March 26, 2005
ROB CAROLLA: We're joined by Michigan State student athletes Chris Hill, Kelvin Torbert, Paul Davis, Alan Anderson and Maurice Ager, and head coach Tom Izzo. We'll begin now with a brief opening statement from the Coach.
COACH IZZO: As you can imagine, we're thrilled to be in this position. It is a great time to be tired and having to still work. I think these players had a very good practice, a little more life than I thought there could be. I think we are ready to play. We are looking forward to it. We have played Kentucky the last couple of years. We have seen them a lot on tape and TV. I think it will be two similar type teams with the athletic ability that both have and also with the depth that both have and it should be an entertaining game.
Q. Paul, I am sure you are aware of the job the three guys did inside last night on Bogut. Could you talk about what you expect from them tomorrow night and how key inside play may be to the picture?
PAUL DAVIS: I think it will be key on both ends of the court. They have got a lot of guys just like we do. When we're in there, we will have to take advantage of our depth too. And just keep pounding the ball in and trying to get fouled, and just keep our game plan from last night. It worked very well. On the defensive end, we have to control them and try to contain their bigs.
Q. Interested in the concept of buying into the idea of diminished minutes and the superstar mentality might be that you want to play 35 minutes per game. What does it take to accept the role that you are not going to get out there that much?
ALAN ANDERSON: Every minute you are out there you have to spill it. You have to spill it. Whatever it takes, diving on the ground, getting close balls. You know, you will come out of the game and come back in. Just know that you have a fresh guy coming in for you that can give the team a boost.
CHRIS HILL: Still buying into the whole team concept and knowing that we can keep throwing in more bodies and with the pace that we want to play. We like to keep it in for the minutes in the betweens for a lot of guys. That way they can continue to play the fast pace.
Q. Wondering what any of you guys remember about last year's game with Kentucky and how important you think pace will be and whether you think you can outrun Kentucky?
ALAN ANDERSON: It will be real important. Hayes is a veteran guy like ourselves. He does a lot of things on the court. He knocks down open shots. He has nice post moves down low. No doubt he is a leader on their team. Last year's game was exciting. It was up tempo. I think we are -- we have more bodies than last year also. Looking forward to tomorrow.
Q. Paul, how many times in the past have you thought you got -- why hasn't it gotten together lately for us?
PAUL DAVIS: I think after the week before the Iowa game from the Big-10 tournament it just kind of clicked. It was our spring break the week before. I really don't know what it was. I have been trying to hold onto it. I have been playing more aggressive. It is now or never, really. We have one game we don't do so well, that is it. I am just trying to take advantage, I guess you could say, of the minutes we have left.
Q. Kelvin, Coach touched on this last night. The coach feels that the underclassmen feel like they stepped up a little bit to help the seniors.
KELVIN TORBERT: I think we definitely felt that. We talked about it after the Iowa losses. We never know which game can be our last 40 minutes. I think the underclassmen took it as a challenge to themselves to try to make this the best trip for our seniors. We have got to give those guys as much credit for trying to back us.
Q. Tom, can you talk about the decision to use the sledgehammer with those videotapes and the impact of that?
ALAN ANDERSON: The impact, it was right next to me. Like I said, it was a tough game coming off of Iowa when you see that, us finishing up in tapes. We knew we couldn't watch them no more. We had to move on. It was a whole new season, a six-game season. We did a pretty good job as playing it as that.
Q. Chris, just wanted to ask you a little bit about the paths these two teams have taken. It seems to be similar paths in using your depth. Them having to neutralize Bogut and you using the back court to neutralize Redick?
CHRIS HILL: Like you said, with Redick and Ewing, we had to use all the bodies on the perimeter. They had to rotate the big guy in to slow down Bogut. A lot of credit goes to both coaching staffs for having a great coaching plan. You can't just use one guy. Both were successful. I think it will be a similar type strategy as far as using all the bodies and just continuing to play hard.
Q. How do you think how Michigan State plays reflects Coach Izzo's personality and approach?
MAURICE AGER: I think right now we really just made it just a fact to play hard in the game. We really want to get back to those games where we were winning championships. We want to be able to do those things. Really start our own Lexington too.
Q. Alan, do you feel any more important for being one of the few seniors that gets a lot of minutes? Also, does Kentucky remind you of any of you?
ALAN ANDERSON: As far as their team? Yeah, they through a lot of bodies at you. They like to play defense and they are physical. They like to crash the boards and run. They do a lot of things. They are similar to us, but they are not. It is hard to -- I don't know. We have a true point guard in Drew Neitzel. He has had a lot of confidence. Couple of seniors coming off the bench with KT and Chris taking that role. They are doing a great job of that. We played pretty good not really deciding who is going to start or what.
Q. This is for Kelvin and Coach. Could you talk about the connection between Flint and Michigan State?
KELVIN TORBERT: I guess now is like Michigan State is like our backyard basically. A lot of guys see that and see the success that past guys have. Everybody wants to go to Michigan State in Flint. That is a big thing and hopefully a pipeline that keeps rolling after this.
Q. Paul, from the underclassmen state of view, I know it is important for the entire team to keep this going, your thoughts on trying to do this for the seniors as well?
PAUL DAVIS: We have kind of taken to heart that these -- our five seniors have been through a lot of things. They have been places where not a lot of people have gone. They have been successful in those places. We want to send them off right as best we can. That is what they are doing for. We are going to be fighting out there for them and they will be rolling along with us.
PAUL DAVIS: It doesn't necessarily surprise me. That is the kind of team we have. That is the kind of leaders we have on our team. You go around the country, you can't count on your hand too many teams and seniors and really all-star status players that will do that.
Q. Talk about the energy, the surprise energy at practice today. I just watched the game and slept till noon. Are you on adrenaline? Are you jumping out of bed? Or what is the deal?
CHRIS HILL: We are just excited to still have an opportunity to go out and play tomorrow against a great Kentucky team and have a chance to go to the Final Four. That is what we dream of. That is what we are working all year for. If you don't have energy now and aren't excited to play, something is wrong.
KELVIN TORBERT: I think we just are really excited to be playing. I think guys are excited to stay in and keep playing. I mean, being around each other I think there are guys on this team that don't want to give it up. I think it is guys that just want to be around each other and stay with each other as long as we can.
Q. Along those lines, just looking at you guys up there and watching you play, as the tournament has progressed have you guys gotten more relaxed?
MAURICE AGER: At this time of year you can't relax. As you say, upsets happen every day. There is no time to relax. We are more comfortable as a team. Right now we are gelling at the right time.
Q. The other day when you talked about Duke, I think you phrased it "revenge tour," to get revenge on the teams that have beaten you , obviously the Kentucky game last year. Does it now include Wisconsin and Illinois?
ALAN ANDERSON: You can't look over a Kentucky team. You know, if that happens, we can't wait for it. Right now we have got to focus on Kentucky and move on from there.
Q. Kentucky has been shooting the ball really well in the tournament so far. How big of a concern is that? Can you pinpoint on where their shots are coming from?
ALAN ANDERSON: That is a big concern. They are playing 13 players. That means everyone is shooting the ball pretty good. Like I said, we have to do what we did yesterday but mostly everybody on the perimeter. Just try to make every shot tough and make the passes contested. Like I said, we both have depth. We will have to grind it out.
Q. I watched a lot of Big-10 basketball this year. You realize you were as athletic as you were last year. Who has the best vertical on the team?
KELVIN TORBERT: It is between Chris Hill and Drew Knight.
PAUL DAVIS: As far as big guys or guards because you are looking at him right here I think it showed last night. I think when Mo jumped over the guy, I think that takes the cake right there.
Q. For any player, with three Big-10 teams advancing now, what does that say about the conference? Is it maybe a validation of the strength of the conference?
CHRIS HILL: I think so. It kind of speaks for itself when you have got three teams for any conference still in it with 8 teams left. People have been pretty much down on the Big-10 for a lot of the year. When we had the ACC Big-10 challenge, the ACC definitely had the upper hand. We are still standing. I think that does show that it is a good conference and still a very powerful conference. We are all trying to advance.
Q. Kelvin, you guys just seem so relaxed right now. Not getting the win, but the win against Duke, is that part of the reason that we're seeing this? Maybe it has loosened you up a little bit to know that you have accomplished something no other Spartan group has done?
KELVIN TORBERT: I wouldn't say it is so much relaxed as I think it is we are still enjoying taking in the moment a little bit. We still know this is the last chance in doing this and also getting ready to prepare to play a big game. We still want to go out there and continue to play ball.
ROB CAROLLA: We'll dismiss the student athletes to the breakout rooms and continue with head coach Tom Izzo.
Q. Can you just talk about the sledgehammer idea and how that fit into this trust you have started to develop between yourself and the players?
COACH IZZO: I just felt like I had to come up with something after the Iowa game. I really -- I said this before, I didn't have confidence in the way some of our guys were playing. I had confidence in how I thought they could play. Somehow we had to differentiate. The truth was, I was trying to miss the tape and hit Alan, but I didn't. I hit the tape. It was just -- I think every coach goes through some things they try to do at the end of the year. I think it was important for what these guys have been through. They have still done a lot more than what I give them credit for. I will be the first to tell you I am still bugging them. Somewhere in the middle is the happy medium that is the result. I am not sure in this job you are supposed to deal with reality. That is the only reason for it. We will put everything behind us and see what we could do. I did have the faith in this team that they are capable of being a very, very, good team.
Q. This drive that you took with Paul Davis to get him motivated sounds like something out of The Godfather. What did you talk about? It didn't take I guess at the time?
COACH IZZO: I removed the horsehead from my bed and then I just mentioned the back of a truck and went for a ride. You know, I think there are lot of things coaches do. I do spend a lot of time with my players. I think that is why you can wear your emotions on your sleeve because they know what you are and what you are. It is not just what happens during a practice. I think it is what happens 24 hours a day. I think for the last couple of years I felt like I spent 24 hours a day with Paul. He is a very talented kid who wants to be better. A lot of people want to be, just don't know how to be. I guess that is our job. I will be the first to tell you that it gets frustrating. I think there are some people outside that effect them. Those are probably the most fun times of the job when you get to sit down with somebody and get out of your office or their dorm room or apartment and try to do something off the wall. Up in Michigan it is too cold to go for a walk so we turned the heater on and went for a drive.
Q. Tom, they say that teams that press don't like to be pressed. The teams seem very similar in style and approach. How do you see that impacting what happens tomorrow?
COACH IZZO: I think the difference in us and them is we are not pressing and taking a lot of chances. We are pressuring. There were questions asked about guys giving up minutes in a game or whatever. Guys don't come out kind of thinking they should be in there. If you are running out to make buckets like we do, there are lots of times people say, why did you take them out? I say, because he asked to come out. Like you said, sometimes the pressure, if you are pressuring somebody that doesn't like to be pressured -- we don't get pressure a lot in our league. We did a little bit last night. I am sure we will a lot tomorrow. I think we are ready for that. We have a lot of guards and fatigue shouldn't be a problem. You never know until you throw the ball up. I am looking forward to it.
Q. It seems like especially from this region there are some examples of guys that have stayed four years and become stars. In today's college basketball, are those guys more valuable to programs than the guys that are a one and done? Is there a switch where you need guys that will come in and switch roles?
COACH IZZO: I can use Shavlik Randolph tomorrow, it wouldn't bother me at all. People ask me that a lot. Would you rather recruit guys that will be there forever? The answer is no. Kids are staying a lot longer now because they are seeing what is happening and getting a better feel for things. I look over the years at Kentucky Bogan and Prince. He is a awesome kid and competitor. I look at some of my guys where people talk about coming out. I think for the most part a lot of guys are staying and that is the reason a lot of teams are advancing. If you look at us and Kentucky, if you look at Duke, if you look at Illinois, you know, we're all filled with juniors and seniors. When Duke won it, they did. When UConn won it, they did. Syracuse is part of the exception to the rule. I don't know if I recruit that way. What I try to do is recruit and get the best players we can and convince them on why it would benefit them to stay. I don't try to talk kids into staying. It is a delicate line to walk, to be honest with you. And one that, you know, we could get to a Final Four now than we would have done it on different ways. There is a lot of ways to skin a cat, as they say.
Q. Tom, does your philosophy mirror that of Flint Michigan and describe a typical Flint player?
COACH IZZO: Cleaves going out last night when he was in the Seattle Supersonics wearing a Spartan shirt on the bench as a typical Michigan State guy. Somebody who is hopefully blue collar. That is what that city is along with Detroit. I think there is a toughness that I have enjoyed about the kids that I have had from there. I think they wear their emotions on their sleeves. That is why the mayor gave me an honorary Flintstone diploma. Even though Flint and Iron Mountain are far apart, I think we are both blue collar in a way. I think KT is an example of an incredible kid who has had a lot of pressure on him. As you can tell, he thinks more about the team, more about the coaches, more about everybody else than he does himself.
Q. Tom, when you guys beat Kentucky in '99 in the regional final it was a breakthrough for you and the program. This game tomorrow, maybe it will be just as big for this group? Can you talk about the strange symmetry of playing them again?
COACH IZZO: It could be. I think it is us trying to get back to where we are. And like I said a couple of days ago, when you come into a tournament like this and you are going to play Duke, arguably the best program in modern era, and Kentucky, top two or three program. There is a lot to play for in that. When you look back on that '99 game, I just remember being down 21 to 4 and making sure that the guys hung in tight in my huddle more than anything else. We came back and won it. It was a big win for us. Tomorrow it will be a big win for the players. Tomorrow I think on a more important note it would be big for our fans and big for our program. This is one that would be bigger for these players. If there was a reason for hoping that we can advance, it would be for them and what they have been through.
Q. We're talking to Shannon about the time you went to see him play in Texas when you were recruiting him. What do you remember from that?
COACH IZZO: You know, after I got to know his family a little bit in the recruiting processes and just his desire to be a player, everybody talks the talk about being a great player and some guys walk it. I got a chance to get to Chicago and see Shannon work out at his high school in the summer and got to know his parents a little bit and see how grounded they were and how just determined they were to help him be successful and what kind of opportunity he has. Shannon Brown is one of those guys that on all sides of him there is good things that happen. I came down to Texarkana here and saw him in the last day of the recruiting period. He was down here visiting his grandparents. I flew down and watched him play and flew back. It was a long day but it was every bit worth it at the time.
COACH IZZO: I said then Larry Brown was my hero and all those players because of how they played and where they put their defense in rebounding and different guys assumed different roles. You know, I like this way because I think the locker rooms are always better. Even though if you think about it, we played a lot of players, we did have a more true star system where we had one or two players that everybody knew we were going to. It is easier on the coaches. It is sometimes easier on the coach to have 7 or 8 players in rotation. It is probably more fun in the hotels to be able to look at the group of guys and know every one of them could contribute at any given time. It is more fun that way. More sleepless nights because you don't know who it is going to be. I have grown to enjoy this team as they become I think mentally and physically tougher. I think we have taken some steps in that direction, especially Paul Davis and Kelvin Torbert has been a big, big reason for a resurgence of late.
Q. Chuck Hayes was talking with great respect about you and even joked about your hype. What are your impressions of him?
COACH IZZO: I don't know but I am going to hate him for two hours. I do love the kid. He is unbelievable. He should be a poster child or poster flier -- excuse me. For what the college athlete should be. I don't know what he is like academically and socially. I do know a little bit on that I had him in the Pan American games. He is born to believe. He is the Mateen Cleaves. He is Kentucky's version. He cared about everybody on that trip. It was a guy I could rely on. He has a personality. You know, I don't want to tell you too many gushy things about him. I remember Tubby saying to me, you are going to have trouble cutting this kid. After the first practice I told my assistants there is one guy that is making the team and we'll go from there. He has toughness, he has leadership skills. He wants to win. I think it is a perfect example he is averaging ten points a game. That is not his only contribution to this team. He has made so many other contributions. When I hear Tubby speak about it, when he speaks highly about him, I feel like I am talking about the right person.
COACH IZZO: Not the last two years. But, I think Tubby and I have -- you know, as I grew into this job, you know, I started a little later than those two guys, I said it publically, I idolized they way Mike ran his team. I have been a big Tubby Smith fan. I think he coaches with emotions on his sleeve. His glare scares me. I don't know what it does to his players. I think we play similar. We have some guys that enjoy playing and I think are willing to do whatever it takes to win. I think with the depth and the athleticism and the different ways that both of us struggle at times to shoot the ball. Although early on they shot it well and we shot it well at times. I don't know if we have come similar paths, but I think we have a similar blueprint to success. I think we feel it has to be done with tough guys who will compete. I think defensive rebounds are something that is important to both. I know he cares and I care what goes on on and off the court. I guess our blueprints are similar.
Q. Tom, Chuck Hayes said that your team looks like a team that is peaking. It has been a long time in coming for this group. How motivated were you that they might leave without reaching their potential?
COACH IZZO: I thought it would. That is why I didn't keep those two nice videotapes. I just didn't know when. I think if there is anything I asked them and I asked my staff it is we owe them or I owe them. I told them that we should give them whatever weeks it took the hardest work that I have put in for this job just because I think I have been demanding of them and put them through a lot and I felt I owed it to them. Like I said, we started growing together. It took a little longer than with some groups. Sometimes you have to have adversity to bring you closer. This group has had some but they are such good guys off the court, they are good students. Never get in any trouble. There is no reason that -- there hasn't been much adversity to stick up with them and prove that I am with them. I think it took longer than normal I think we have all grown together and I think maybe at the right time. With the opportunity that is ahead of us tomorrow night, it would make for a story book career for those four or five guys.
Q. For both you guys, I think this is your second Elite 8 in the last three-years. Without one or two dominant programs, how important is it to have a program consistent enough that you are there knocking on the door getting yourself in a position where you will break through?
COACH IZZO: That is what I said has been important for us, knocking on the door. You are not going to win them every year. That is my admiration for Duke. How they can do that -- you know we're trying to knock on doors of Sweet 16 and Elite 8 doors. They are knocking on Final Four doors year after year. That is -- I keep telling our media to stay tuned to ten years from now. In the John Wooden era, you were compared to ten national championships and the ten times he went there. Duke has done more of it. We don't have the tradition of Duke and the tradition of Kentucky. That is what we're building. It has been fun building it. Tomorrow would be another big block in that building process.
Q. If the skeptics who talk about the Big-10 this season were wrong, what did they miss about this conference?
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, I think what happens to us in the ACC Big-10 challenge is for some reason it has not worked out the greatest for us. Number one, let me say this. I think the ACC and the Big East were very, very good conferences this year. Maybe a step a above a lot of the other ones. Over the last couple of years it seems like we were put down to nothing. I think part of it is because we, the coaches, haven't done a good job. We lost some high profile coaches a lot like the Big East did when they lost Lou Carnsiki (phonetic), John Thompson. I think that is an aura to that. When I am the oldest guy left standing here in the conference at ten years, it is not usually great. I think they just miss that we got on the flow of our league and we led the nation in attendance for 29 straight years. There is no easy wins because of fans alone. Some of us like we did yesterday and somewhat this week -- Mike Davis did at Indiana. We played a brutal non-conference schedule. I don't think everybody does that. All of a sudden those teams aren't ranked. Now, you beat Indiana, and you beat a team. You beat a Michigan State who is not ranked. I think that has hurt us some. The Ohio State hurt us some. It is a very good team that -- they were off the radar screen because of probation. I think those are some of the reasons. As always, you need some flagship programs. The ACC has had Duke forever and North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Maryland. Every year there is at least two or three. I said as much as it bothers me we were part of the problem last year. We were the flagship team. We went 0 and 6 against the teams we went against. This year we had one in Illinois that was really up there but maybe the rest of us didn't do our job enough. All I am saying is I don't want to beat a dead horse here. I have to stick up for the conference. I felt when we had the two teams in the Final Four for a couple of those years for some reason the Big-10 didn't get the credibility that it deserved. Like I said, I take the blame for that. We need to do a better job of letting people know it is a good conference.
Q. Kentucky has played 13 players in the first half of its last two tournament games. Have you ever seen a team playing that big of a rotation this deep in the tournament? The second part is somebody who plays that way, is that an extra onus on a coach? To stay on top of match-ups when you are using that many people?
COACH IZZO: Me and my assistants and my video guy have to write up a report on every guy and that is taking more time. We thought we played a lot of guys, Jud Heathcote teases me about how many guys I play. We barely have 13 guys on our roster and he is playing that in the first half. That makes it difficult. It is hard for him too. It is hard for me to play, nine, ten guys. As you say, you know there are different guys to do different things. I guess that is where the day and a half of preparation becomes important. How many can you load without overloading into your players' brains and even in your own. That is what makes it so much fun this time of year.
Q. This time of year it seems now in college basketball now more than ever the coaches have become the focal point. How did college basketball become so coach centric and do you think and is that a good or bad thing?
COACH IZZO: You know, it is interesting because when I -- one of the things when I talk to somebody about an NBA job I looked at three years ago they said the players are the ones that barely know who the coach is. I disagree. I think they know because they fire them so fast they must know their names. I don't know if it is good. I always said it as a players' game. I really do believe that. A coach can make a difference. It is still in those years where you are trying to mold humans. You try to help people grow to the point of what they will be 10 or 15 years down the road. It is still the players that play the game. There are no coaches that shoot free throws or get a rebound. Maybe it should be Alan Anderson and the Michigan State Spartans against Chuck Hayes and the Kentucky Wildcats. I know there are times this year I wish it would have been.
Q. Coach, how will you remember Alan Anderson ten years from now?
COACH IZZO: Perseverance. He has played more positions than anybody since Magic Johnsen at Michigan State. I can remember nights when he has been through it all. Like I said, I know that is a cliche statement, but this kid has -- like I told him a hundred times, it will help you in the end. They passed Mo Ager on the break last night. Versatility is what is important for a great player. It is good to be able to do one thing. If you have versatility I think you have got more going for you. I will remember him as the versatile player. He as grown up and grown each year he has been here. I look at academically, socially and every year he has made strides. Hopefully he will be culminating in the next couple of weeks.
Q. Joe Crawford is a guy that admired your program. Can you talk about what you admire about him and what you first noticed about him maybe as a player?
COACH IZZO: Joe Crawford was a great player in high school. We recruited him his freshman year. It was a situation that Jud always said there is no freshman that are happy. They will never average the 30 points a game that they did in high school. But he is a great kid. I think Tubby Smith is a great coach for him, I think pushing him and getting him better in things and having some patience. Jason Richardson for us, when he first came, I don't know what he played 18, 19, 17 minutes a game but I felt he grew. I was always interested to hear how he felt about things. Nobody is ever happy with their minutes. You asked some great questions to these guys. I think sometimes you can be too quick to maybe read the sessions. It takes time like everything else. He is going to be a great player at the University of Kentucky. He is definitely playing for right guy. I think he will enjoy him as the years go on.
ROB CAROLLA: Coach, thank you.
End of FastScripts...