East Lansing, MI
When your job is covering Michigan State every single day like I do, you see a lot. Things you would never report, but you see it. You can see how players as people can impact their coaches and vice versa.
I know of a player (Not basketball) whose parents were going through a bitter divorce and fought to put him in the middle. It was brutal and never anything a person should do to another, let alone parents. The youngster struggled as a star player in his sport. Spartan fans bemoaned his struggles and called out his coaches for his failure, but they never knew the personal tragedy of the young man. Out of respect for the player I remained silent, while he and his coaches took a beating from fans. When some in the media defended the young man without revealing his family issue, we got attacked for being, "Homers." His head coach spent a lot of time comforting his young and underperforming star as a person, never mentioning sports. It is reality.
Tom Izzo the last three seasons has had teams that have brought him back. Tom Izzo to his credit is not the coach that he was; he has gone from what I thought then was a great coach to simply being the best coach in the nation right now.
From Izzo to all three of his assistants this has been an amazing three year stretch of coaching and this year in my opinion has been the best. I once heard it said that a great audience helps make a great speaker and great students make great teachers. If that is true, and I think it is, the credit for a refreshed staff and the success of the last three years rests on these players. The Spartan coaches agree.
Tom Izzo super assistant Mike “The Bishop” Garland joined me on Spartan Nation Radio this week. I asked him if these players are the reason for the new energy and success of the very talented Spartan staff. His moving answer is sure to touch you.
“I am totally rejuvenated from these kids. They have made basketball fun again. They really have. We’ve got a special group of kids, they listen to us, they want to be coached and they take heed to everything we say. It means a lot to them. It means something to them to play well. It means something to them to win. It means something to them to be at their best. They are a different group. That has rubbed off on us. You are right on the money for every one of us. It has been a great year for Dwayne Stephens. He’s deserving of a (head coach) job himself. Dane (Fife) as well. I have watched both of those guys grow tremendously the last two years. Then speak of my boss (Tom Izzo) and one of my best friends, it’s helped him tremendously. There is no more sleeping with one eye open and no worrying about grades or anything. It is just a great, great, great team and a great situation to be in. You have to give all the credit to our kids. They are a fantastic group.”
While Spartan Nation celebrates wins, and they should, they also need to celebrate one of the finest groups of youngsters from top to bottom to wear the green and white. Izzo and this staff not only recruited players that have you looking at a legitimate chance at a third basketball national title, but every one of them are star people off the court.
I asked Izzo the same question yesterday. Is the key to this Spartan coaching staff’s impressive performance the last three years due to the players he recruited and brought to East Lansing and be such hungry listeners?
“Well I think, I’ve said it to you guys about two weeks ago, I thought my staff has been good. I think like players sometimes, have taken their games to another level. I think they deserve a lotta, lotta, lotta credit this year. I just think that, you know, we went through a tough time in January, and they just kind of hung with guys, got guys in. Costello got better, Schilling made some post moves, so DJ and Mike did a better job that week. Convinced Eron Harris of what he’s got to do, Dane did a good job of that. So when that happens, coaches have to step up, and you bring up a good point. Players have to be receptive to it. And I look at an Eron Harris and he has been as receptive as you can get. I look at Deyonta, and he’s really done a good job. We kind of had all given up on Marv. I mean, let’s face it, Marv was hardly playing. Kenny gets hurt and Marv gets a chance, I thought Marv played as well as anybody on Saturday. That was encouraging. So we need to get Tum back to being that 10 minute a game guy, he struggled the other night. That’s what happens when you don’t get to work on your game much. But this has been the most receptive team as far as trying to figure out what the needs of the team are, what the coaches want. Adjustments they’ve made. I’ve made no bones about it, it’s been fun. You ask me why I seem more relaxed. I’m relaxed because I’ve got the closest thing I’ve had in a while to a player-coached team and my assistants have really done and incredible job and so that makes it easier on the head coach.”
Tom Izzo has taken the Spartans to 18 straight NCAA tournaments. He has had 16 NBA draft picks and won eight national coach of the year honors. He has seven Final Four appearances and seven Big Ten championships. There is no doubt he will be added to the Hall of Fame later this year and in my opinion he is the best coach in the nation. What you might not know is that the team you are rooting for has changed him. They have charged the battery of not only him, but his staff.
While the chances are good that this team can hang another banner, whether or not they do, the Spartan Nation should not forget this team and what they have done for a Spartan ICON in Tom Izzo and his staff. Great quality young men, who have given back in a way that banners hanging I a rafter and stats in a media guide don’t show!
The #2 Spartans enter the Big Ten Tournament with a 26-5 (13-5) record. The Spartans even picked up two first place votes this week as the top team in the land. The Spartans will tip off Friday from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis at 6:30 PM. That game can be seen on BTN.