOM IZZO: Well, as far as Appling goes, you go through a lot of things. I thought about pulling him in the seventh inning and I decided to keep him where he's at. I mean that kind of jokingly, but I also mean that seriously. Last year you wonder, everybody was questioning why are you playing him at the point? And there were a variety of reasons. One of them was Trice was hurt. But that wouldn't have been the deciding factor.
I think this year you'll see them playing together some which will give Keith a little ability to get off the ball once in a while. That constant grind of being on the ball, that can be good. But he spent a lot of time watching film. The only thing I can tell you is it's helped his decision making. He's throwing better passes. He's involving his teammates more at the right time.
Keith was not selfish. He wasn't out there taking 25 shots a game. But I think when he did pass sometimes, it wasn't where a guy could do something with it. I see him much better in that respect because our break's been better. Our break's been better because, as I told him, if you have a great quarterback and bad receivers, you don't have a good passing game. If you have great receivers and a bad quarterback, you don't have a good passing game or running game for us. They have to go hand in hand.
I think with the guys we've got and the fact that we can play at a faster pace because of the depth we have, I think it's going to benefit Keith a lot.
As far as our captains go, I haven't done anything yet. For the first time in my whole career it doesn't bother me one bit. Keith's going to be our leader on the floor right now. But as far as the position he plays. But this group has gotten along so well, if it ain't broke, why fix it? It's almost they're determining things themselves which is really cool. It's not quite as comforting.
Do I have a Draymond, Travis, a Mateen? No. Not totally. I think the best guys that aren't afraid to hear their voice are Valentine and Trice. I think Keith's improved in that area.
To be honest with you, Adreian Payne has improved in that area. I've watched him help players and do more and things like that. So I'm going to let it go for a while and see where they take each other. It's a different approach for me. But most years I've panicked over it and I've said we've got to do this and got to do that. This year I'm trying to embrace it. I've almost enjoyed it. We'll see what happens as we go.
Q. It seemed to me some of your best players, Dawson, Payne, Harris, are guys that haven't really shown their ceiling yet. Beyond our expectations outside the program, are you intrigued by what they can become and what you can push them to this year?
TOM IZZO: That's a great question because that's what I told my staff. I said we've got to make sure that players play the game and players determine?? I said the other day, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink. I heard that when I was this big, and I heard it now and I think everybody else does. I said this year we're going to make some guys drink. We're going to make them drink. If they don't want to drink, they're going to drink. Okay? So, water (laughing). Let me make sure I finish that.
Yeah, it is exciting because I don't think there is any question Dawson is still one of the more talented guys. Harris and all four of those guys. I don't think Valentine's seen his ceiling yet. I think Trice is starting to see his this summer, and I really like what he's doing. But those three or four guys that have great basketball skills and talent, I mean, try to remember. Here's Dawson going from a center in high school to playing what he did and becoming a real good defender by the end of his freshman year and then go down with a serious injury.
Of all the things he had to improve on, it was skill development and he had just no time to do it. Didn't get to do it at all. So that was understandable.
As far as Harris goes too, I don't think any of us will ever know what he went through last year. I don't think it was anything serious, but I think it was discomforting. It was a question mark every game. And Payne, he did start coming into his own halfway through last semester. Thank God for fist fights, I guess, not to make fun of it. But it is what it is. If we've got to fist fight somebody to get them to play, that's cool. I just want to see some end results.
I think our job this year is to push them farther than they thought they could go. I think we've got enough maturity and enough guys that are driven that we can accomplish that. I don't think they'll take it as anything bad. I just had Payne and Dawson in this morning and talked to them about?? we had a film session last night. Can you consistently do the things you did in some of those spots? And consistently means every time. It's going to be fun to work towards and I am looking forward to that.
Q. What kind of challenge will it be to leave the mentality and the grind of playing in the Big Ten season to play an out?of?conference game on a big stage right before the Super Bowl?
TOM IZZO: When I negotiated the deal, I got two Super Bowl tickets and then they pulled them from me, so I'm kind of upset I made the deal. But it is going to be a lot of fun to be in New York at that time. A little bizarre, everybody will be running around there like a normal day in the U. P. Most of those people that come up from the south that are freaked out by the weather, it's going to be fun to watch them with an outdoor game in February.
But I am worried about the challenge, a little bit. I haven't done that in a while. Last time we did it I think was against UCONN and it was very successful for us, but it was a home game. But the Big Ten wasn't as good then.
Now if you look at that lineup of games during some of those stretches, I mean, it's murders row. But as my guys say to me?? I don't say it to them, they say it to me?? that's why we came. Came to play the best schedules; we came to play the best teams. Sometimes you get what you wish for, and sometimes it's negative, sometimes it's positive. I think this is a positive thing. They're going to play the best teams.
I've tried to tell them we've got to keep things in perspective. I think most of the final fours I've been in, we've had the team with the most losses, and I think some of that is because of what we do. But it will be a little challenging during the middle of that thing.
Hollis and I talked about it. You know him. He thinks any marketable good idea is a great idea, so I jumped on it.
Q. What do you foresee as being the biggest challenge to get this team playing at its peek this season? Two, who, and how are you going to contribute or what are you going to get out of the post with Nix gone? You mentioned the offense going through him last year? Will that change and who do you see is going to be in there?
TOM IZZO: I think it will a change a little bit. Both Matt and Alex and Schilling who we've been really excited about. But they don't have the passing skills he has. They might be able to score a little bit more down there in some ways. I know for Alex and Costello, for sure, they're a lot better shooters from range.
But every year you've got to do something. I think the neat thing about this team, like a lot of my really good teams we've had here, we could do a lot of things. We could play Payne and Dawson and go small and really go athletic. With Valentine and Harris and Trice and Appling, we could really put on a small athletic team at times too. Depending on how it's going, we'll have to make those adjustments until we see where these centers are.
What they can do is they can defend. They can rebound. They are physical. We're going to miss a little bit of that. I'm hoping the scoring we're going to get from Trice, a lot more from Appling. I think more from Harris. I think more from Valentine I think more from Dawson is going to make up for the scoring we had.
But the passing part, and that's why I said it first, will be a concern because he was pretty unique in that way for a guy his size.
Q. I was going to ask about the bigs too, specifically Costello. Would he be in the lead? Sounds like you like Schilling a lot, but what do you need Costello to do to play more minutes?
TOM IZZO: I think right now Costello would be. Still have two and a half weeks to go, I guess. Because both those guys are smart academically, I'd tell them they have to get a little smarter on the basketball court. Costello can really run too. It's funny. He does not have nearly the lateral quickness that Schilling has. Schilling is about as good laterally as any big guy, Andre Hudson?ish, maybe a little better. He really moves his feet well.
So, they're going to have to set screens. They're going to have to rebound. They're going to have to defend. To me, they're going to have to make free throws, because I think both guys will get to the line a decent amount.
Q. It's no secret teams that have won the national title throughout the years have had NBA talent. Not just one guy or two guys. Your national title team in 2000 had five guys in the NBA. You have the potential four players right now that have NBA talent talk about needing that NBA talent to win a national title? Speaking of guys with NBA talent, you've got Kentucky coming up. There's already been a little smack talk between you and Coach Cal out there promoting the game. Can you talk about both of those?
TOM IZZO: Well, the difference is the NBA has some Kentucky talent. I think it's been flipped a little bit. They've got the most talented team in college basketball. No question about it. Just go look at the draft board right now or go look where those guys are ranked coming out of high school. It's something when you can get six or seven in the top 10 or 12 in the country. John has done that. He's got a niche. He's done a great job of it.
You do have to have talent, but we just saw in Freddy's favorite sport the Yankees and the Dodgers are not in the World Series. You ever watch the show Montee Ball or is that what it's called? It's a movie. It makes it easier, but it's not the end all be all.
I mean, we've had teams?? you look at our 2010 team, we kind of stumbled into Indianapolis with a lot of injuries and lot of things that were going on. Maybe had as good a chance to win a National Championship as we have when we won it. Then in other years when you play Carolina, kind of like Kentucky this year, they actually had an experienced NBA team, if you ask me. So it helps. I mean, we've got enough players to play deep into the tournament, if we play well. We've got enough players to win a National Championship if we play well.
But there are six or seven other schools that I think have similar things in different ways. Some young but more of them. Some veterans, and so many things happen. You look at Louisville, and what is going to happen with their players. Where's that fit in? All of the things that go wrong during the year, the injuries, there are so many factors.
I don't make any bones about it. We're a good enough basketball talented team to do as well or better than anybody else in the country. But talking about it or having it on paper for some reason does not make it a go come that time of year in March.
Q. You talk about the inexperience and talent of this team. What do you think this team will do best and what do you hope it does best? What should its strengths be and what do you think it will be?
TOM IZZO: I still think I hope it's a good team defensively because you've got Appling and Harris who are, I think, the two best defensive guards in the country. I really do. I've gone through and looked at a lot of guards. Like I said to you a million times, and I love the term. Harris is illegal because I ask NBA guys that come in?? I asked one that came in today?? how many have a shooting guard that is maybe one of the best defenders? They say the same thing. That's un?American. That's unallowed.
So I think that will help. I think Dawson has a chance to be as good of a defender as there is, and Payne is definitely more than adequate. So defensively we should be pretty good. I hope that we rebound well and run well. That's what I hope from this team.
We're athletic. Our point guard is pushing it a lot better. We have a back?up that can push it. I think we should be a team that can run, run, run and run. And I think we should be a much better shooting team than we were a year ago. I don't want to hang my hat on that as the reason we should advance or play well in our league. But I think those three areas are definitely ones that I would like to see, and I think I'll see this team do well in.
Q. Over the years, why do some players such as Gary Harris choose to come back when they're pretty much locked to be first?round picks?
TOM IZZO: It's hard to say. You had a chance where when I started coaching as a head coach, if you weren't a top 5 lottery pick, you didn't come out. Then it got to be quickly if you weren't in the lottery, which is the top 12, 13 picks, you didn't come out. Then it went to the point where if you're in the top 20, and right now if you're breathing, you've got a pulse and you can make a shot, you think you should come out. So it's changed. It's changed a lot.
Ley land gave a comment I loved. I saw one from the St. Louis Cardinals today that I read a story on and I loved. It's not old school to come back. It's not old school to leave. It's right school or wrong school, and I'm going to continue to harp on that.
I don't think that I do anything because Judd did it or this guy did it or Knight did it or John Thompson did it. It's old school stuff. There's still, when you cut through the cheese of all the thing that's go on, no matter how much we tweet and use our computers, it is still nice to talk to somebody face?to?face. Had a couple of interviews today. It was enjoyable to talk to somebody face?to?face. That is the right school. It's not old school.
I think Gary Harris, a lot of factors. Parents that didn't want to see an 18?year?old in the league. I think he enjoyed college; he's a very good student. I think more and more people NBA people are convincing all of us, do you want to get drafted in the first round, have a cup of coffee, or do you want to have a career?
I think to have a career nowadays when they are sending, I think, last year 19 players went down to the D?league. I'm not sure. Now Gary Harris, I think he could have handled that, but I'm not sure everybody can handle that. So there are so many different factors than there were a couple years ago.
Things have changed with the different player agreements and now with the different salary caps and different things. So there are a lot of different things that are going on. To be honest with you, I did some checking on Gary. His parents asked that we did, and they did, and that thing was over so fast I didn't even get a chance to give my answer. That's what Gary decided to do.
AP's was a lot longer process, to be honest with you. And the good news for me is I don't think it's affected either one of them. I thought it would affect AP, if you want the truth. I thought it would affect him. I told him when he said I'm coming back, I said, no, you're not. Not until me and you sit down. Don't tell me over the phone because I'm in Virginia recruiting, because that's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for you to be dying to come back or otherwise I would advise you to go.
You know, his high school coaches, as you know the story, were very involved and what happened, happened. I thought for a week I was a little bit like this. But, boy, after that week, he had one hell of a summer and has really matured as a person and it was fun to watch him grow.
So it is different for every guy. I think you're going to see stats that we haven't seen yet. A lot of guys that are coming out, first of all, didn't get drafted. A lot of guys that are coming out, in five or six years from now we'll see how many had one contract and then were out. As we know, one contract worth two million dollars for two years, we all pay taxes. We know where half of it is. It's gone. And I do feel for some of these kids and the ones that if Gary Harris would have come out and made it, nobody would be happier than I would be.
As I said, you all better understand this: I get accused of wanting my players to stay. I do. I get accused in recruiting of that, and it's such a joke. I mean, it is such a joke. Because if a player goes to the NBA gang, it's better than winning a National Championship from a recruiting standpoint. There is no question about it. So anybody that's good enough and I think is going to better his life, I'm happy as ten men for him. I really am.
I would have been happy for both those guys. I'm hoping that this year I'm happy for a lot of guys, because I think I've got some guys that are capable.
Q. How much do you think those players (Inaudible)?
TOM IZZO: I'm not sure they all enjoy it. You guys are not in a very comical mood today. You're too serious for me. I hope that's part of it. I hope a lot of them, I mean, Draymond last year was on everybody's quick dial because hopefully when those guys come back and they talk, like Draymond was here all summer, and I think he'd just as soon spend every summer here the rest of his life. You have to remember Magic spent five summers here. Even though he as in L.A.
I hope that's some of it, but I really hope what's best for them. What's best for them will end up best for me. I mean, don't kid yourself. The more guys I getting to watch when I watch Zach or J.R. or this guy or that guy or Draymond, the better it is for me.
We'll get good players. And those players that left will help make the good players great players. I know that's what Dede did this summer. He spent a lot of time.
I don't know how our year will end up, but I had something happen this summer where we had a couple years where we had good teams and maybe not as good of chemistry. Pretty well?documented, everybody knows it. Still went to a Final Four. You have those years, everybody has them. Don't kid yourself too. All of those other schools have them too.
But this summer when we were in the weight room in August, and went walking in to see my team. And DeDe came over and said to me, coach, I'd die to play with this team. From Draymond Green, that was a statement of all statements. And you know, Mateen's been down. He was here yesterday. When Andre Hudson was here a couple days ago, and when people say that doesn't make you a champion. It doesn't make you a Final Four team. It doesn't make you anything. It gives you a legitimate chance to be really good because the players that have been there and gotten to those places see some of those same qualities in the players that we have now.
So that statement by DeDe, as Mike Garland and I said, that was a big statement because, like myself, he doesn't pass out a lot of compliments for any other reason than ones that are real. So I appreciated that statement.
Q. You've talked about Travis a lot being healthier. Is it almost like he's got to carry a rabbit's foot around at this point with the injuries he's had? What can he do to that offense in terms of being healthy?
TOM IZZO: Yeah, that's another funny topic. Like, boy you have a lot of injuries. We've had the freakiest of injuries. Half our injuries have been high school, Delvon Roe, Adreian Payne, Russell Byrd. Those are all high school injuries. I mean, Travis, just think about him. He gets an infection in his brain.
I mean, I've been around a few years and, Gus, you've been around the most of anybody in this room. Have you ever had a brain infection? No, not you. Have you ever heard of one? No. The answer is no. That wasn't insulting, I was just saying have you ever known of one of those? Don't misconstrue that.
That was a strange injury and strange illness I should say. Then the two concussions, they didn't happen in my practice, they happened in the game. We've got other teams out there maiming my guys. So it happened, it happened. He missed a lot though. He missed a real lot. I just think he's going to be a better player.
I don't think he has to carry around a rabbit's foot. I really don't. Those are freak injuries, especially the infection. But the other ones, they happen. I don't lay in bed at night worrying about injuries right now after the summer we had. If they happen, we'll deal with them. But that's not something I worry about.
Q. Lot of people mentioned Denzel Valentine and Draymond Green in the same breath. I was curious if you saw that comparison to be true. Second thing, Derrick Nix tweeted back at me. Said you called him a 300?pounder. He said he wants to tell coach he's not a 300 pounds anymore.
TOM IZZO: I said average over the four years. I said you guys need to list tone learn. I said tell Nixer to take care of his business over in Europe, and I'd like to weigh him in right now though. I would like to weigh him in right now.
I love it. I love it. That was such a good question, I forgot my answer. You got me all screwed up with Nixer.
But Draymond Green and Valentine is a good comparison. Valentine's a little better with the ball and a little better shoot we are the same age, a little smaller. But they both have great passion. DeDe used his voice a little more. Maybe Valentine will as the years go.
But as far as leaders and workers, to be very honest with you DeDe became one of our best workers, but Valentine has been a worker since he's been in junior year in high school. I think he's been an incredible gym rat. So, all in all, if he turns out anything like DeDe from Michigan State, for our basketball program, and for the people in mid?Michigan, that would be a plus. That's all I have to say about that.
I'll close up by saying this: I hope you enjoy our guys today, because I think we have a bunch of guys that are a little quiet, but pretty sincere people, pretty good people. We're really having a?? I mean, we're going to graduate two more guys. Adreian Payne, who you all read the story or know the story, he's going to be within a class of graduating at the semester, three and a half years in. And Keith is going to be a graduate. I think Russell finished this year, even though he's got another year. He's going to be close to it. So that's been good.
We've had the great summer. That gives you a chance, but now is when the real work begins and the real fun begins. I hope you enjoy the schedule. I'm going to enjoy it one way or another.
I hope you enjoy that first week of McNeese State and then Kentucky. I know we will, and I'll look forward to all the things during the year. Things will be as open as they can be. It is getting to be that Twitter day and age when you almost feel you've got to be a little more guarded. I hope that bug doesn't hit me because it's not one of my strong suits to be guarded. Yet I've enjoyed you guys, appreciate you, and thanks for coming today. Head out and see our players.