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April 2, 2000
Q. The people that play Florida talk about how they like to get them in their style of
game and lure you into attempting shots that might look good at the time but actually get
them running. What do you do to prevent that?
COACH IZZO: We like to run, too. Maybe some of that is our style also. We've played
some teams in the past, all these guys have been involved with teams like Iowa, who maybe
do that as well as anybody did over the past couple years. So I think we have an
understanding for that. I think these guys want to run, too. We don't want to take bad
shots, but I think we want to run and take good shots. So that style, as you know, is 180
degrees from what we went through yesterday, but I think these guys have been through it
Q. For Mateen and for Morris, there's obviously an experience factor here. You guys
have been here before, at least to the Final Four. They weren't until yesterday. They're a
young team, you're a senior-dominated team. Can you talk about that factor, how it plays
into the game from a player's perspective, or does the fact that Florida has played so
many games at this point not matter for them?
MATEEN CLEAVES: Well, I think I mean a National Championship game is new to both of us.
This is our first time playing a National Championship game. And the thing about us, we're
seniors. This is our last go-around. We just got to go out there and be hungry because we
don't have another chance. If they don't win or whatever the case may be, they have
another chance to get here. This is our last chance. So that should be a little extra
motivation for us because we don't, like I said, we have no other chance. We just want to
make the best of a situation.
MORRIS PETERSON: I think our experience factor definitely got us to this point. Like
Mateen said, both of us haven't been in this situation of being a National Championship.
They've played so many games, they've won a lot of games. I think on that side, I don't
think, you know, it's really much of a big difference.
Q. Tom, I know losing Mateen early was tough to stomach. But could you sort of address
from a developmental standpoint maybe how it helped other guys step into the fray and
Morris, specifically, in terms of jumping into a more prominent role because of his
COACH IZZO: Well, I think a couple things. It wasn't a very enjoyable experience for me
or him, but I think a couple things happened. No. 1, I think he remained the leader of
this team, so he did a lot more from the bench and maybe encouraging guys, I think almost
demanding what Morris should do and I think Charlie made some big strides with his
ball-handling, his passing skills, and was becoming a very good point guard, right before
we switched back. I think both A.J. and Andre took on more leadership roles. Every guy, I
really believe, had to step it up a notch, and I'm sure in the long run that helped us
all. On the other side of the coin, I think maybe some of the progress of our younger kids
were hindered because we had so many different guys out of position. So, you know, I can't
say that it worked totally to our advantage. I do think for a couple of these guys they
stepped up and really they had it in them; they just maybe relied on Mateen and he pushed
them while he was out. I think that helped us.
Q. Tom, when you first got the head coaching job, Michigan was about as trendy a
program as there was in the country. How did you sell Michigan State, especially to your
COACH IZZO: Maybe they'd be better at answering it, but I'll try to answer it the best
I could. We just talked about, you know, coming in and trying to do something special.
Most of these guys had spent a lot of time recruiting them at a younger age, trying to
sell them that we could get it done. You have to give them credit because they did take
the chance, you know, I think that's why they've remained humble. That's why they've
remained with the blue-collar attitude, because that's the kind of guys they were. They
didn't need to go to just flash and dash. They kind of wanted to go and build their own
roads. Thank God they did.
MATEEN CLEAVES: Well, you know, Coach was a very, you know, you could just tell the
kind of guy he was, very humble and very hard worker. Whenever you have someone like that,
you know, a guy like myself, you know, I fell in love with him because, you know, you
could tell he was a very hard worker. He really meant what he said. When you get recruited
a lot of coaches tell you a lot of things. You could just tell he was coming from the
heart. He was very sincere about what he was saying. That's the reason why I came to
Q. Tom, the last three years have been pretty good to you. I know there were some tough
moments the first two years. Can you talk about what you recall was the lowest moment
there? And also I think there was a game about a month or so before the end of that season
where you had a fairly vigorous workout right before the game started. Can you say what
motivated you to do that? For any of the players that went through that, did you think he
COACH IZZO: Yes. You know, the first two years there were some ups and downs. I mean it
was, first of all, getting these, you know, Morris the first year and yet he red-shirted.
Then when Mateen and A.J. came in, you know, there was a lot who have hype with that class
and, of course Mateen was hurt early and had that body cast on for, I don't know, what was
it two and a half, three months? I remember starting practice that year and he still had a
half-body cast on so his back wouldn't move. The low points were, you know, we didn't know
how to get him through that. We had some tough losses. We lost in our own tournament to
Central Michigan. That was a tough point. But maybe there were a lot of things changed, we
got beat by Northwestern -- I think it was five in a row later that year, and we bounced
back and won, I think, five of our next seven or six out of our next eight including a
tough game to Minnesota. We did have our -- we were getting off to a lot of slow starts,
and it seemed like in practice we were playing harder than some games. So we went out and
played our war drill in the upstairs gym, before which game, do you remember guys? Penn
State, maybe you should comment, A.J., we had some fun up there, went out, played very
well early. Maybe that set the tone that what these guys could accomplish. You know, a lot
of things have been said about some of the goofy things we do. But if you know your guys,
and that's what I think I have an advantage of, you know, some of the goofy things we did
they had the most fun doing. And that's what's been enjoyable for me.
CHRIS PLONSKY: A.J., do you want to talk about that wonderful day?
A.J. GRANGER: Not really. Coach was right on that. We were getting off to some slow
starts in some games. He wanted to take a direct approach to it and find a way to solve
the problem. It worked. We came out and played better that game and luckily we didn't have
to do it after that.
Q. Coach, we expected an ugly game yesterday and we certainly got it. What kind of game
do you expect tomorrow against Florida in the final?
COACH IZZO: When we say an ugly game, we contributed a lot to that, too. I'm not
sitting here, make sure you don't take that wrong, that, you know, there's different
styles and everybody has their own style. Like I've said before, there's a lot of ways to
skin a cat. I think tomorrow's game will be more up-and-down the court. I think we want to
run, they want to run, we want up tempo, they want up tempo. We do some -- they do things
better than we do, hopefully we do things better than they do. It should be a game that's
180 degrees from yesterday but it doesn't mean it will be. The game plan for both coaches
would both say that it would be.
Q. Tom, you have a deep and confident bench, as does Florida. The most striking
difference would be theirs has quite a bit more scoring punch. Do you need to get more
points out of your bench? Are you at all concerned about them wearing you down?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, I am a little bit for two reasons. No. 1, I do think we need to get
more scoring out of our bench. I think we have the potential to get more scoring out of
our bench. But, No. 2, as far as wearing us down, I think we'll utilize our bench enough
so it doesn't and I think these five guys sitting here have kind of been through so many
wars, the NCAA Tournament, thanks to a few longer timeouts, kind of helps in that respect.
But there's no doubt that Florida is the deepest, most talented team we play. In other
words, Illinois was that way, but it seems like everybody they bring in is a clone to the
guy that replaced him. So they are the deepest team in that respect that we've played.
Q. Tom, for you and a couple of the coaches, neither four teams shot well yesterday. Do
you blame some of that on the dome environment? Players just not being accustomed to the
spatialness and the surroundings behind the basket?
COACH IZZO: Answer real quick, then maybe the guys that should answer are the coaches,
as you say, I think that's probably a true statement. But I think this is probably as nice
a domed arena, or stadium, that we've ever played in as far as having some closeness to it
and not feel like you're out in the middle. I think it was due more to, you know, you get
the tournament time and like everybody and every sport, we've always said defense wins
Championships. I think all the defense has picked up some. You didn't get the same looks
you did during the year. Maybe these guys want to answer it, Pete and A.J. and Mateen,
MORRIS PETERSON: I think you do have to give credit to the defense. But sometimes when
you get in the big games, you get excited. Your adrenaline starts pumping. I think it's
just a matter of feeling comfortable. I think the second half we shot a little bit better
and things started to settle down for us.
A.J. GRANGER: I don't think it has anything to do with playing in the dome or anything.
Like Pete said, it was just, you know, a matter of a little bit of nerves there at the
beginning of the game. We did come out in the second half and shoot better. Teams are
playing better defense. It's just harder to shoot the ball.
Q. Tom, could you talk about Florida's press, what makes it effective and what do you
have to do?
COACH IZZO: I think a couple things make it effective. First of all, Billy's done a
great job, I think they're very well-coached. They do an incredible job of what we call
back-tipping. They come up from behind, knock balls loose, like good pressing teams do.
No. 2, they have very good athletes. You have to have great athletes to run that kind of
press. No. 3, they have depth. So the good athletes are always fresh athletes because he
does a great job of substituting them. So I think those three factors are the reason that
press is effective.
Q. Coach, how important is it to you in terms of building a program as opposed to just
building a team to have Magic Johnson here and have Jud here and have them be sort of
actively involved in having the tradition?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think, you know, it's been fun for me at Michigan State in the five
years I've been the head coach is we've tried to bring the past and the present together.
When we are asked how do you build a good program, you know, if you look at the Kentuckys
and Dukes and North Carolina and Kansas and whoever else, Indiana around here, it's the
players from the past that are so important. And because they -- they're the ones that
really started everything. So we've put a lot into that. These guys all know these guys, I
think Steve Smith's coming in tonight, Eric Snow. It's really, I think, been fun for me to
see those guys from the past come back and honestly enjoy what these guys are trying to
accomplish. At the same time in the summers and that, they get to spend some time with
them. So it's incredibly important to me in building a program.
Q. Two-part question. Mateen and Morris, can you talk about what went into your
decision to come back from your senior season instead of going to the NBA. Coach, can you
talk about what it's like to have three seniors in the National Championship game?
MORRIS PETERSON: I think it was a matter of being around the Spartan family. These guys
have really been great as far as being like brothers to me, and Coach being like a father.
There was no doubt in my mind that I would ever want to leave. And hopefully, I can get a
sixth year and try to come back.
COACH IZZO: I vote for that.
MATEEN CLEAVES: Well, the main thing for me, like Morris said, I just wanted to come
back another year, hang out with the guys. You know, once I hurt my foot, a lot of people
thought I had regrets about leaving. I didn't. Really right now I'm still on schedule to
get my degree. You know, I just love, you know, hanging out with the family. Everybody
talked about well, since you hurt your foot, did you regret about coming back and that
type of thing. I haven't. If we wouldn't have won the Big Ten Championship, Big Ten
Tournament Championship or got to the Final Four, I still would have had a great time
coming back. I'm just blessed that I came back and now we have a chance to win the
COACH IZZO: As far as it goes for me, these guys had been incredible in that respect. I
think they've been great role models. And Mateen says it best, you know, Morris, that I
don't know what they thought inside, but, you know, they never gave me any inclination
that they were leaving and there's no doubt they could have. And yet I think that it's
paid benefits for them. But Mateen didn't think, when he got hurt, he didn't question it.
But I did. You know, I worried about it for him, because I knew how hard he had worked all
summer, and those are the things that are hard. I think it is incredibly important for the
NBA and the NCAA that guys stay in school. I think everybody would be better off, not
because whether guys are good enough or not, but just, you know, that's why I appreciate
when guys come back, because I think most of the guys that came back, whether it be the
Smiths and Johnsons and Snows and the other pros that we've had, I think 90 percent of
them probably told you guys to try to hang tight for one more year and you can enjoy that
other part later but this is a once in a lifetime.
Q. Question for Mateen. Growing up in Flint, you always knew the difference between
Michigan State and Michigan. But some people from around other parts of the country
probably don't know the difference. Could you explain for them, what is the difference in
perception between the two schools and how they perceive each other?
MATEEN CLEAVES: Well, at Michigan State you wear green. At Michigan you wear blue.
(Laughter.) No. I mean, in Michigan, you know, Michigan is the, you know, pretty much --
when I was coming up, was the high-rank school. Michigan was a school that everyone wanted
to go to. Michigan, you know, was always on TV, they had, you know, they were
All-Americans, they had all the flashy players and that type of thing. When I came up, my
father was a Michigan State guy. You know, I always went for the underdog, you know, so I
really fell in love with Michigan State because, you know, the guards they had coming
through there were Magic Johnson, Scott Skiles, Steve Smith, Eric Snow, I can go on and on
about the guards that played there. I've always been a guy that kind of roots for the
underdog. Back in Flint, where I come from, in the State of Michigan, Michigan was the big
thing. You know, Michigan State was always second to Michigan, you know. So I just, as a
kid, I just always went for the underdog in my house, you know, if there was a
Michigan/Michigan State game, my father wouldn't allow you to watch Michigan, you had to
watch Michigan State. So Michigan State was second to them when I was coming up.
Q. Are you -- do you still feel like an underdog?
MATEEN CLEAVES: No, I don't feel like an underdog. And that's a credit to Coach and the
program he has built here.
Q. For Charlie or Andre, both, can you do anything to simulate that press? Can you do
seven on five in practice or anything? Coach, could you talk about your relationship with
Billy, how close of friends you are with him and if you know any secrets to that press
because of your relationship with him?
ANDRE HUTSON: We've done a great job all year long practicing against presses. We have
a great scout squad that goes at us every day in practice. You're right, we do put six,
seven players out there to try to work on that. I'm sure today we'll have a bunch of
people out there trying to stop us. But, you know, we have a great coaching staff that
works, you know, all hours of the night and tries to break a lot of film down. I'm sure
they have a scheme for us to try to break their press.
CHARLIE BELL: Like Andre said, you know, we always go against six, seven guys. In
practice we always try to make it harder than what it's going to be in the game. I really
think that helps us out in the game because it makes it a lot easier going up against only
five guys instead of six or seven at practice. Mateen, myself, Morris, we have enough
great ball-handlers where we can break the press, get in the open court and make things
COACH IZZO: As far as Billy, Billy and I are good friends. We're not guys that see each
other all the time, but I think I have great respect for him and what he's accomplished. I
think the job he's done at Florida has been incredible, you know, when you watch him on
film, they're very, very well-coached. They run a lot of great things, they're very sound.
I did talk to him quite a bit the other night, and you know, got to know him a little bit
more when he was at Kentucky. He's done a great job. I think there's going to be a lot
more success in Billy Donovan's life since he's a young coach, that has really turned the
corner I think.
Q. Tom, you're at the top of your profession, one game away from a National Title.
Could you talk a little bit about what it was like for you in the beginning when you
started at Michigan State and you were maybe further down the bench, and what allowed you
to persevere in order to reach this point in your career?
COACH IZZO: I remember when I recruited Mateen, I told him that, you know, some day it
will be -- we'll be on National TV and you'll be highlighted. I remember we played at
Wisconsin, the game was on National TV his first year it kind of highlighted him. That's
where the program, as far as my era, started. And we just kind of, you know, gradually
grew. But I don't think any of us -- I think that's the neat part of these guys being here
-- have forgotten the other side of the fence, because we went through some difficult
times. We went through some times that, you know, weren't a lot of fun. And I guess as
they say, "That's what makes winning all the sweeter." So, you know, I hope that
our young guys look at these guys and appreciate maybe how they got there and what they've
done, and I think through whether it be A.J. or Charlie, Andre, Morris or Mateen, each one
of them have done a good job of telling the younger guys, "Hey, this is what we do
here, this is how we do it here, this is the demands we have here, this is the obligation
that you have to the program and to our team," and that's what, to me, has made this
a special group.
Q. Tom and Mateen, probably since the Butler game Brett Nelson has been Florida's best
player in this tournament. From a coach's standpoint, are you surprised seeing him come in
with that fearless play? What does that do on the court when you see the next wave on the
MATEEN CLEAVES: Well, from watching -- from watching him play this year, it's like, I
mean it definitely makes your job tough. You never have a chance to relax, you know.
Sometimes when you play teams and they bring in the subs, I mean you can't relax or take
plays out, but it's a tad bit easier than the first unit. When he comes in, he comes in
with a lot of energy. He does a good job of creating for others. He's a great shooter. He
makes things happen when he comes in. So the main thing for the game tomorrow is, you
know, you can't change your attitude. He's a guy that probably easily could start on some
other teams around the country. When he comes in, you got to stay focused and you got to
concentrate on him because he makes plays for other guys.
Q. Coach, second time around. Is there any change in the approach as far as all the
stuff away from basketball? Is it more business-like or do they still have a lot of free
COACH IZZO: Well, again, maybe they're better to ask than me. I think we've tried to do
a few things. I feel very confident in asking these guys, you know, what they want to do
and where they want to go and try to give them a little bit of free time. They haven't had
much. They don't get much because we've got so much work to do. But I think we've been,
maybe we've hit the perfect medium that we have, you know, we're still working a lot of
hours, we're still doing the things. But we also have tried to enjoy it a little bit and
tried to spend some time together, because I do think these memories are why this team
will have five, ten, fifteen and twenty-year reunions, because of what they've
accomplished. I want to make sure they're there to remember back when they were walking
the streets of Indianapolis and what went on here and what went on there. We've let them
do a few things that we can.
Q. This is for A.J. and Mateen. Is this team self-motivated or have there been times
during the tournament when Coach Izzo has said something or did something that got you
guys going? Is he a pregame speech kind of guy? Do you expect anything tomorrow night that
you might remember?
A.J. GRANGER: You know, coach is a great motivator. I think everybody needs to be
motivated at some time. There are very few people that have been successful, Michael
Jordan's a great guy. Several guys. But very few. You know, they're great motivators, very
special people. I think everybody needs to be motivated. This is a group of guys that have
learned kind of how to step up to the occasion, be prepared, things like that. But we
always need to be motivated from time to time. I think that Coach -- even the other
players in the team do a great job of keeping everybody in check.
MATEEN CLEAVES: Coach is a great motivator. It's a very unique thing about him because
he knows how to motivate you or when to motivate you, sometimes how to motivate you.
Sometimes like, when you're a kid and you do something bad and your mom gives you that
stare, you know, he's got that. You know, so he knows when to motivate you. He knows how
to do it and when to do it.
Q. This is for Morris and perhaps any of the other players who might want to comment on
it. There was a situation in the first Wisconsin game you're up about 16, 18 points with
six or seven minutes left. You turn your head on defense, get beat on a back cut. There's
a TV timeout, something like that, you come off the bench and are you -- you come off the
floor and Tom meets you almost at half-court and gets in your face and starts screaming at
you. The game is essentially over at that point. What does that say to you about Coach
Izzo when he won't tolerate something like that even though the game is more than over at
MORRIS PETERSON: Well, I think Coach is looking at the big picture. Even though we had
that game won, the season's not over. You still have to be ready to play for 40 minutes. I
think that's something that Coach has really done a great job of ingraining in our minds.
There's been other times where we were up by 10 or 15 points and, you know, we could be
playing good defense and get a hand up, but he still yells at you. But, it just goes to
show the expectations that Coach has of us and also that we should have for ourselves.
Q. A.J. and Andre, the inside presence at Michigan State brings rebounding defensively
and all that, how do you assess it and what impact do you think it will have and needs to
have Monday night?
ANDRE HUTSON: Our post defense has definitely been a big challenge for us this year.
We've took a lot who have criticism in the past. Our low post players are a challenge for
us this year. We've done a great job of playing great team defense all year long. We have
to give a lot of credit to our guards as far as helping us out in the post. Tomorrow they
have some tough players, they're pretty physical and athletic. We've played against
players like this before. We have to step up and rise to the occasion one more time.
A.J. GRANGER: We're able to play confident in there because we have great support from
other guys on the team. I don't think we'd be able to do some of the things we do if we
didn't have the confidence or the guys behind us. They can clean some things up if we make
a mistake. We're very sure of our defense and go out and play hard every day and count on
each other very much.
Q. Andre, you've went up against some of the better post players all season long. Talk
about your matchup tomorrow in the middle.
ANDRE HUTSON: Well, like I said, it's definitely going to be a big challenge for us
again tomorrow. They're very athletic, and physical inside. They do a lot of things for
them and they rebound the ball real well. So there's definitely going to be some matchups
that's going to be key game to the game tomorrow. Like I said, we'll step up to the
challenge again, depend on our guards to help us out and continue to play great team
defense as we've done all year long.
Q. Mateen, can you talk about going from Wisconsin-style basketball to Florida-style
basketball? Will that be an easy transition for you? Also, are you looking forward to
playing an up-tempo kind of game you won't see too often in Big Ten play?
MATEEN CLEAVES: When you're playing Wisconsin, you know, it's tough. I am -- I am a
little more happier to be playing Florida, as far as we can get up-and-down and play
somewhat of our style of basketball. Wisconsin is going to take the air out of the
basketball, they're going to get back on defense, it's going to be a tough, physical game.
I'm not saying it's not going to be tough and physical against Florida, but we pretty much
can get more up-and-down and try to play our style of basketball. It's going to be very
tough. They play a lot of guys, they stay in your face, they press you 94 feet on back,
but we just got to, you know, go out there and enjoy it, you know, to go out and play our
style of basketball. You know, because playing Wisconsin, that's an ugly game and after
the game it's like, man, when you're playing the game you get tired and frustrated because
you want to get up-and-down. Hopefully we can just get up-and-down and play our style of
basketball against Florida.
Q. Coach, you knew what to expect from Wisconsin. Now you've got one day to prepare for
a completely opposite type of team. Did you look ahead at all just kind of peek ahead at
these two teams, at North Carolina and the other team, and kind of try to get a preview
and maybe work on a few things, you know, with that in mind?
COACH IZZO: Well, the only thing we do, same thing I did the whole tournament, I
watched a half of each team myself just so I had a feel for it so when we went out and
scouted that night, which might be a little different than some coaches do it. I'm just
not very good at looking by or looking ahead, yet you do have to prepare for two teams.
What we do is after the third day, our assistants, you know, the hay was kind of in the
barn as far as with Wisconsin, the assistants moved on and really started prepping for
both teams, North Carolina and Florida I think, you know, this is part of the fun of the
tournament, to be able to go and see how many hours you can work in the next day and a
half and just see how bad you look in the morning when you get up. Those are kind of the
fun parts of the tournament that play somebody different, you know, I think we're looking
forward as a coaching staff, I think our players are looking forward to it, I'm sure
Billy's looking forward to it.
Q. Tom, have you seen enough of Florida yet to get an idea for what kind of presses
they will throw at you and if they have one they seem to favor more than others?
COACH IZZO: Before I answer that, I want to tell you what I've been saying all year.
I'll tell you the players are the most important by the look of this mass exit, I think I
was right on the money. (Laughter.) You know, I have looked at their presses quite a bit.
I can really relate it back to Iowa with Tom Davis who pressed even more than Billy does,
and that's the best example I can give. But they do a lot of great things. I still think
the strength of their presses is twofold. I do think they're very well-coached and
schooled on what to do and how to do it. I think the number of athletic subs they have,
everybody who comes in can do and play that style. And I've been really impressed. Because
I also felt that it wasn't -- sometimes presses are complete mad-dog presses. What I mean
by that is they're helter skelter, people are all over. This is a very, to me, more
disciplined press where they come at you but they don't just give up a million things
Q. Coach, just kind of following up on that, do you find yourself going back to Tom
Davis at the press and the Big Ten really didn't throw that many presses this year. You
think now that maybe your difficult non-conference schedule when you played a lot of
different conferences styles and maybe this is where the payoff comes? You only have just
this one day to prepare.
COACH IZZO: I think so. I think our players are confident that no matter who we play,
we've played somebody like them. It doesn't mean that they've been as good or this or
that, but as you can see, as I said yesterday, we have won games 90 to 80, and, you know,
we won that one yesterday by a field goal. So I mean it was -- that's the way we've been
able to play. I think that's a uniqueness of this team. Now we face a team that presses a
lot and there's no doubt Mateen's going to have to be on top of his game. But we've run
into other teams that have pressed us, UConn and teams like that, we faired fairly well in
breaking it. Whether we're going to do that tomorrow, like I said, it's a different
Florida team because of the number of subs that they can bring in and play the exact same
way that impresses me so much.
Q. Tom, I'm wondering how important Jud Heathcote was in your getting the Michigan
COACH IZZO: Well, he was about the most important by far. I mean without Jud, I know I
wouldn't have this job. There's not even a doubt in my mind. So imperative is probably a
better word. He just -- he kind of solely convinced people that I should have the job, and
it was, he was on an island for a while, I can promise you that. He was by himself. But as
most of you know, Jud's ornery enough and tough enough to handle that and thank God he
did. Because I would not have the job if it was not for Jud Heathcote.
Q. Coach, we talked last weekend about dreaming, I guess, or having an active
imagination, and I'm wondering, a lot of what we talked about, being so close, whether
that dream is more vivid or those visions, we talked about, are more vivid after that game
COACH IZZO: Dreams, I've always told our players that I hope they do dream it. The old,
if you don't dream it, it's hard to achieve it type thing. I really do believe that.
That's why I don't mind if, you know, in a confident but non-cocky way they talk about it.
You know, I want my players to have dreams and goals. I said when I got this job, for me
it was a dream come true. I didn't think I could get to this level where I was from. And
to see, I guess Mateen, they all stand out, especially the seniors, but I've known Mateen
so well, I've seen so many tough times he's been through. The appreciation I have for him
coming back, not at my coaxing, I want you to know but this is his dream. If there's ever
a guy that had a true dream, as I said yesterday, to hear the One Shining Moment song with
his face on it, winning a National Championship, it's Mateen. I think he's probably
dreamed it since he was old enough to touch a basketball, and he has the opportunity. And
that's all you can ask for, is an opportunity. He's got it. We talk about it. And we're
going to find out in a day and a half whether it can become reality.
Q. Coach, when you took over the program, did you think five years later you'd be
sitting here at the National Championship press conference and how special would a
Championship be for you?
COACH IZZO: First part is no, I didn't think that was possible at that short a time.
You always dream certain things, I'm not even sure I dreamed that. It seemed like it was
too far away. But how special would it be, I mean, you know, there's always things that
should be more special. My family, my daughter, you know, things like that. But there's no
doubt when I see this many -- when I see what an impact our team, our players, our program
can have on so many alums, I think that's one of the enjoyable parts of this job. To see
all the people come and gather, special friends, ex-high school coaches, my former AD at
Michigan State when I started there, so many people came back and want to share the moment
that it would be incredibly special, as I'm sure it would be for Billy.
Q. Tom, two questions. No. 1, say if you guys lose tomorrow, will it be sort of
difficult to not see it as a failure but, you know, how will you put that in perspective?
And, number two, what did you think of that rap song Mateen's cousins cut?
COACH IZZO: Can't say I've been a fan of rap music all my life or I haven't been, but
the question about Mateen, Mateen has a cousin who put a little song together for this
team. Hey, I bought it. So I liked it. It was good. The first part, first question was,
you know, whether I would think it's a failure. I mean everybody wants to win, and I
couldn't let it be a failure because of what these guys have done for this program. As far
as for this year, you know, sure, you'd be a little disappointed. But when I walk through
those lobbies and see so many great coaches that never had this opportunity or some that
have and haven't won also, they don't look like failures to me. They look like very
successful people. So I guess in the end I would say, no, I wouldn't look at this season
as a failure.
Q. Tom, could you expand on your relationship with Jud and how much of him as a coach
is you as a coach?
COACH IZZO: Everything except the head thumps. I value my health and my head, so I
don't do that. But Jud, he called bright and early this morning. He's -- I think he's kind
of what we project our team as, you know, he never had an ego, he always felt that the
program was bigger than any player or coach in it. He felt the university was bigger, you
know, and of course that's true but sometimes in this day and age we seem to put other
things first. He taught me more about life things, along with the basketball things, that
I've greatly appreciated, how he dealt with the media, never holding grudges. I owe so
much to Jud and thank God, after a couple of years when maybe it was hard for him when he
got out, and now he's given me a lot of good advice that I value and cherish, and I hope
if we can win a National Championship I would like to be holding that Championship trophy
with him holding his. It would be a great photo.
Q. Coach, can you just talk a little bit about your emotions right now and basically
what you're thinking about the night before a National Championship game?
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, after -- last night was a long night, as I'm sure it was
for Bill. And so I haven't really thought about it yet. I'm not sure it hit home yet.
After this media stuff and then the practice, I guess we get ten minutes to sit down and
look at maybe what we've accomplished and what tomorrow will be like, and I guess that's
when I'll really start thinking about it. But I'm just happy for these guys. I'm really
happy for Mateen, Morris and A.J., because as I said, they don't get another chance. I'm
happy because I know how hard they worked. You know, it's easy to sit here and say how
hard, I'm sure everybody's worked hard, but I really do believe nobody in the country has
worked harder, maybe some as hard, but nobody harder than this group. And for that, it
goes with my saying that you usually get what you deserve, and that's what they are and
that's where they are.
Q. Coach, will you talk about how much of an advantage it is to have a guard like
Mateen when you're trying to break down a press like Florida's?
COACH IZZO: I think it's critically important that you have a good guard. The one
negative of our team is we don't have a lot of guards. I don't think, you know, we have as
many guards as some teams. We have kind of the 6-5, 6-4, 6-6 swing guys, and so a lot is
going to fall on Mateen's shoulders, but he's got big shoulders, and he, I think, relishes
the opportunity to be the focal point, even though he gives Pete a lot of that duty now. I
think tomorrow's his time. I tell him, it's like Dion Sanders, it's prime time, and he's a
prime-time player. A lot is going to be on his shoulders tomorrow.
Q. Tom, I'm from the bay area. Of course we know about your relationship with Steve
Mariucci who was at the game last night. Could you just discuss your -- the fact that you
guys have gone on for years and the coaching discussions between you and the fact that
you've made it to the Championships, he's been trying to get to the Super Bowl, what it's
COACH IZZO: I do have to admit, we've got a race to see which one gets there first. I
mean you don't have to get there, you have to win it, unfortunately. So we got there, he
was, you know, a couple plays away two years ago from getting there. And it's been a great
relationship. He came in and watched some film with us last night. I didn't understand
him, he kept telling me to blitz in that situation. (Laughter.) But, you know, he really
-- he really has been an inspiration to me. We've leaned on each other for a lot of years.
It's nice to have somebody who understands your profession and yet is in a different one a
little bit. I think what I realized is Xs and Os, they're okay, they're good. But
motivating players, getting the most out of players, it doesn't change in any sport.
That's the main goal, I think, of a good coach. He helps me in that respect. He's just
been there, supportive, as I was with him when he lost his quarterback this year and went
through some tough times.
Q. Tom, you guys are a little bit of a throwback team in terms of having three seniors
and two juniors. Do you think the fact that you've got players that put pursuing something
like this ahead of going to the NBA will have any impact on future teams or are those days
gone and not to return?
COACH IZZO: I think they really will have an impact, because I think what we're going
to find out is, you know, it's well-publicized the Kobe Bryants of the world who make it.
It's not very well-publicized the guys who don't make it. I think, still, for the
betterment of college basketball, of course to stay is, I think, for the betterment of pro
basketball staying is better, and unless you happen to be a Magic Johnson, a Michael
Jordan, they are elite players, maybe a Kobe Bryant. I think what Mateen has done, he has
made people realize that college is fun, and I really appreciated the players that came
back to tell him and call him, like Steve Smith and Eric Snow and Earvin and Greg Kelser
and Scott Skiles, just about everybody's told him to stay. I didn't tell him anything like
that. I told him he's got to do what's best for him. But I think in the future, I know for
Michigan State, it will have an impact. Does that mean two years from now I won't have a
guy leave early? I guess I'd like to be in that problem once in a while, means I've got
better players. But I think it will have an impact on people.
Q. Can you describe Iron Mountain? Maybe just talk about how -- discuss how it's
influenced you as a coach?
COACH IZZO: Describe it? Well, we have eleven months of winter and one month of poor
sledding. We have the world's largest man-made ski jump. It's a miner's town, we put our
hats on, flick the little light in the front. It's a unique place. It's got core values,
it's got people who -- as I said, the principal lives on one side of me, the chief of
police on the other and the dentist across the street. So you kind of -- you're raised by
the community. It's more than just, you know, you have obligations to a lot of people. I
honestly believe that tomorrow night every TV set in Iron Mountain will be watching the
Q. Coach, could you -- you've talked about how much you love Andre's toughness but
you've challenged him at times to be a little bit more fiery. I wonder how he's going in
that regard in the tournament and how big his rebounding has been in the tournament.
COACH IZZO: I've said this all the time, everybody kind of questions our motivational
tactics because sometimes we get on players. Our players know -- I know what they want and
they know what I want. It's really not that difficult. Andre knows that he's a quiet guy,
he's our best student on our team. He came in with the highest GPA, he's got so many
pluses. I mean he's, you know, you have a daughter, you want her to marry Andre Hutson
because of what he is. That's all good and great. That doesn't make him necessarily excel
in the basketball world that he wants to excel in. What we've tried to tell him is: Andre,
you have to be a little more unselfish. You have to be a little bit more -- have a little
more passion for the game at times. I think he's making gigantic strides in this
tournament. I think the last couple games of the year he's playing like the player I think
he can. He's getting a little more offensively aggressive. I think the players want to go
to him. But believe it or not, if you don't know him, you couldn't appreciate this; in
huddles, in half times, he actually asked the players to get him the ball now, which is --
that's a miracle. He's come a long way.
Q. Coach, Florida got 87 minutes out of its nonstarters yesterday. You got 37 minutes
out of your nonstarters. What will you do to neutralize that, if anything, tomorrow? Will
it be trying to slow it down some or using your bench more?
COACH IZZO: I think using our bench more. We don't really want to slow it down any. We
don't want to get into -- I realize they're probably a better track-meet team because they
do it both ways. We'd like to run on offense. They like to press and run. So they do it
both ways, and I'm sure most people think that works to their advantage. But we do think
we have some -- what we have is some great finishers. Peterson and Bell are as good a
finisher in college basketball. We happen to have a forward who might be our best
three-point shooter. If we get things in the open court, we think there could be pluses
for us, too. You are right, the bench is a question mark. We think our bench is going to
have to play well. If they don't, we're going to have to get a lot out of these five guys.
Q. It's been 25 years since UCLA won its last Championship under John Wooden? Anything
you take from him?
COACH IZZO: I've gotten a chance to be a part of the Wooden Awards three out of the
last five years and get out there and meet John Wooden. But like every young coach, I've
read his books, followed his career, and, you know, we do a lot of things that I guess
you'd like to do. He was always one that worried more about his team than the opponent,
and we just don't have Walton and those guys on it. We have to worry about our opponent
sometimes more than our team. But I think the values, you listen to his ex-players talk
about him, there just seems to be this sincere love for his players, and yet you listen to
Bill Walton the other night at a function I was at. Maybe he wasn't quite as shy and quiet
as he seemed. Maybe that rolled up deal, maybe he even yelled at an official once in a
while. Really didn't show that. I'm not sure he's that much different than the rest of us.
Q. As a coach, just how comfortable were you, what was your reaction when Cleaves told
your fans they were -- you were coming back with a Championship? That, you know, can be
taken two ways I guess by the country anyway.
COACH IZZO: That's the problem, by the country I guess it could be taken two ways. I
bet you if you ask 99 percent of our media people in the State of Michigan, it wasn't even
thought of in an arrogant or cocky way at all. I do agree with you, if you looked at that,
you might want to say that, but Mateen Cleaves, I can promise you, the one thing he's
never done is disrespect another player or team. He's always had great respect for
everybody. So I knew what that was being said for. It was almost being said for our
younger kids, to make sure that they know his time's up, and he's expecting and demanding
nothing less than a National Championship. And I really do believe this. I mean I really
do believe he can sit up here and say college is fun and this and that. He came back
because he wanted, I think he appreciated what Earvin Johnson did, winning a Championship
in high school, college, pro, and the Olympics. And he's talked about that. He won one in
high school. I think he wants to win one in college, then go from there. So I was not
upset about it. Because I knew the context it was said in.
Q. Tom, just wanted to ask, you come from a -- I've read you come from a family with --
where 12-hour workdays are not uncommon. They're more the rule than the exception. I
wonder, first of all, do you wonder what it's like for people who work 40-hour work weeks?
And how has your experience growing up, where you did and your family, influenced who you
are and how you go about your job?
COACH IZZO: Well, my wife and daughter would probably wonder about that 40-hour work
week more than I do. You know, my dad's always worked a lot of hours. I had a grandfather
that lived until 90 and worked until he was 89. That's the way of the world where I'm
from. That doesn't make anybody up there better or worse, it's just the way it was. It
comes from different cultures, kind of. But I do think it helped influence my life. Then I
worked for a guy who was, you know, crazier than my family. I mean Jud never asked me to
do anything that he wouldn't do himself. I always appreciated that about Jud. If were in
there working, he was in there working. I mean he never asked me to go do something that
he wouldn't do himself. I think that was as good a lesson as any that my family has taught
me. So when you had a dad who worked a lot of hours and believed that was the way to get
ahead, and when your No. 1 mentor did the same thing, I guess I was blessed by how I came
Q. Tom, what's the aim of the Florida press, in your mind? Is it to fatigue the other
team or is it to get the opponent out of what its general patterns are, and how vulnerable
is your team, do you think, to either one of those?
COACH IZZO: I think it's twofold. I think it's, No. 1, they do want to wear you down
and utilize their depth, which is a great coaching move on Billy's part. No.2, I think
with athletes that they have, you know, they have a rare combination of a great athletic
team and a very good shooting team. And so it gets them a lot of open looks and it gets
them some points off their defense. So I think it works in both ways. Will that affect us?
Sure, it will affect us, and yet we hope to take advantage. I mean there's no coaching
secrets to this, we're going to attack their press, too. We're not going to try to dribble
it up and pull it out. We're going to try to score on it, too. That's the way we've done
it ever since I've worked for Jud. That's not going to change. It might work to their
advantage and it might work to ours. It depends on how the game goes. I am a little
concerned, you know, on whether we get worn down, whether we get in foul trouble, I don't
think we have as much depth at certain positions that are necessary to attack their press.
Q. Florida, their success in the second half is they try to wear down teams. Michigan
State has had equal success in the tournament in the second half as well. What's the
reasoning behind Michigan State's success in the second half?
COACH IZZO: You know, I really believe it's a mental toughness, by these players that
were here. I think some people get tired as the game goes on, and some people get stronger
as the game goes on. And I think we've always preached the mental toughness and mental
toughness gives you a chance to get stronger; I think, as the game goes on. Everybody's
going to be tired. That's a given. Who can kind of get past that are usually the people
that win. And I think, you know, we've said it a lot. Players play and tough players win.
That's kind of the motto we've hung with. I think right now I've got some pretty
physically and mentally-tough players, as I think Florida has, and that's probably why
we're both in the Finals.
Q. Tom, in your last home game against Minnesota, you had it all going your way. Second
half Morris gets a breakaway and throws the ball up to himself and dunks it. You came off
the bench right away and looked like you were displeased with that. Did I read that right
from watching it on television? And what does that say about your desire to do things a
certain way in a Michigan State program, even though that's a very special senior to you
playing his last home game? That was something that appeared like you weren't going to let
COACH IZZO: I'll tell you why I didn't let it slide. It was in the first half of the
game and we were up by 17 or 18 points, and I think there's a time when players deserve to
express some -- some of themselves. Morris has earned that. If that was in the last two
minutes, maybe I would have felt it was different, but as he came over and I wasn't very
pleased, but the great part was he said before I said anything, he said, "I know,
Coach, that was wrong." And that was it. I didn't really say another word about it. I
don't mean that to, you know, not let my guys have fun and do the things, but, you know,
Danny Munson is a friend of mine, he's a good guy. They were going through a tough time
and we were playing well at the time. So it was just something that -- I never believe in
embarrassing anybody, and that was one of those rare moments when I thought we added a
little mustard to something that didn't need to be added.
Q. Tom, when you take over a high-profile program after being an assistant, those first
couple of years you struggle. Were there times when you wondered, gee, can I do this?
COACH IZZO: I'm not sure I wondered but I know a lot of media and alumni wondered.
Yeah, if I was to be honest with you, I guess there was times I probably had to look in
the mirror, had some sleepness nights about it. But I do think I was brought up well. I
mean Jud, the last couple of years did a lot of favors for me. He let me be a part of
every part of the game, and I know he had been successful and I knew the blue print we
were using was the same blue print. So I didn't really doubt those things. You know, we
felt we had to get more players and, you know, that was part of the process. But as you
know, this day and age, you don't get as much time. There's a lot of great coaches that, I
don't think, get a long enough chance. It's the way it is. So I accept that. But I don't
think I doubted myself, but I, you know, like everybody, you have to question is what
you're doing right. Maybe I did that a few times.
Q. Tom, one of the stories in the clip package I think I came across, a quote or a
reference from you suggesting that Mateen is at least as important to the Michigan State
program as Magic Johnson was on a national scale, that might come as a shock to some
people. Could you explain that?
COACH IZZO: Well, it's, for me, it's a compliment to Magic and Mateen. People --
players have to, I think, rally a team. I think great players aren't just great players;
they make all the people around them, they might take them from good to great, they might
take them from average to good. I think that is the test of a true great player. For us,
Mateen makes our coaching staff better. He makes our players better. In that respect, he's
been there four years, he's recruited for all sports. As far as the personality that he
has, we've accomplished some things that no team at Michigan State has accomplished, and I
guess I know there's only one Magic Johnson, and, you know, we at Michigan State love
Magic Johnson. I just think he's -- Mateen Cleaves has been the next closest thing because
of his personality, because of his will to win. I mean a lot of guys have it, Scott Skiles
had it, but Mateen shares it with everybody, and he is the reason we are a great family.
And that's something I hope I can continue to have while I'm at Michigan State.
Q. Tom, you talked about Mateen's stand, the issue of players leaving early. What
strategies have you used to successfully keep some of those outside influences away from
the players, so that people who want to get into the lives of these guys -- there have
been other schools with those issues this year. You seem to have successfully -- what are
your strategies for keeping those people away and keeping those guys --
COACH IZZO: Well, we have a -- I think we have a good support group at Michigan State.
I think all the people from our compliance people to everybody else, we try to have
ANDRE HUTSON: This and that. I think the same thing about that that I do about my job.
Everybody in Michigan may give me credit or my assistants credit for recruiting. You know,
players are the best recruiters and players are the best advisers. I really believe that.
I think some of our past players did a good job with Mateen, you know, telling him why he
should stay or why he should go. I mean Mateen and I sat down, I would not have been, so
you know, upset if he would have left. I think the whole situation, the timing of things,
you know, maybe it could have been the right time. My advice was to stay, but I understand
the decision he had to make. But I really believe that one of the reasons he stayed was
all the other support people around, Morris and these players here, I think the Steve
Smiths of the world Eric Snows that talked to him, it was more than just me, I can
guarantee you that.
Q. Tom, could you talk about Teddy Dupay? What do you think of him? What makes him
good? What makes him different?
COACH IZZO: I love Teddy Dupay. Not being the tallest person in America, he's my kind
of guy. So I'm a big fan of Teddy Dupay's. I think he has a -- I've only seen film on him.
I have not seen him much in person other than a little bit last night. He seems to not
only -- he's not that big, but he seems to have a big heart. He has toughness. Not afraid
to take the big shot. He's a competitor. He reminds me of a younger-aged Scott Skiles,
when I was, you know, had a chance to coach him some. So he's a competitor, it seems like,
and a guy that can beat you different ways.
Q. Tom, you sit up here and a lot of success and fame and financial well-being has come
your way through this program. Can you recall what the lifestyle was like back when you
were, you know, out of college, you're GA at Michigan State and struggling to get by?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, when I first got out of college, Mariucci and I owned this trailer we
rented out to two or three guys, triple bunks so we had enough money so we could survive,
if that's what you mean. When I went to Michigan State, you know, my family never had a
lot of money. So, you know, believe it or not, I don't live much different now than I did
then. I just have a nicer home and probably a few nicer toys. But I don't think I live
that much different than I did then, as, again, you know, I saw what Jud went through, how
he did it, and I always appreciated that. But I am happy that I -- because of the success,
I'm able to help some of the people that have been so good to me and my family. And that's
been probably the greatest thrill I've had with the success we've had.
Q. Tom, could you describe what it was like in that hotel room after you guys lost to
Duke last year and immediately refocused your goals on this season? And how was that a
departure from how teams in the past -- did your teams in the past also refocus so quickly
on the next season?
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, our teams have refocused, especially since Mateen's been
here because we thought we were getting better players and making some steps in the right
direction. Like a lot of people tell you, everybody tells you you want to get to the Final
Four. Then once you get there, you say, boy, are you just happy to be here? The coaches
say, no, we're not. We want to win it. I think I learned from last year that we were down
and bothered, but I'm not sure it killed anybody. You know, I think ever since you're
grown up, you hear the Final Four. I think you hear the Final Four more than winning the
National Championship. And so were we a little bit satisfied? Maybe. Maybe, as I look
back, we might have been. But it was said right then, you know, that's when I knew Mateen
was coming back before he even told me, he did half the speaking that we're going to get
ready this spring, summer and fall, we're going to do this, we're going to do that, it
wasn't you guys do it, I'm hitting the road. I knew in my mind he was coming back even
though a lot of people around were saying he could or should leave. But I think there was
great focus and great attention to detail, and they really spent a lot of time together in
the spring, summer and fall and that's what made the difference.
Q. Coach, Mateen Cleaves said that the taunting doesn't bother him, that he takes it
all in stride. Has there ever been a point where it's gotten so personal that it did
become a concern for you or for him or any of the other players or your administration?
COACH IZZO: You know, I was through the Scott Skiles deal that took taunting to a new
level. It doesn't bother Mateen as much. He's pretty tough-minded. You know what I love
about Mateen? We talked about it. You know, if you do something wrong, you got to pay the
consequences. And sometimes the consequences linger and last a little longer. I think I
felt more sorry for his parents and his sister. It was tough on them at times. And yet I
say that, and not as many people taunted Mateen as you would think. I still think he has
enough blue-collar work ethic to him, he's egoless enough that I think people do
appreciate a little bit about him. He's probably the normal college guy in a lot of
respects. I think people appreciate it. So there was one or two games when it got a little
crazy down in the student section. I remember one game in particular I just went down and
sat with him and kind of hung out for a while at the end of the game. But all in all, I
think people have been pretty good to Mateen and all in all, I think he understands that
he's not perfect, and if he makes a mistake, you know, you got to pay the consequences.
Q. Coach, you had talked about a lot of people coming back and enjoying the successes
with you. Could you talk about the role of Coach Tom Crean in helping them build a program
for you before he had to leave? And also -- a second question, could you discuss the -- a
lot has been made about the Big Ten, the SEC, who's the best and so forth, and the
different brand of ball.
COACH IZZO: Well, as far as Tom Crean goes, I think he deserves a lot of credit. You
know, he's been kind of a forgotten soldier in this whole deal. Believe it or not, we
would not be here if it wasn't for a lot of the work he did. He did a great job
recruiting. He was great for me, because we were good friends. He understood me. He was a
great guy with the players. He fit right into this family group, which I think he'll do a
phenomenal job at Marquette because of that. And he was very knowledgeable basketball
coach. So Tom Crean deserves a ton of credit for what he helped this team do. I hope, and
I spent a few hours with him at our hotel, I hope he's feeling some pride and some
feelings about what we've accomplished. He deserves -- there's a guy that deserves a Big
Ten Championship that we won this year, he was a big part of it. If we were fortunate
enough to win a National Championship, he should be part of that, too. What was part two?
The Big Ten, SEC, everybody talks about styles being so different, it seems like we've --
I have played Arkansas and Kentucky, some of those teams are physical, too. It's that much
different. I've watched Billy's team last night. That was not for the weak at heart.
They're not afraid to get after you, they're not afraid to get into it inside, there's a
lot of banging and bumping. There's a few teams in our league, maybe it was in the old
days three yards and a cloud of dust. It's not that way anymore. We like to run, we don't
score 100 points because we don't press as much. But we score 64, 76 points a game, which
I think is pretty good.
Q. What's your impression of Billy Donovan?
COACH IZZO: I'm impressed with Billy. I've known him for a few years. I think he, too,
seems to have a relationship with his players. I'm not there every day so I don't know
that. I know he works extremely hard. He's on the road all the time recruiting. He did
what I tried to do, he took his assistant role and brought it to the head coach position.
He stays on the road, beats the bushes, does all the things that are necessary, because I
learn more every day, you know, better players make you a better coach. You have to make
sure you take care of that part of business. But I think what's impressed me most now that
I've had to go against him, he's a very good Xs and Os coach. He's done a good job with
individual skill development of his players. I saw some of those kids as seniors in high
school. I think they've all improved a lot. I like Billy, we're friends, but I'm a bigger
fan now that I've gotten a chance to watch his team and how they've responded.
Q. Coach, you talked earlier about the challenge of battling fatigue as a coach in
times like this. Could you illustrate that a little bit? When is the last time you've had
a few hours of sleep?
COACH IZZO: I get to sleep for the next couple of weeks after tomorrow night. Everybody
goes through the same thing. Just a way of business. Everybody's got different pressures.
I mean I think my pressures, then I think of the doctors in a ten-hour heart surgery, this
is a piece of cake. So, you know, I know Billy was working his projector all night, as we
were, and like I said, I look at this as the fun part of it. This is why you get into
coaching. This is what you like to do. And, you know, is it fatiguing, does it wear you
down? Yeah, it is at this time of year if you're lucky enough to get this far. I remember
when Magic Johnson used to come back to campus my first few years there, he was back all
summer. He'd come back after that run to the Finals. This emaciated body would come back,
it would leave in September, 240 pounds and come back about 215, 220 pounds it seemed like
he was just this skinny guy. You realize what a wear and tear the season had on you. I'm
sure my wife thought I looked better in September than I do now, but it's part of the fun
of the game.
Q. Tom, you talked about Mateen's legacy to Michigan State. Have you given any thought
to maybe what his legacy could be to college basketball from the standpoint that he has
shown that there is an alternative to the quick exit and the big NBA bucks?
COACH IZZO: You know, I really do. I look at him as a guy that, as I said, he's been a
great player that has given credit to everybody else. I think he's been a good role model
in that he plays both ends of the court. He's not the greatest offensive shooter but he
plays both ends of the court. He's a star player, an All-American who likes to play
defense, you know, those guys are few and far between. He's a guy that not only stayed,
but I mean he didn't drag it on. He didn't make it a big deal. He just said, "Hey,
maybe I'm ready in some ways, I'm not ready in other ways, but I have other things I want
to accomplish in college." And I like the way he handled it, you know, it wasn't like
he dragged it out. I had to keep bothering him, there wouldn't have even been a press
conference if other people didn't say what's he going to do, there was so much interest in
what's he going to do. He told me I'm staying. He told the team after the Duke game, we're
going to get ready for next year. I love the way Mateen Cleaves has handled it. I know
there's been a few ups and downs in his career that people have probably hung over his
head and hung over mine, if I could get another Mateen Cleaves tomorrow, I'd take him in a
Q. Tom, Billy, I guess earlier this year in Hawaii, Billy sat Dupay and Brett down on
the bench for the second half. I think he wanted to teach them what it took to play
college basketball a little bit. I wonder, first part of this question is what did you do
maybe early in Mateen's career, early in Morris' career to teach them how you wanted them
to play basketball, and the second part of that question is does a team like yours,
because of what it's been through and how old it is, have an inherent advantage over a
younger team because of the toughness aspect, mentally tough?
COACH IZZO: Let me answer the fiirst one -- second one first. I don't think at this
time of year it does. Because they've had to go through a lot to get here, too. And they
must be pretty mentally tough and physically tough. They're in their first Final Four or
Championship game, we're in our first. I'm not going to down play that we have more
experience than them because we do. But I think when you get this far, I'm not sure it
matters as much. As far as, you know, what some of the players have been through, you
know, Mateen, the other reason he's been a special player, he's able to take criticism.
And he's able to critique himself. I mean I can come up and say, "Well, how did you
play?" Not very good. Or I can say to somebody, you know, Mateen didn't play very
good and I've had people ask me, well should you say that about your best player? I say
well go ask him. He gives them the same answer, you know. That is rare this day and age
when egos are out of control and I think for Morris, you know, he went through -- he went
through a lot more than Mateen. I think he had a farther way to come. I still give both
their parents as much credit as I should get because they always backed me, they always
stood behind me, they always -- they were pretty good at critiquing, too, maybe that's why
the kids are good at it. It's been really easy to coach these guys in a lot of ways and
yet they have been through some tough times. I think like all of us, that only makes you
better in the end.
Q. Last weekend at Syracuse, just before the game, Ed Sutton went over to shake Tommy
Amaker's hand before the game and said I've been coaching longer than you. You're too
young to be considered old, too old to be considered young. How do you see yourself in
this scheme --
COACH IZZO: That's a good point. I would agree with you on that. I don't know, I'm just
in the middle, I guess. I think maybe that's a plus. Maybe that's a plus. Because I think
I'm from the old school enough that I understand really how it needs to be done, and I
think I'm young enough to be able to relate to the players, which I think is critical in
this day and age. And so maybe I should just remain at this age. But I think there's some
validity to that. I think it is -- that's part of the experience, and yet understanding
factors that go into making tough decisions like when a player does something wrong, you
know, sometimes I've caught myself saying how can I condemn him when just a few years ago,
you know, I probably did something worse? I try to take things, I look at things through
my own life sometimes, and I hope that's an advantage for me. You know, because I think
I've looked at the new wave and the younger version, but I work for the old wave and the
older version. I love some of the older version, you know, I really, really do. I think if
you can balance them, you've got something special. That's what we're trying to do. I hope
that's the reason why we're in the Final Four and the Championship game, because we've had
some success in doing it.
End of FastScripts...