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March 19, 2015

Branden Dawson

Tom Izzo

Travis Trice

Denzel Valentine


MODERATOR: We're beginning now our 15 minutes with Michigan State student-athletes Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice.

Q. For Branden and Trav, with the streak of Final Fours over, is there less pressure going into this or do you guys feel pressure to maybe establish your own identity where Tom Izzo leaving a mark?
BRANDEN DAWSON: I feel like there's not any pressure between us. Like you said, their streak was broken but Travis and I, we're trying to start our own streak of our own and try to make it to the Final Four. I don't think there's any pressure on us. Coach talked about it with us making history and doing what we have to do. I think just going into the tournament with a great mind set I think we'll be fine.

TRAVIS TRICE: Like Branden said, we don't really feel any pressure. It was disappointing breaking the streak last year and missing out on the opportunity, but we'll have a chance to go this year and set our own mark.

Q. For all three of you, please, when you watch the film on Georgia, can you tell me what sticks out for them because obviously you haven't played them being an SEC school?
DENZEL VALENTINE: They're just a really solid team and they run their stuff pretty good and they got pretty good size. They're just overall solid basketball team. They played Kentucky as best as anybody in the country so we'll just have to come out and play our game.

TRAVIS TRICE: They're a really athletic team. What really helps them are their bigs and guards, they're kind of interchangeable where they do different things but they're kind of the same players. Like Denzel said they played Kentucky tough at home.

BRANDEN DAWSON: Think they're a good team. Both teams have really similar records so I think that they've been playing good basketball. Like these guys said, I actually watched the Kentucky game and they played good. They're a great physical team. We really -- we really haven't played anyone from the SEC but they're a good team, they're physical.

Q. Branden, on Tuesday Tom told us he wasn't going to make a decision until Tuesday night or maybe even Wednesday on who they're going to match you up with. Who are you going to start matching up against?
BRANDEN DAWSON: The kid, number 2, Marcus Thornton. I just never know late-game situation I might switch out on a guard. So as far as for myself, I just have to watch him, the bigs and the guard.

Q. How do you think you guys change at tournament time? You've been a team that's been improving in this environment. Do you get better at this time of year?
BRANDEN DAWSON: With the season that we've had, with the up and down we've been going through, I think around this time our chemistry is a lot better, we've been playing good at a team. We definitely have the same team as last year. We have a lot of younger guys on our team. As far as Travis and Denzel, myself, we just have to really lead these guys.

Q. Travis, I'll give you this one sort of to follow up on that, how much of a point of pride is it for this program as far as its identity of what you guys do in March. It's been a long run not just getting to the tournament but getting out of the opening weekend and advancing?
TRAVIS TRICE: I think it's big for us, Michigan State's known for playing well in March and known for doing good this tournament. We feel a sense of pride that we've got to carry that on especially for the past players that have really made a name for Michigan State.

Q. Denzel, what does Coach Izzo do well or what do you think he does to sort of get the post-season mentality across to you guys getting you prepared to play in a tournament like this?
DENZEL VALENTINE: Like you said, he just does a great job of preparing us. Not only him, our assistant coaches and their whole staff does a great job with preparing us an getting us ready to play. Coach always talks about you've got to have a different mindset going into the March. We take that mindset, too, and we've just got to come out with our A game.

Q. For Denzel, this is off-topic of your game, but you guys are one of the top teams in the country, we've played everybody tough. How do you think -- how do you look at Kentucky, how do other players that you know, people that you know in the game look at Kentucky this year as are they beatable or not?
DENZEL VALENTINE: Yeah, I mean, I think they're beatable. I mean, they haven't lost yet but you've just got to have a different mindset when you play them. You can't go in thinking they're too good. You've got to come in, really attack them. Whoever gets the chance has to have a championship on their shoulder when they play them because they're really talented.

Q. A couple weeks ago or three weeks ago when getting into the tournament was a goal, how different is your mindset about what you want to accomplish here based on the way you guys are playing? Does that realistically change your own expectations for this tournament? I guess for Travis and Denzel.
TRAVIS TRICE: I mean, a couple weeks ago our backs were against a wall and we kind of had to make a decision whether we're going to fight or lay down and we decided to fight and I think that's what got us where we're at now. Our thing is we've just got to keep that same mentality which is win or go home. Our thing is come out and fight and try to win each game.

DENZEL VALENTINE: I just think off-season I really don't think we've been taking on the mentality to let's get in the tournament, it's just sometimes the games that we lost we just haven't been able to close them and now we figured that out where we've got a couple wins and we got some streaks going on, especially at the end of the season, a good time to be playing good. Now that everybody's playing good we think that we can make a deep run into the tournament and we've just got to take it one game at a time.

Q. Does playing Wisconsin the way you did open even your own eyes to -- that's a team that they were playing at a pretty high level, too, and you were toe-to-toe with them?
DENZEL VALENTINE: We basically beat them in our own sense but late game mistakes. Other than that we feel like we can play with anybody in the country. We played Duke as best we could. We were up at Notre Dame at their place, we were beating Kansas. Those are all the top seeds in the tournament so we feel like we can play with or beat anybody in the tournament.

MODERATOR: Thanks, guys.

COACH IZZO: General comment, yes, I have a nephew that works on Georgia's staff. No, he will not be invited to Thanksgiving day meals at my mother's house. And I'm excited to be here. I think a month ago for the first time in a long time there was a little question mark whether at 13-7 we were struggling a little bit, but credit goes to our players, my coaching staff for not only pulling everything together but I think getting to the point where we're playing our best basketball at the end of the year and that's kind of the way you want it. We had a few bumps in the road. I thought some early because of some injuries and things we went through, and some late because we missed some free throws, and we went through that stage and now we kind of put some things together and I thought the last five games against very good teams, all NCAA teams, we might have played the best we played on a consistent basis all year.

Q. Coach, that's a common refrain with your team. Your fans like to joke that the month of Izzo is between March and April. What do you think is the biggest reason for that? Is it the tough schedule you play early in the season, experience that you have on your team? What's the biggest factor in why your team seems to so often play its best basketball this time of year?
COACH IZZO: Just to let you know, those same fans they think I golf in October, November, December, and January, so I'm not sure that's a compliment. I don't want to be thought of as a March Coach, I get paid for all 12 months. So my AD gets ticked off about that, but the truth of it is we do play a tough schedule. 99 percent of the time this year when you look at Duke, Kansas and Notre Dame, just to name a few, I think that does prepare you. We had an enormous amount of injuries this year early and this team wasn't ready for not only that, but we started wearing our guys down, especially Trice and Valentine. I think of all the things that happened, that was the biggest thing. We were playing okay early and then about the middle of January we really, I thought, looked ragged. So we got a couple guys back, we kept getting teased by Javon Bess, who I think is my best freshman, and we made a little substitution at the point so we could try to bring some scoring off the bench and it wasn't really a demotion of Travis, it was moving him around. The last nine or ten games he's averaging a lot of points but I think he's a little fresher not having to guard the other team's point guard all night and not having to maybe play quite the amount of minutes even though he plays a lot of minutes. When you control the ball that time, that wears on you. So when we expect him to score, defend and push the ball, that was asking a lot. So I think there's a combination of things but honestly I do work the other four months, I promise you.

Q. Tom, where this team is now, the way they played against Wisconsin, Maryland, the way you picture your expectations for them internally, your hopes for them this month, is it different, and when did you really see -- was it the Northwestern game, on the road, is there a moment you could point to to say, okay, there's a chance there?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, I didn't picture this team playing as well as we did the last week, if I'm being honest with you. We're not as talented as a team, we're not as deep as a team, and we're not as experienced as a team. We've got three guys that have any type of experience. I think Northwestern was one, at Illinois was one, and late in the year when we lost Dawson, Purdue, who I think is really good, really physical team, we weren't the toughest team, which is a trademark of our teams, I think, over the years and we didn't live up to that. Partially it was just the personnel we had. And so as we played against a couple teams on the road must wins with our backs against the wall we started showing some grit and character and I think we topped that off in the last five games. In saying that, our margin for error is still very small, it's probably the smallest of any team. I felt pretty good about in my whole career here since we started going to the NCAA Tournament, had one or two years like this. But I think they've embraced that, I think they understand it and the three guys that got leading it, Larry, Curly and Moe are really doing a pretty good job. And Valentine, Trice and Dawson, they each have their moments of high and they have a couple moments of low, but they're getting more consistent and I think they've rallied the other guys. We have a very close-knit team, maybe as close as any team I've had. And I take my hat off to Denzel and Travis for that over the spring, summer and fall.

Q. You kind of joked about your nephew. How much have you had a chance to get in touch with him this week? Do you try to avoid that? I guess from a bigger picture, what does this mean for your family to have the ability to do this and then also having played Kevin earlier this year?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, it was kind of funny because we did play my other nephew, Saint Cloud, in an exhibition game, and that was awesome for my parents and my sisters and everybody flew in for that. This one's, you know, not quite as awesome because there's so much more on the line. But what a privilege, what a pleasure. I did call him, he chickened out to call me so I had to call him. I told him I was proud of him, I appreciate what they've done. Their jobs are a little bit on the line and I love guys that battle through some adversity, and Mark has done an incredible job there doing that after losing some players to the pros and losing some players to injuries. So we talked, I talked to his brother, who also played a little bit at Georgia, and works up at ESPN. I thought that they both were kind of -- I think everybody's afraid how to be. Used to be we joked, we joked about it in football, hey, Michigan State will get Georgia and it was a big feud and big fight. We joked about it with the brackets at the beginning of the year and sure enough, it happened. Now nobody's joking because it means a lot to both parties. Like everything else in life, I respect what he's done, I'm proud of him, I appreciate the opportunity Mark gave him, and for two hours, you know, there are no family, and then after that, I love them to death.

Q. Coach Fox said he was stunned after watching you guys that you were a No. 7 seed. I'm wondering after watching them on film what you thought of them as a 10 seed?
COACH IZZO: I think we're both in the same position. Could we have been a little higher, I'm not going to get into that debate, but could they have been a little higher? They were upset twice at home late in the season. They don't get that and they're probably an 8 for sure, maybe even a 7. I don't know what the committee looks at. But I know two late losses to non-NCAA teams is going to hurt you, and that happened partially because of some injuries and things like that. So if you remember a few years ago we played USC and they had three guys out all year and they're all pros, and then they won the conference tournament and they were I think a 9 or 8. I thought that was one of the best teams we've played on our way to a Final Four that year. I think Georgia is a very good team, they've got balance, they've got stability, they're well-coached, they're solid offensively and they're solid defensively. They're a lot like us, I'm not sure they're great at anything, as I'm not sure we are, but I think they're very solid at just about everything. It's so hard to tell anymore who deserves what because these conferences are all so screwed up. I don't mean that negatively, I just mean we're all not used to seeing what we're seeing, so many teams, you play so many teams once. You look at Virginia's schedule or Duke's schedule and how many times did they play each other, Michigan State or Georgia, how many times did they play each other, meaning the different teams in the league. So it's really hard to get a feel like you used to. It will take four or five years to change it.

Q. With all the post-season success your program has had, is there a particular mindset that you've tried to instill in players year after year about the postseason or is it something that builds over the course of a season, it's not just about March but the whole thing?
COACH IZZO: Well, it's not just about March to me; it's about the process to get to March. But when we get close to March, I think every living alum thinks March is the time when we excel, and I think in a way it presents a little pressure, but I think it's one of the rare times it's really, really good pressure. So many of our former players are calling or coming. They just feel part of the family, part of the whole deal and I think that kind of pressure is positive. Alan Anderson who plays for the Nets called when we lost, and I hadn't talked to him for a while and his first thing was, Coach, which player do you need me to call? That is Utopia. It's something that coaches dream to have, a player-coach team, or a former player coach team and I think that's what helps us. We have had some success. We've gone to seven or eight Elite Eights at least, maybe that many or more, I don't know exactly. So that means deep runs in the tournament, they do that in 16, 18 years, that means you're doing it every other year and I think when you do it every other year it becomes part of the fabric of your program and you try to tell guys don't feel the pressure of this, understand the privilege of this and I think they do.

Q. I wanted to ask you about Yante Maten, what you remember about recruiting him, and the decision to offer him, and his decision to go to Georgia?
COACH IZZO: We didn't recruit Yante until very late, and probably our fault, too. But he was a late bloomer, I think he would say that himself. Looks like we were going to lose a kid and we tried to get in late. Georgia had already done a great job and he made the right decision. We didn't recruit him like a guy you would recruit or like he deserved to be recruited, but it wasn't out of disrespect for him, it was more out of what our needs were, what we had. Whether we lost the guy that we thought we were going to have to get rid of, we turned to that. But Mark had done a great job with him and of course I couldn't go in there and rip Georgia in any way, shape or form because I respected Mark and my nephew and everyone else. So we really didn't get in the door, if I was to tell you the truth. He never visited, we never visited him.

Q. I notice you had Alex Gauna on the trip. Can you talk about that decision, asking him to come along and what that's meant for him and for you to have him here.
COACH IZZO: I heard a couple weeks ago that Alex was struggling, like all players do when they get to the real world. Nothing bad. You're kind of lost. I know I was. That's why Mariucci and I went back to grad school, we didn't know what the hell to do. I'm sure he was going through some of the similar things and I just went into my office that morning and I was kind of thinking about all the players of the past, like I do often. I looked up on my board and his name was up on my board, his phone number from last year. So I said I'm going to give him a call. I gave him a call, he wasn't in. He called me back, asked him how he's doing, he said okay. I said how would you like to take the trip with us and kind of go out with your class you would have gone out with, and I didn't know what he would say. He was so excited that it made me feel good that I could do something for somebody and help them when maybe everything's not perfect. When I told the players he was coming, I mean, I think Branden Dawson and Matt Costello were the two most excited but they were all excited. I think that's part of what you do as a coach. I think that's what makes staying in the same place and having a family atmosphere, that's what makes it so special. So he can't play, he can't practice. He can help coach from the back seat in the film room, but I brought him along to just enjoy the class he was with and spend some time with the guys.

Q. Tom, you were slipping up on whether you've been to seven or eight Elite Eights. Georgia doesn't usually have that problem, they don't go to the tournament every year; you guys do seemingly. What benefit is that to you guys and to your players to have the tournament experience and what kind of detriment could it be to Georgia in not having that experience?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think it could be a positive or a negative either way. The positive is you do have some guys with some experience, but last year's team and the year before's team doesn't win this year's games. The other side of it, Georgia hasn't been there for a while. I'm not sure any of those kids have been there, have they? One kid. Just think how exciting it is for them and I remember how excited we were the first time we went and with that set of players, that raises their level. So it works both ways, to be honest with you. I think a lot of people just think it's March and we're supposed to do this and that, I'm fighting that. I would think March, fighting a little bit of the inexperience and what do you do, but what we're both trying to do is make our teams understand it's a privilege to be here, there is 68 out of 351 teams. It's exciting to be here, and really whatever you did in the past, you can point to in some ways but that part of history is you don't change and hopefully we can learn from what we did but I'm sure from his standpoint they're so excited about the opportunity they have because they haven't had it. So I think it's a coin flip on that, I think it works both ways. I'm not downplaying our experience, especially with the three or four guys that have had enormous -- but we have had four or five guys that have had almost none, too, and I can tell that sometimes because when you get in this tournament you've got to focus or every single second. The number of one- and two-point games in this tournament are enormous and there's no question that Georgia is as good as a lot of teams we played. They remind me of an Ohio State or an Illinois or a Purdue, very solid, very stable. You know, those were win-and-lose games for us during the year. Great respect. I think we have a little advantage in experience, I think they have a little advantage in first-time excitement and we'll see what the two will bring.
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