Frustrated Tom Izzo Opens Up On Captain & PG Tum Tum Nairn’s Health & Return

Tum Tum 2015.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard
Tum Tum 2015. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard

Breslin Center

East Lansing, MI

The #8 Michigan State Spartans 20-4 (7-4) take on Purdue tonight at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, IN. Once again they will be without their point guard Tum Tum Nairn. He is truly suffering from severe plantar fasciitis. There was some speculation this time last week that he might return for the Michigan game. Of course he did not.

After the Michigan game Izzo didn’t want to talk about it, but he did yesterday. Izzo said of Nairn’s health and return that, “This will frustrate you guys, because it’s really been frustrating for me, but the best answer I can give you is he’s suiting up. I don’t know if he’ll play in the next month. He’s not going to be able to practice much. It did not get a lot better, it’s probably going to be that 6-8 week thing. At the same time, no more damage, hasn’t done anything. In everybody’s opinion, it’s not going to damage it any more. The pain isn’t quite where it was when we took him out, so we’ve gotten rid of some of that. But as soon as he does much, it comes back.”

A frustrated Izzo has reached out to other coaches for some wisdom. “ I talked to a couple of different coaches, one was Mark Few out at Gonzaga, where Pangos had his whole senior year. Mark Few said that Pangos couldn’t hardly practice, played in games. Now Pangos is a very skilled guy, as we all know. Tum is not, but that could work in Tum’s favor. In other words, could I use him on the break and guard somebody.”

Izzo continued, “For some ungodly reason, if you watch him work out, even right now, today, if he did a little bit like he did last week, there’s no limping, there’s no this or that, he’s still got his speed. It was the pain was getting to his head, and I thought he was making some mental mistakes. Could I use him five minutes, here, five minutes there? We were suited up, I said what if we get in foul trouble, could we use him that way? It sounds ridiculous, but at least for a couple of more weeks, guys, this is going to be a day-to-day, he’s not going to practice, if he does practice it might be to shoot free throws. It’s a sad deal for me, for him, and I think for us. I still think he has great value. Just like a game tomorrow (today versus Purdue), where I think they’re going to put pressure on Denzel and that, it can wear a point guard down. He can give us three minutes here, three minutes there, two minutes here. It’s just going to be very sparingly if any for a while. So that doesn’t help you much, but I swear that’s all I’ve got. It’s frustrating for everybody that’s been involved in it.”

When Nairn does return, don’t look for him to just step back in to the starting lineup. The Spartans can’t change a rotation this late in the season and you won’t know until next season how strong Nairn is. Izzo said of that school of thought, “Yeah. I don’t want to make some Earth-shattering news, but I don’t see him coming back and playing any kind of minutes that are going to make us change what we’re doing. I see it as three minutes here, four minutes there, two minutes there. Maybe he gets to six or eight minutes a game. Maybe he gets to three or four. Maybe it’s an emergency on foul trouble.”

Izzo added, “I mean he is going to play, he is going to do whatever we ask him to do. The sad part is, is he just can’t … I mean he would suck it up and play 20 minutes. I know he would. And he could probably do that in a game if it was really needed because unfortunately he did it for half the year. But as far as any consistency and whether he is going to be able to practice, whether we are going to be able to work on those things, I think we’re look at now the end of the season, getting him healthy for next year, which doesn’t seem to be an issue, but it is going to take total rest and some other things. But as far as any consistency where he's going to be able to practice, where he's going to be able to be able to work on those things, I think that we're looking at now the end of the season, getting him healthy for next year, which doesn't seem to be an issue. It's going to take total rest and some other things. One of the sadder kind of talks I've had to have with a player, him and I spend some time together and doctors and I gotta admit, you know. I told you I had it myself. One shot and I was good to go the next day. That still could happen for him. It's plantar fasciitis, which millions and millions of people have had. But there is no rhyme or reason for it. It's got a lot of people kind of stumped. I don't want to say it like that because then I'm going to get 10,000 more letters on all these things people do from rolling to walking to not walking to ... I've got a lot of things boy, I could be a specialist. I just don't know if it will work but I appreciate it to because he's such a good kid and trust me on this, we miss him. I mean, we miss that kid. That kid can push it from one end to the other as good as anybody and he can defend as good as anybody. And maybe that's the saddest part for me. Because coming off the bench, I could get him back. Then everybody wouldn't game plan to the fact that he doesn't shoot it as well. They would game plan to that like when he's played 25 minutes a game and I think he would have been more effective. But I just, unless we have one of these miracles. I just don't see this changing until the end of the year and it's been hard on him, hard on us. But I think we're at a grasp with it now that this is the way it's going to be. He's probably not going to practice anymore unless it means little things here or there, a walk through. Just in case so he knows what's going on and until that thing changes."

Finally I asked Izzo a question that many of you have asked me. Would Nairn be healthy now had they sat him early in the year like they are now? This isn’t a new injury and it’s been there since the start.

Izzo was brutally honest in his answer, "I don't think so. I mean, we can always look in hindsight but I really don't think so. And I mean, because it was from the summer. It just hasn't changed. He's got some, he didn't sit. It's probably a legitimate good question but the other problem that you have with it is you've got to go by him. I mean, we can't go down there and look at it and say it's got 50 degree pain, 75, 25. You know, going Tum, for a couple months, Tum just 'Good day, coach. It's good day, coach.' And it was until that Iowa game that I just saw to me he was, and I, to me it was cut and dry that it had run its course. And mentally and he still could've sucked it up physically I think. But I don't know. I don't know if anybody knows. And I don't know if I would have changed it. He won us a lot of games, believe it or not early and not at his expense because he was making the decision that were as educated as the ones we could get."

No matter when Nairn comes back, his speed and defense are a game changer. Let’s just hope he waits until he is healthy and doesn’t rush back and make the injury linger longer.

Michigan State as mentioned previously is at Purdue tonight. This game tips off at 7PM and you can see it on ESPN.