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October 11, 2018

Tom Izzo

Madison Square Garden - New York, New York

THE MODERATOR: We are joined at the podium by Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. Tom enters his 24th season with the Spartans, earning 20 NCAA Tournament berths. Last season Michigan State won the Big Ten regular season championship.

Coach, welcome. If you'd like to start with a statement, we'll open it up for questions.

TOM IZZO: I'm excited every year, but I guess a little more excited this year just because I've got what I think is a pretty good team. I think we've got something that we haven't had in the last couple years. We've got more experience, maybe not quite as much talent, losing the two lottery picks we lost. I got good guys and I got three players that have been around a while now, actually four in McQuaid, Cassius, Nick Ward, Josh Langford, I think I got three guys that have been through the wars, have started most of their careers. I think they give us a chance to be good on both ends of the court.

We did something last year that I'm not sure has ever been done in the league, but definitely here, leading the nation in four categories with defense, rebounding, blocked shots, yet wasn't quite good enough. We're out to make amends on that. I love the guys I got, and looking forward to the challenge.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open the floor for questions for Coach Izzo.

Q. You are a little bit unique in that you lose three guys, good players, bring in five, but the chemistry hasn't gone backwards at all, which you would expect. How much of that is recruiting, getting to know them, how much was pure luck?
TOM IZZO: Well, you're right. Some of those guys, other than Aaron Henry, had been up to our place a lot as sophomores and juniors and seniors. Aaron might be the most ready to play just because of his body type. He came from one of the best programs in Indiana, won a championship, so knows how to win.

I think the way that happens is if you're ego-less. One thing Jaren, especially Miles, has maybe taught this program, you can be great without being entitled. This day and age, that's not always common. Those guys have helped. The new guys came in, guys came in, they talked to them, that's all helped.

I would agree with you, I think our chemistry is really good. I think our new stars, which would be Cassius, Josh, Nick, do not have big egos. I think it really helped Nick. I don't say this very often, but it helped him, exploring the waters is sometimes a problem because kids come back, they don't go they're kind of half in. He jumped all the way in. He took what they said, took it to heart, lost weight, probably had the best five months he's ever had on the face of the earth.

Q. We haven't talked to you since the court hearing in New York. Your program was brought up in a good light. What is your response to that, to hearing that? Maybe some vindication with that?
TOM IZZO: For me, there's no vindication. It's sad what's happened. But the problem I have is I learned last year that I don't know what's going on with all that court case stuff out there. I don't know what's going on with each program. I have enough trouble covering my own program. It seems like if we pass judgment early, everybody in the world was guilty, now it looks like it could go a different way.

I think it's sad for college basketball and college sports. I think it's the nature of the beast in what we dealt with. I don't feel vindicated because you shouldn't be commended for doing what you're supposed to do, you should be -- and we didn't do anything any different than just about every program that I know here does it the same way. I take my hat off to all the Big Ten coaches.

Yet it's not healthy for our organization. It's not healthy for college basketball. It's not healthy for college sports. Hopefully something will come of it. I'm not just privy to know all the circumstances, so I'm not going to comment on things that I don't really know enough about and just speculate.

Q. You saw Cassius Winston take over games in conference play, but struggled in the Syracuse game especially. Do you see him being that closer, taking that role on this year?
TOM IZZO: I do. I think Cassius is one of the smartest players. I've been blessed with the Valentines and Draymonds, who I consider have huge basketball IQs. If I think this team in general is a little better, I think we have a better basketball IQ than some teams we've had. But Cassius is right up there with one of the best we've ever had as far as his basketball IQ. It's just putting the rest of his game together that's going to be a key.

We all struggled. The coach did a bad job against Syracuse. That wasn't Cassius. And Syracuse did a great job. So the combination of the two, we had the third best three-point shooting team that shot 8-36 or something.

I don't look at anything negative with that as far as Cassius. I look at what he did with his body, continue to build that up, get stronger, get a little tougher. It's amazing when you look at the stats, he led the Big Ten with almost 56% three-point shooting in conference play last year. Then we do what we did in that game...

Maybe it goes by the adage, Live by the three, sometimes die by the three. I think Cassius does have a chance to be one of the better players in this league because his skill level, because of his intelligence, and because he's got now experience.

Q. With the off-season, how did you prepare the new athletes as well as the veteran athletes? You came off a good season. How did you prepare them to get ready for this season?
TOM IZZO: I'm glad you reminded me, we did win 30 games, yet I can't blame the media or the fans because I felt the same way. When you expect things, they don't work out that way, it's disappointing.

But I thought in all honesty, this off-season was really important to get Nick back in the fold after he tested the waters. Thank God that was no work. I mean, he came back, that day he started working out twice a day. As I said, I see some guys that end up half in when they come back. That's what most people warn you about. A guy tests the water and comes back, sometimes he's not all the way in. Nick was all the way in. That made it easier.

Josh and McQuaid are two guys that they're just grinders. They kind of set the tone that Miles and Tum Tum left. That's just that constant work ethic. Pretty soon we started dragging everybody with.

So the off-season, the way the NCAA has done it now, we get more time in the off-season, I think it's mostly good, a couple bads that you have to make sure you balance everything. But I thought we had a great summer. It wasn't a battle cry of, let's make up. We knew we were a good team last year, we knew we got beat by a good team, we knew we didn't play or shoot well. It wasn't like we were trying to correct a million things, we were just trying to -- our battle cry this summer is we got to finish the job now. We finished it in the Big Ten but we did not finish it in the NCAA Tournament.

Q. A little bit earlier you touched on Cassius Winston, what a great basketball IQ he has. What about in terms of book smarts, overall intelligence? I know he got into Harvard, enjoys reading. How would you rank him among some of the other players you have in terms of overall intelligence, leadership?
TOM IZZO: Strange, you're right. He got into Harvard. I mean, I don't have a lot of guys that do that.

He's been great. He's been great because to his mother, she would rather him be a great student than a great player. That balance, too, of this day and age of college sports is refreshing. He's done a great job in the classroom. He's an accountable kid, raised right.

If I'm working on something with Cassius, it's the sense of urgency to be great, not just really good. There's three phases, if you ask me: there's good, great and elite. To win championships and to someday be an NBA Draft pick, you got to start hitting that elite status. Only the best survive. Sometimes his unselfishness is something -- I'm trying to get him a little bit more selfish.

That's a cool quality to have to coach. But you aren't going to get many better kids than Cassius Winston. I'm just blessed to have him another year.

Q. You've obviously been around long enough, from the 16 game, 18 game, now 20 games, what is your thought about that? Seems like it's a tradeoff of a couple of those guaranteed wins you'd have at home.
TOM IZZO: Well, always as a coach you get mad at Jim Delany because he keeps moving this thing up, then you see what it does for our league, for TV, for exposure, and he's brilliant.

It's something that I think we talked about in our meetings. Let's face it, the only problem is you'd like to have the flexibility to be able to schedule a bunch of other games non-conference. I think that's part of the fun. That's what we've done a lot. Probably will still continue to do it. But something that fans and media should understand, an average conference game is usually tougher than a very good non-conference game because the conference, they know each other, you're going to play in front of a rivalry crowd, things like that.

If you play even the bottom rung of the Big Ten, you play them at their place, that's an extra game. When we went from 16 to 18, that was two games, it seemed like four. Now going 18 to 20, we've got a pretty tough non-conference schedule, starting out with the No. 1 team in the country in Kansas. It's going to be an interesting challenge.

But I think the madness behind it, it usually works out best for the student-athletes, for the media, for the fans, and for the players because you play in the best arenas, you play in the best games, you play in front of the most people. It gets you the exposure you're looking for. Sometimes for a coach, it's harder because it is just constantly grinding it. I think most coaches like it, too. I know I do. I'd rather play good people.

What does an off-day do? Take your wife out to dinner because you're playing a dog? Once the season starts, that doesn't matter anyway, because she knows dinner is usually at the end of the year.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you.

TOM IZZO: Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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