Izzo: College Basketball Becoming NBA All-Star Game

Tom Izzo weighed in on one-and-dones, touch fouls, parity, and Draymond Green, among other topics

Tiki and Tierney
November 20, 2018 - 4:40 pm

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After losing a pair of lottery picks – Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges – in June’s NBA Draft, No. 11 Michigan State (3-1) is retooling with some experienced players, including juniors Nick Ward and Joshua Langford.

Duke and Kentucky, meanwhile, are reloading with the latest crop of one-and-done players.

Has Tom Izzo felt pressure to embrace one-year rentals?

“Well, I wouldn’t kick them out of here, I promise you that,” Izzo said on Tiki and Tierney, laughing. “But there’s never more than eight, nine kids that have that kind of impact. Kentucky and Duke kind of get their share of them. Maybe we get one here, Arizona gets one or Carolina gets one – it’s not as easy as you think.”

Indeed, teams with the most talent don’t always win in March.

“I think Jay Wright has maybe been the master,” Izzo said of the Villanova coach. “We were in the Final Four together in ’09, and I said ‘You’re going to be able to get better players.’ The next couple of years he got better players but maybe not as good of teams. I think it was Jay that said, ‘You got to get our kind of guy.’ You got to have good enough players, you got to have a couple pros – but you got to have your kind of guy, too. So I’m always going to try to get the best players that I can get, but I want the best players to be our kind of guy.”

Tiki and Tierney noticed that so many recruits seem to want to play together at one school. It wasn’t always like that.

“I love talking to Magic about it,” Izzo said. “He said when he played for Pat Riley, when they played the Knicks or the Celtics, if you (spoke to opposing players before the game), Riley was ready to kill somebody. Times have changed. AAU basketball changes that. I think some of the culture you’re seeing in pro ball – at least in basketball (with players teaming up) – I don’t know if that’s good for any sport. I really don’t. I think you have so much parity in the NFL. I’m not sure that’s good, but you have so much dominance the other way, I’m not sure that’s good. I’m going to try to keep getting the guys I can get, coach them, and try to win some championships.”

Izzo, with seven Final Four appearances, remains one of the best coaches in the country. But while coaching matters, players matter, too.

“I figured out really early in my career if I got better players, I’m a better coach,” Izzo said. “But you got to have a little bit of both and you got to have people that buy in. I’ve been lucky here. You got to have guys that put winning as a priority, and I think most people just think everybody does. That’s not the case. There’s so many distractions now, you got to find guys where winning is important.’

Over the years, Izzo, 63, has changed with the times. Things that coached got away with 10 or 20 years ago wouldn’t fly today. Izzo is okay with that.

But he still thinks refs call too many fouls, especially touch fouls.

“Every sport is contact,” he said. “Dancing is contact. I watch Dancing with the Stars sometimes, and somebody gets hurt doing that. So I am totally to the point where we are just playing a game where, let’s just throw the ball out, nobody guard anybody, and see if we can make it an NBA All-Star Game. I don’t agree with that, and I don’t think most people do. . . . There’s so many touch fouls. I think my problem with it is not the officials; (it’s) the NCAA. I just don’t know who they have on those committees. We get maybe one coach, we get no officials and we get a bunch of administrators. They’ve never played the game. How can a conference commissioner know what he’s talking about?”

Izzo also spoke about Draymond Green, who played for Michigan State from 2008-12. Has Green always been so…confrontational?

“Does he hold people accountable? Does he call people out? He probably does sometimes too much,” Izzo said. “But I think when you have a great passion and winning is important, you kind of don’t tolerate anything less. I’m not going to condone or condemn, but I am going to say this: I got a lot of good players here, but I have not had any more winning guys than him. He’ll sacrifice his points to win, sacrifice rebounds to win. Confrontational? Oh, we had some interesting huddles back in the day, but you know what I always knew? I always knew how important it was to him, and I always cherish that. I don’t mind an argument here or there.”