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April 3, 2015
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Michigan State. Tom, we'll ask you to make an opening statement and then we'll go to questions.
COACH IZZO: Well, the opening statement is we're just excited to be here. I've listened to a lot of things in the last three, four days. I would be the first to admit that a month and a half ago I questioned where we are. But we've earned our right to be here, too. So we're not going to apologize anymore. The teams we beat at the end of the year at the Big Ten tournament, and I think we played maybe the toughest of the four teams to get here. So we've earned our right, we're ready to play. We know we're playing a great team in Duke and excited about the opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Coach, because you questioned where you were a month and a half ago, does that mean you enjoy this experience a little bit more than some you've enjoyed in the past? A year ago, what were your expectations for some of these guys?
COACH IZZO: Well, the first part of it is I enjoy every one of them, maybe a little bit more because a little bit of a surprise from where we were. Remember, too, losing those games, they were one-point, two-point games, a missed free throw. It wasn't like we played so bad, we just didn't finish the job. I know Wisconsin is good. We had them down 11 with five minutes left. We just didn't finish the job. It's been exciting, but it's what we do. As far as last year, that was a devastating loss last year because we thought we had a chance to win a national championship with that team. We didn't play well enough that day. That's what the beauty and the terror of this tournament is. You got to play well six straight games to win. So we got four down and two to go.
Q. Coach, which coach of the other three do you go furthest back with? What do you remember most about one of those initial meetings with one of the other three?
COACH IZZO: You know, I think it was Mike, just time, way back, recruiting Chris Webber together, that was in the late '80s. I was an assistant then. I got to know him a little bit then. John, a little later. Yet I've had a pretty good relationship with Bo because they beat our brains in for a while, we beat theirs in. His Division III background, my Division II background, I always knew him and what he accomplished. I like all three guys, but I've probably known Mike the longest.
Q. What is the most unusual thing you did this year to try to fix the free-throw shooting or improve it?
COACH IZZO: You know, I didn't do a lot of the most unusual. In other words, the witch doctors from California that sent me emails, I didn't go with those. The different guys that told me to stand on the right side or the left side, I didn't do those. I just kind of went old school. Unusual, I don't think it's unusual, but we started going early in the morning. We started staying after. We started at 9:00. It was just a matter of getting confidence. There were one or two that were a little bit broken. Travis Trice goes from an 82% shooter to a 64% shooter. That's just a matter he got caught up in the MSU free-throw saga. I can't say I did anything they wanted me to do. They gave me a lot of suggestions. Our incredible alumni, each one of them emailed me probably each and every day. If I would have done what they all told me to do, we'd probably be shooting free throws like this. I kind of stuck to old school, and it's been better, not great.
Q. Tom, such a veteran of Final Fours. Is there something you've done at every one, maybe not superstition? What is the difference between your first Final Four and now? Is there something markedly different?
COACH IZZO: I'm not superstitious. I haven't done anything like that. I don't go for a certain walk, wear a certain tie, walk up the steps a certain way. The difference in my first one and my second one is I learned how to get tickets and hotels done on Sunday night. That first Final Four in Tampa, I think I was doing them on the way to the game. That was not very beneficial. Just the experience of how to handle the media, how to tell your players what to expect. Yet what's been fun for me is every Final Four I've gone to, I've told them what to expect, it doesn't even come close. Like I said to Trav yesterday, Now you see why I was pushing so hard all year. He said, Yeah, but this is way better than what you said. That's kind of cool.
Q. Can you talk about from the start of the season what areas you felt like you needed to address the most, then also how you were able to come up with a plan at the two guard with Bess being injured?
COACH IZZO: Within the first two weeks before the season started, we had Bryn Forbes in there for a while, we had Javon Bess in there for a while, then Bryn Forbes breaks his hand, then Javon Bess breaks his foot. We put Alvin in in the first game against Navy. First three minutes of the game he had a severe high ankle sprain that kept him out five, six weeks. None of those plans worked so good. Bryn played with that cast on his hand, couldn't move his wrist on his left hand. The adjustments I thought we'd have to make, I didn't think we'd be good defensively. I thought we'd be better offensively. We've turned out to be pretty good offensively, but a lot better than I thought defensively.
Q. Tom, you've coached a lot of good backcourts. This backcourt with Denzel and Travis, where does this rank? Are they starting to rank themselves as one of the better ones in Michigan State history?
COACH IZZO: I think they are starting to elevate. I saw firsthand Shabazz Napier really KO'd us last year along with a lot of other teams. I'm not putting Travis Trice in that spot. He's really made some progress. He's been an incredible guard down the stretch. He's really improved down the stretch. Denzel has improved a ton since last year. If there's a guy that's worked harder in his shooting over the years, it would be him. He's worked the hardest. I would still say that 'Zel is a little bit Brett Favre, the gunslinger, makes a couple great plays, then still whatever. But those two together, what they've done on the court is easy to see. What they've done on the court is more difficult. They'd call me, having lunch together, talking about this guy, that guy, how they can help. They're two coaches' sons and they act like them. That makes them very valuable to this team.
Q. Tom, given the culture of your program, the system you've established, if you had three or four one-and-done guys like Duke or Kentucky, would that make it easier to get to the Final Four or would that present its own set of headaches and challenges?
COACH IZZO: I'm not going to downplay my own players. To become a McDonald's All-American, that's the catch word. Sometimes that becomes political, too, where you sign, who you sign with. There's a lot of good players out there. As we're learning in the NBA, there's beginning to be less of those that are making it for any kind of career. The better players you get, you become a better coach. You just have to manage it differently. But better players make you a better coach. I think that's the way it is. If you got a son that wants to come and be one-and-done, and he's good enough, I'll take him - as long as he grows.
Q. Tom, there are still concerns about shooting, even though the number of Final Fours in domes seems to be going down. Is that a concern for you and do you do anything to deal with it?
COACH IZZO: We played on an aircraft carrier where the background was the sea. That don't bother our guys (laughter). I don't know. I agree with it. There's been a couple of domes that I think have been tougher. But this hasn't been one. No matter how we shoot tomorrow, I think this is as good a setup as there is. You have to remember where players have played. It's been on the parks, on a garage in the back of their house. I think if you can shoot the ball, you shoot it. If you can't, you can't. The aircraft carrier, the only difference was you had the wind velocity, you had to check it out and adjust your shot that way. Other than that, that won't be an excuse for us, I can promise you that. I do love the big arena atmospheres of a pro arena. But the Final Four, when you walk out there, like even today's practice, what we did in Detroit, there were 40,000 people there for practice, is an experience like no other. I think for the most part we've gotten enough of these domes that are somewhat better with the sight lines and everything than maybe in 2000 we played in here, we were in nosebleed heaven.
Q. Mike has had a fair amount of success against you. Is it style of play?
COACH IZZO: You know, I don't think so. I think they've had some good teams, to be very honest. We've had some good teams. I'm not sure the two of our best teams have played a lot. So I don't think it's style of play. I think they have just done a better job. Most of those games, a lot of them have been somewhat close, they've been dogfights. There's been a couple that weren't. Some of them were back in the day when we weren't as good. I think you have to give them credit. They've just been a little better. I don't think it's something where I fixated. You're playing the name on the front, all that. We're way beyond that part of our program. But, hey, I just happened to play them more often in the NCAA tournament. He's beaten a lot of people. Their teams have beaten a lot of people over the years. There's always goals, there's always objectives, there's always landmarks that you've got to step beyond as your program builds. This is one of ours that we still haven't conquered, but we're working on it, I promise you that.
Q. The time demands on your profession has caused many coaches to burn out over the years. What has kept you fresh during this time? Do you have any kind of time for a hobby?
COACH IZZO: Hobbies went out the door (smiling). I used to like golf. But I don't play much of that anymore. You know, like everybody else, balancing is hard, especially when you have a family. I still have two kids, one is a sophomore in college, and I've got a little guy who is an eighth grader. Spend a little time there. What I try to do, not to burn out, workout a little bit. But I also try to keep my family involved with my team. We're like one big happy family. Whether it's the meals, whether it's things. Now that the rules are loosening up, you can do more. Thank God my wife is one that puts up with that. I think especially my son now at 13, 14, he's thrilled when those guys come around. So burnout I think happens more if you don't enjoy what you're doing, you're just there for the grind of it. The day that happens to me, I'll be sayonara. Mike and I talked the other day, you know, reinvigorating every time you get to a Final Four, every time you have a team that maybe did things that even amaze you. That's kind of cool.
Q. You talked about not apologizing for being here. Back when you played Kentucky, when you say they had nine McDonald's All-Americans, and you said you had two Burger King All-Americans. You love being against the world. Is there any of that in this team or are you past that?
COACH IZZO: You're trying to ruin my press conference (smiling). You know, I'm past that. I'm a victim of a seven seed beating us and winning the national championship. I've also been here with different kinds of seeded teams. I don't think the seeding as much matters anymore. The one seed is the one seed, and I have all the respect for them. If you look at how this is set up now, there's so much more parity than what there used to be. Some of the seeding goes to who you played during the year, you know. I thought we played a tough non-conference schedule. People think we played a poor Big Ten schedule because there weren't a lot of rated teams. I listen to different shows once in a while. I think the eye test is important. People can see if that's a good team or a bad team. Sometimes I think we get too analytical and we worry about this, that and the other thing. Listen, what we did since about the middle of February, beginning, we played a lot of good teams, we played some great teams on the road. Had a heck of a Big Ten tournament with Ohio State, Maryland, Wisconsin. Then if you look here, we've had as tough a road as anybody. I just look at this whole thing as I'm excited to be here. I don't care about the seed. I've never cared about the seed. I've been a one seed and been beaten. That's not so great either. Just maybe helps you the first game so far. I think nowadays there's getting to be more pressure on the one seed playing a 16, and sooner or later it's going to happen. Maybe I'll just stay as a two and up for now, or two and down.
Q. Coach, you mentioned a little bit about social media earlier. Do you convey social media to be harmful or helpful with your players?
COACH IZZO: I don't think social media is helpful to any human being on the planet. How is that? I mean that from the bottom of my heart. If somebody wants to rip me for it, rip me in recruiting for it, what good is it? You have this freedom to criticize people. I never worry about what my players tweet, never. I can control some of that. But I challenge every human being in this room, if they start talking about your son, your daughter on the social media like they do players, there will be some fist fighting going on. Those of you that have to do it for a profession, God love you, I appreciate it, I respect it. If you can't go eye-to-eye with somebody, tell them what your problems are, then you don't belong talking to me or my players. So sorry, I'm not a fan.
Q. All four of these games have great pedigrees. They're from elite programs. Three of you have won national championships. What Kentucky is trying to do here, though, obviously has attracted a great deal of attention throughout the country, is one of the big stories this weekend. How impressed are you with a team that has a chance to do something that no one's done since Indiana in '74?
COACH IZZO: I think Kentucky's trying to do such a big thing. I'm not on social media, even I know it's a big deal here. It's impressive. John has done a great job. I don't think you realize, everybody talks about you want great players, but there is a job in managing egos and managing situations. That's what I respect most that he's done. He's gotten them to play together, selfless. He's gotten them to work. He gets on 'em. I mean, there's no pampering of these guys. Let's face it, they have a heck of an opportunity to do something that hasn't been done since Bobby Knight way back. They still got two games left. There will be some pressure on them, too, but he's handled it so well. I respect what they've done. If it's us, I hope we can beat 'em.
Q. So much of what you do, scheduling, for example, is about the NCAA tournament. Is that part of why you have open locker room after every game? Not many coaches do that. Is there another strategy behind that?
COACH IZZO: Just trying to get my guys some attention on the social media, you know (laughter). No, you know what, believe this or not, I have great respect for all of you. Jud Heathcote told me once sometime that I always used and thought about. One year we weren't very good, the media ripping him. After practices on Tuesdays, we'd have Media Day. He'd be there telling jokes. One day I said, How can you do that to the guys that are ripping you? He said to me, Remember, everybody's got a job, everybody's got a boss. I respect that you all have jobs. My players are part of your jobs. For the most part our media has respected my situation. So we kind of need each other, whether we like each other or not. I think the media has been more than fair to me in my years. The relationship has helped. I think the player, if it's handled right, you can trust people, it's a good deal all the way around.
Q. You mentioned earlier that you weren't really sure what to expect from the defense this year. Why is that? What are some of the adjustments you made throughout the year to really improve it?
COACH IZZO: We lost Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne. Those two guards were the best tandem I had since Cleaves and Charlie Bell probably. They were really, really good. Didn't get enough credit for how good they were because both of them had some injuries. We lost them. When we lost Bess, he was going to be one of my better defenders. We weren't real physical. We weren't as strong as most of my teams have been. We just kind of rallied around. My assistants did a great job of getting guys to buy into the team-team defense. You always play some team defense, but we're almost strictly team defense. Individually we're average. Don't tell Mike, but we're average, okay? Collectively we've been pretty good, pretty solid. The numbers in the tournament have been really good. I just hope that can continue for another game.
Q. Tom, as you watch film of Duke, everyone talks about the three-headed monster freshman. How valuable is what Quinn Cook doing for that team offensively?
COACH IZZO: I hate to say it because I know Jahlil very well, I know Tyus very well, Winslow not as well. My MVP of that team is Cook. I just think he made adjustments. He's got experience. He plays hard. He plays both ends of the court. He wants to take big shots. Seems like a class guy. Yeah, I'm a big fan of Quinn Cook. I just think he has everything. He's been through the wars, you know. He's been through some disappointments. I think that makes you a better person, I really do.
Q. Earlier you touched on how Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine have been leaders off the court for you this season, have grown in that. How would you comment on that directly to the relationship of Tum Tum, and how would you evaluate his NCAA performance thus far?
COACH IZZO: Tum Tum is like the Eveready bunny. You turn him on and turn him off at the end of practice. He goes and goes and goes. He doesn't have the experience. He has the respect of the players, but he doesn't have the knowledge. He came from The Bahamas. He was in the States for a little while. He didn't grow up. Him walking into this building, it was priceless to see the look on his face. You have an appreciation for that when you coach. But I think he's going to be a phenomenal leader down the stretch. But to lead most of the time, you've got to have experience and knowledge of what you're talking about. He has the wherewithal, he has the energy, he has the respect of the players, as he gains the knowledge, Draymond Green tells me he'll be one of the best players that ever played here.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the players. We'll continue with questions.
Q. Tom and Trav, in the past I guess we've heard things, stories, that have kind of gone into the annals of you may be slashing videotapes with a sledgehammer. Is there anything in particular you've done with this group to kind of get them over the hump or something that impresses Trav. He's grinning there. Just the way they've responded.
COACH IZZO: You know, this has been a mellow year. I'm mellowing now. Those are things, and it did happen once after a Big Ten tournament, but it was to prove a point. It was to forget the game. I didn't want to watch it. That year we went on to a Final Four. It wasn't all that bad. Our program, our team, we have to do it a different way. We don't have all the All-Americans all the time. We're trying to make them. Sometimes we go through a little bit more. I think the one thing that I've learned listening to everybody. There's not a guy on this team that I won't love and care about till the day I die. That's the one thing I think time spent, whether it be in my office, home, riding in a car, I think that's what we do. I think that's what they do. Everybody does it a different way. I know some coaches barely talk to their teams. I know some players move on, never hear from their coaches. That's not the way it is here. It doesn't make it better or worse. The one thing it's not is phoney. What you see is what you get. Sometimes what I see, I go, Oh, geez, how did I do that? The results have been okay. The friendships have been great. They last a lot longer than just the four years they're here. That I'm really appreciative of.
TRAVIS TRICE: I can't think of any stories. Like coach said, he's been calm this year. Just a couple clipboards here and there. It's a lot less than past years.
Q. Seems like there are a lot of similarities between your team and UConn a year ago. You played that UConn team. Do you feel that?
COACH IZZO: The one thing I will say about that team, that's why I really appreciate what Kevin did, but to think -- was it in their conference tournament that Louisville beat them by 40-some or was it in the end of the season?
Q. End of the season.
COACH IZZO: End of the season, but it was near the end. By the end of the season we were playing pretty well those last 10 games. If you look at what they did, it's more incredible than what we did. That's what happens when you get a couple guards that are hotter, couple players step up a notch, you start believing in yourself. It's not like we're coming from a team that was 16-16. I mean, we had a very good team this year that struggled at the line a little bit. I learned from Kevin because it tells you that no seed matters, it's how your guys play. The energy that our guys have played with, the enthusiasm, I'm amazed. I thought we had two practices at home. We got better in those practices. That shouldn't happen at this time of year. But they deserve the credit for that, not the coaches.
BRANDEN DAWSON: I would definitely agree with coach.
COACH IZZO: That's a first (laughter).
BRANDEN DAWSON: Just our whole approach towards the tournament, just the way we've been playing. A lot of people sent us pictures with the whole similarity of our schedule, our conference schedule, their schedule. It's really the same. Like coach said, guys on their team I know just bought in, just played their role, really just played with passion. They just believed in one another.
Q. Denzel, how would you describe your relationship with your brother and how has he being around the past couple years helped you?
DENZEL VALENTINE: Yeah, our relationship is really great. It's unique. It's really special. We care for each other a lot. He also holds me accountable, you know, to my actions and gives me advice and motivates me a lot, too. He helps out a lot and I'm glad he's been on this journey. Not everybody gets to say that their brother was here while they went to a Final Four. I'm just glad he's been along. He played at Oakland University which is a mid-major school and they probably couldn't go to a Final Four and I'm glad he's here to go to a Final Four.
Q. Travis and Denzel, coach mentioned before you guys got out here about shooting on an aircraft carrier, adjustments you make for that. Does it make any adjustments shooting in a dome a little easier or is there any kind of adjustment at all?
TRAVIS TRICE: Yeah, I think it helps a lot. I remember my first game, there is no-back drop when you're playing on an aircraft carrier. I think just being in here and being able to shoot. Anytime you get familiar with an arena, you should be fine. I think the practices before have helped us a lot.
DENZEL VALENTINE: I didn't play on the aircraft carrier, but I played in a couple domes. Get some shots up, get used to it. Get used to the fans, the stands.
Q. Travis, some of your health concerns over the years have been well-documented. Can you talk about that and how incredible it is from there to get to this point. Tom, can you touch on that, as well.
TRAVIS TRICE: I've been through a lot in my four years here. Kind of hit rock bottom really going into my sophomore year when I didn't really know if I was even going to live or not. So I think it makes me appreciate everything that much more. I just got to thank God for bringing me out of that and putting me where I'm at now with this opportunity.
COACH IZZO: He has had some unique injuries, almost none of them basketball related. It's been strange some of the things he's gone through. But I think, as they say, if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger. He's a walking example of that. This year he's been the healthiest he's ever been. From the end of that game last year in New York, he was on a mission. The whole team was. For the most part we stayed pretty injury-free other than Javon and Branden a little bit during one stretch. It's been a pretty good year for injuries. If he's healthy, I'm healthy.
Q. So many Final Four runs you've made, what makes this group of guys next to you so special?
COACH IZZO: Nobody counted them in. We weren't even ranked in the beginning of the year, although neither was Notre Dame and some other teams. And they didn't complain about that. We understood where we were. We understood we had some things to prove. We weren't doing it to prove you wrong, we were doing it to prove us right, that we believed in ourselves. They had an incredible summer. No matter where I was this summer, somebody was calling me telling me guys were here, guys were here. It was always guys, not a guy. They were together, spent time together. You hear those stories. Sometimes they're stories, sometimes they're fabricated. I got to watch them, live them, now I see the results of them. That's pretty neat.
Q. Denzel, I didn't want to ask you this with your coach here, so plug your ears, Tom. He's 1-8 against Duke. Is that any part of it, to get over this Duke hump?
DENZEL VALENTINE: Yeah, that's big motivation because that many losses... They're a great team, though. They have a great history. We fear no one. We're going to come out and play them like they're any regular team. We're not going to say, Oh, they're Duke. We've beaten a lot of great teams this tournament, in the Big Ten tournament. We're just going to attack them like they're any other team and play with no fear.
Q. Coach and Travis, seasons like yours are filled with crossroads moments. In Iowa they had a 27-10 run right before the end of the first half. You got a technical, Tom. You came out and played better. Did that kind of show you what your team has? Trav, I think you hit like eight straight three-pointers. Did that also galvanize you going forward?
COACH IZZO: I think a coach always tries to hold people accountable. I was trying to hold the official accountable. It wasn't my fault at all. That was one of those games, as you say, where you got over the hump. Really kind of figured out something about your team. I love what Iowa has done there. Franny, those guys played so well in that stretch. He kind of took over. We had a great run in the second half. That propelled us. That gave us a little more confidence. This team needed to build some confidence. We got a lot of new bodies. Even the bodies that were here, they had to take on different roles. When you have games like that, sometimes even a game like Notre Dame where you felt you played pretty good. We thought we had some games during the year we played good and lost. It was because of a missed free throw or bad turnover, correctable. But we were in the game. We felt like all year long, there were maybe two games we weren't in. I think that's why we think we deserve to be here.
TRAVIS TRICE: That game was so long ago, I kind of forget about it. I do remember Denzel had a great game, also BJ did, too. That was a game where we all played bad in the first half. We all came out strong altogether. That was a team effort. Anytime you're down on the road against a team like Iowa, it's going to take a complete effort. That's all I remember.
Q. Tum Tum, how surprised are you not just to be at the Final Four, but to be starting on a Final Four team given that you were something of an afterthought in recruiting?
TUM TUM NAIRN, JR.: Well, first of all, it's just a blessing to be here. You know what I mean? Not a lot of kids get an opportunity to play for Coach Izzo or play for Michigan State or play at a top program in the country, especially where I come from. I don't take it for granted. It's because of these guys and the coaching staff and the managers and everybody that's around our program that we are who we are today. What I love about these guys is we had our ups and downs this year. Nobody put their heads down, you know. It's tough when you lose games that you think you're supposed to win, but it's even better when your leaders, Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson, everybody picks their heads up in the locker room. After the game against Wisconsin, it was a tough loss for us, but I can remember BJ and Travis, Denzel telling us we're not done. As long as we continue to stick together, we'll be fine.
Q. Gavin and Travis, I would like to know what you make of all the outpouring and support you've seen from the fans all the way through and what you're expecting today when you go out there?
GAVIN SCHILLING: There's been quite a lot of Michigan State fans. I'm just happy to see that we have such a great support. It just means a lot. It just shows, you know, how good of a school it is. Our fans are just great and I love it.
TRAVIS TRICE: Our fan support has been great, especially in the tournament. Even in the Big Ten tournament. Even Syracuse last week, that felt like a home game, honestly. There was a lot of green in there. It's been great. Even when we came back from winning the Elite 8 game, our arena was packed with our fans coming to see us home. They've been great and hopefully they continue it this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Spartans. We'll see you tomorrow.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports