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March 21, 2008

Tom Izzo

Kalin Lucas

Raymar Morgan

Drew Neitzel

Travis Walton


THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Michigan State student-athletes. We'll go ahead and begin with questions.

Q. It seems like your team and the Pittsburgh team is very similar in the way you play defense, overall depth, toughness. Can you speak to that, what kind of a game you expect tomorrow in terms of physicality, toughness?
DREW NEITZEL: You know, I think it will be a very aggressive, you know, a physical game, like you said. Both teams like to run. Both are great rebounding teams with a lot of talent.
So should be a great matchup and a very intense game.
TRAVIS WALTON: Pretty much agree with Drew. It's good going to be a tough, physical game. They got some big men, tough guards, so do we. It's going to be a tough game. It's going to come down to the last possessions of the game.

Q. Raymar, when you get to this time of the year, do you start rooting for your Big-10 brothers as well? Are you keeping an eye on Purdue and the other guys?
RAYMAR MORGAN: Definitely. I think we look out for 'em. I don't know about so much rooting for 'em.
But there's always support there. We're happy for them in they're winning. But we're worried about ourselves.

Q. Raymar, have you been able to see a lot of film on Sam Young and do you expect to be matching up with him tomorrow?
RAYMAR MORGAN: Definitely. I'll be playing the four a little bit tomorrow. It's definitely going to be a matchup between me and Sam Young. He's a great player, can do pretty much everything. Very overall good player. Inside and out. It should be a pretty good matchup.

Q. You said you don't necessarily root for Purdue. Is it a pride thing with the Big-10 when it comes to this tournament?
RAYMAR MORGAN: I would think so. Like I said, there's always support, there's love there. Like I said, I'm just not gonna be happy if they win or lose. Like I said, I'm just worried about myself, worried about my team.

Q. Kalin, Pitt won four straight in the tournament, opened with an impressive win. Looks like they're peaking at the right time. Does that get your attention more when a team is dismantling people?
KALIN LUCAS: Yeah, it does. Like I said, Pittsburgh, they're a great team. We got to come out, play very physical and play for 40 minutes.

Q. How do you become a physical team? You always have the reputation of a being a great rebounding team, tough physically. Is that coach's mindset, the kind of guys he recruits?
DREW NEITZEL: I think it's a combination of a lot of things. Like you said, the guys that coach recruits, the type of program he's built, just every day in practice is a war, whether it's rebounding drills, going against each other. It's a grind every day in practice. We beat up on each other. You know, that carries over to the game as far as being physical and outworking teams.
TRAVIS WALTON: You can't be afraid to get hit, you know. Being physical, you got to be able to hit somebody else and take a hit at the same time. You know, that's Michigan State basketball and that's pretty much Pittsburgh basketball, too. Ain't nobody on they team or ain't nobody on our team afraid to get hit, you know, with an elbow or a bump or anything goes. That's physical basketball, and that's what we play, and that's what they play.

Q. Travis, you're a film junky, as Izzo has said. In tournament situations like this, how much film do you get a chance to watch on teams like Pitt or Temple the other day?
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, we try to watch a lot of film, but at the same time you never know what team gonna win. You know, so after we won our game, we kind of wait and see the results of the Pittsburgh and Oral Roberts game. As soon as we heard the results, I got two films, other players got a whole bunch of films. We took it to our room. Some got computers we watch on our computers or we get DVD players. Then we have film sessions with the coaches. We try to beat ourself up with film, walking through, because at this time that's what you got to do. You know, you don't know too much about a team, so you got too try to, you know, force yourself to watch as much as you can, stay up all night, 'cause it's going to be worth it at the end.

Q. Raymar, would you rather play a team that's gonna be softer, so to speak, that wants to go up and down and shoot, rather than a team that's similar to you guys, physical?
RAYMAR MORGAN: At this point in time, it really doesn't matter. It's a challenge to play a team similar to us, though. I think everybody's accepting that challenge with open arms and we're just ready to play.

Q. Raymar, yesterday you talked about how the six eyes defense was effective against Christmas. Are you going to bring that out tomorrow against Young? Is that something you do every game for an opponent?
RAYMAR MORGAN: Definitely. We use the six eyes terms in every game. We'll bring it out tomorrow versus Young, Levance Fields, different guys that do different things.

Q. Travis and Drew, they talk about your program as being very physical all the time. Does it ever, in the back of your mind, bother you that they don't talk about you being really good basketball players with great skills, they more talk about your program as the one that hammers on people all day?
DREW NEITZEL: Uhm, we take pride in, you know, what Coach Izzo has built over the years. It's been very successful with the Final Fours and national championships and things like that.
So we accept it. But, uhm, you know, we use that as motivation, too. We have a lot of great basketball players, you know, with a lot of talent. When you put that with aggressiveness and being physical, that's a great combination. It's a winning combination. So that's what Coach Izzo has built this program on, and it's been successful. So, you know, we embrace that attitude.
TRAVIS WALTON: When I first came here and I talked to Matean Cleaves, he said when you win, it takes care of everything. You know, some programs get individual awards for they players. Michigan State is about family. That's how it's been built, from Matean, to the 'Ton Smiths, everybody else.
We hope for the individual awards, but as our team does a great job, the individual award's gonna come. When your team don't do as well, individual awards don't really mean nothing because at the end you come to college to win championships, regular-season championships, and with that comes individual awards.

Q. Drew, Travis, Coach Izzo's tournament record is superb. We talk about players raising their game for the tournament, elevating their game. Do you see something like that in a coaching equivalent with Coach Izzo? Talk about his preparation tournament time.
DREW NEITZEL: Coach Izzo definitely turns it up a few notches. Like you said, he has a great record, especially in the second round or second game of a tournament weekend. They do a great job of preparation with all the film sessions, walk-throughs, things like that. Just the experience that he's had, the success he's had in this tournament, you know, makes us all believe in him and fully trust in what he's doing, gives us that confidence that we are going to be successful.
TRAVIS WALTON: Yeah, uhm, I think, you know, coach does a great job, you know, he always stays up a lot during the season, but this is kind of his time where he can stay up till two, three, four, go home, watch film all day, prepare. This is like a challenge to him. You know, every game, every team I think is a personal challenge to him and for our team to come out and, you know, prove something for this program, like we just said.
So he does a great job of getting us ready, letting us know that it's one-and-done. All of the former players, Matean Cleaves called me, texted everybody else on the team, letting us know about this time, go get it done.

Q. Kalin, were you very nervous on your first tournament game? If so, are you more relaxed in the second one?
KALIN LUCAS: I wouldn't say nervous. It's more me being anxious, ready to play. Going out there, first tournament game, it is very anxious, very exciting.

Q. Travis, you mentioned watching film. When you were watching, you see Pitt, are they as similar to you guys as any team you've seen? Also did you see one guy that keys them that you really need to shut down?
TRAVIS WALTON: Yeah, I do feel they are similar to us. You know, they play aggressive. They run a lot of sets. They got a knock-down shooter, they got a good point guard, some good post players. You know, I feel that, you know, Sam Young is probably the best all-around player. But I personally feel that Levance Fields is they engine, you know, that keeps them going, that keeps them solid, that takes big shots like he did against Duke. When he got back into the lineup for them, got going, they team started playing a lot better.
I feel he is the engine of the team. You know, he does a great job of running, taking big shots, not turning the ball over. Got a great assist-to-turnover ratio. He does a great job for that team.

Q. Tom is kind of legendary for some of the stuff he puts you through in practice. The stories go on. What is the most grueling things you do on a regular basis in practice?
DREW NEITZEL: I don't know, I'd probably say, you know, just our war drill, just our different defensive drills. It gets very physical. Especially when we're going against our scout team on the defensive end, you know, they're trying to beat us every day in practice. We're trying to stop 'em. You know, we get in a lot of confrontations. It gets very physical.
Sometimes they give us a better look than what the other team is gonna give us. So they've done a great job for us. That's probably the toughest they are, war drill, going against our scout team, who beats up on us.

Q. What exactly is the "war drill"? What does it entail?
DREW NEITZEL: Basically coach throws the ball up and, you know, you got two teams, and you just go after it, whoever can get the ball. You know, guys are hitting each other, throwing each other around. It gets pretty physical. The coaches are there, you know, pushing us, trying to motivate each guy to get the ball.
Everybody's going 110% trying to get it. A lot of guys come out of there with bloody lips, bloody noses, whatever it is. It's pretty intense.

Q. Drew, are you looking to do anything differently this game to bounce back from the offensive scoring performance that you had against Temple?
DREW NEITZEL: No, I guess just makes shots (smiling). That game's in the past. I shot the ball great today in practice. I'm gonna let 'em fly. You know, whether I'm hitting, whether they aren't going in, I'm making them, I'm still gonna shoot 'em. The key is just to stay aggressive, you know, make plays.

Q. Travis, how late did you stay up watching film? When did Matean call you?
TRAVIS WALTON: How late did I stay up? If I say that, I might get in trouble by coach. I stayed up pretty late. I watched when they plate West Virginia, when they played Cincinnati, watched them play in they sets. Matean called me. He's out in California. He watched the Marquette game. Sometime after that game. I don't have the time frame. He texted me first. I texted him back. He was excited. You watching film of Pittsburgh? We're going to go down and watch film right now. You better get some film, you better tell the team we ready to go get it. That's Matean right there. Antonio Smith, the rest of the players, texting us, giving us words of encouragement to go out there, play hard, represent the program well.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen.
Joined now by Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. We'll begin with questions.

Q. Coach, Drew has been peppered pretty good about this week, what does he think about the end of his career. Have you thought about it or would you rather not think about his career coming to an end?
COACH IZZO: I never like to think about seniors ending their career, especially guys that have done it for you in the classroom, you know, off the court and on the court.
But, I mean, I'm hoping that keeps driving him to what he wants to accomplish this year. There's nothing like seniors being able to tell the underclassmen, you know, how fast it's gone. You don't get many second chances, all those things.
I don't think I ever think about it till it finally happens. There's been one or two senior day games when I've told my staff, I hope we win by enough so I can sit down and enjoy the last minute or two with my stars. Other than that, I don't think about it till it's over.

Q. Is he a different person as far as heading out?
COACH IZZO: Boy, believe it or not, as hard as I am on some of those guys, they're all special. I think they've all made it through, you know. They've all been pretty successful making it through, too. There hasn't been one of them that made it through that hasn't gone to a Final Four. In that respect -- you know, I mean, he's a kid I've known a little longer than most, since his sophomore year of high school. Spent a little more time with in that respect.
But he and his family have been great. I'm gonna miss him a lot.

Q. Jamie Dixon called you right around the time he was hired. Could you recount that conversation, if you remember it, and also talk about how your programs kind of mirror each other in terms of their mentality.
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, it started with Ben Howland. When Ben got the job, head coach at Central Michigan now is a Michigan native, I helped him get in there. Ben and I used to talk a little bit. I think we had similar philosophies, you know, the defense had to be important, toughness. He was more of a play-oriented guy. And then when Jamie got the job, he wanted to know what it was like taking over for someone who had been very successful.
I really appreciated Jamie right off the bat. He was great. We talked a little bit about program stuff. Then we just talked about our philosophies. If you looked at UCLA and Pittsburgh and Michigan State, in a lot of respects there are a lot of similarities. Neither one of us have quite the horse that Ben has out there in Love. But other than that, you look at the defense. You look at the fast-breaking. You look at the plays. You look at the strength factor, which we've been lacking in a little bit. But still the philosophy's the same. And I think he's done as good a job -- if I voted for national coach of the year, he'd have to be right up there, for surviving what he went through this year in a tough conference, with the injuries he's had, to both Cook and of course Fields. He's battled that. He's had 25-point losses and turned it right around. I think that's the mark of a great coach, is getting knocked down a few times, yet getting his team back.
I don't get to talk to Jamie every day, but I have great respect. I think there's great respect for both programs.

Q. Dayton and Marquette have both played Pitt this season, both proteges of yours. Did Pitt get an advantage out of that?
COACH IZZO: You know, I don't know. Like I said, I feel like in my own way I know Pitt's program. I haven't seen them a lot this year. I know Jamie's philosophy as he knows mine.
So, you know, I don't know if there's any advantage, disadvantage. I mean, we run -- we don't run the same things at Pitt. We don't run the same things as Marquette or Dayton, yet we all run what I would call play-oriented systems. Defensively we're just about all man-to-man systems.
So I don't know if there's any great advantage in there. But I do know some guys that have played 'em. I have a lot of friends that have played them. Everybody tells me the same thing. Exactly what Bobby Knight said. They're a tough team, a strong team. I thought he hit the nail right on the head as far as what they've gone through this year. They've got a great point guard. He reminds me a lot of Matean Cleaves. He's a muscle dribbler, enjoys contact, he seeks it. He can penetrate in. When he penetrates, they become such a better offensive rebounding team because people have to help out on them. He just kind of runs their team. When you got a guy running a team like that, when you have a player of Young's caliber who can go inside, outside, it's a tough matchup.

Q. I asked some of the players if they saw a change in you come tournament time. Can you talk about raising the level of your game, the feeling that strikes you when tournament time rolls around?
COACH IZZO: I think conventional wisdom would tell you every game is a big game and you're supposed to be up for a big game. But everybody understands the difference, importance of different parts of the season. What I'm striving for as a coach is to make sure my players understand a little bit more -- I don't want to be known as a tournament team, I want to be known as a regular-season team, a Big-10 tournament team, an NCAA tournament team. What we've done a little better in the past is I think we've been very good on one-day preps.
We play tournaments early in the year for that reason. We used to play our own tournament. It gives you a one-night prep. I have very good assistants, very good video guys. I think that's where the intensity comes. That's different. If anything, I think I'm calmer to them. But I think they know that we're gonna work for them. They know they're gonna be prepared to play. But that's only half the battle. Remember, you still got to play the game.
I just think they feel be comfortable and confident that we're going to have them in a position where we know what the other team is gonna do. Now, whether you can stop that only time will tell.

Q. Do you feel that adrenaline rush the way a player does?
COACH IZZO: I do. That's what I said. I'm not even sure you should admit to it because you're supposed to be up for every game. Look, we don't have this kind of setup for every game. It's just a different level. And each week that you go by, it just doubles and triples, and that's what makes this tournament maybe one of the greatest sports spectacles in our country.

Q. You said the other day you don't have any superstitions but you have a working routine you follow. Can you take us through a little bit what your working routine is on these short preps and how much of that contributes to your success on the second day of these tournaments?
COACH IZZO: Well, either that has been part of it or better players has been a part of it. If you have great players, I think that would beat the heck out of any prep you could do.
But, you know, what we normally do is we try to break it down into 20- 25-minute segments, 25 minute meeting, show them a little tape and then before the dinner, like last night, we had a 15-minute tape session and a 10-minute walk-through. We ate. We had a 10 or 12-minute tape session, 10 or 12-minute walk through. We let them go. Brought them back, had another tape session on the personnel, another walk through. What it does is attention span, you know, I got a seven-year-old, when you get this time of the tournament, poor players, they're kind of worn out, so they don't have as long an attention span. I think these 10, 15, 20-minute deals, especially when it's sandwiched around a snack or meal, if you can get lucky enough to have a hotel that has an area where you can walk through, that's what we kind of do our most damage. That's the way we've approached it. It's been successful for us. I'm sure everybody's got their own way.

Q. People obviously have been talking a lot about how your team is tough, and they're a tough team, too. How do you define toughness in a basketball sense and how do you try to make your team to be tough?
COACH IZZO: What I really like about their team, it's what I really, really liked about my championship team. Matean Cleaves is probably the toughest player I ever coached. And yet everybody loved him. I mean, the opponents liked him because he didn't talk it, he just played it. I don't know, I haven't played against Pittsburgh, but watching them yesterday, you know, I see an air of confidence, an air of cockiness, but not an air of talking it, they just do it. That's what I respect about Ben Howland, that's what I respect about Jamie, his teams just do it.
Some people talk it and don't walk it. Some people walk it and don't talk it. They're more the walk and don't talk, as far as I can see. I think those are the real tough teams. The teams that have to talk it, there's probably an air of softness in there that they feel they have to try to intimidate somebody because they can't take care of it themselves.
Mental toughness is damn near as important as physical toughness because they should go hand-in-hand. But if you're just physically tough and mentally weak, it's not going to do any good either. They got to go hand-in-hand.

Q. How big of a concern Sam Young is to you? How are you going to deal with, assuming Naymick is on Blair, how are you going to deal with Young, Benjamin, Morgan Suton?
COACH IZZO: Doesn't sound like anything good to think about me personally (smiling).
But, you know, Young is a problem. I mean, we had the kid Alan Anderson a few years ago, wasn't quite as big. But any time you got a 6'6", 6'7" guy that can put it on the floor, that can shoot threes, that can post you up, it's a mismatch problem. Some of the times, some of the reasons they're successful is it's a mismatch problem.
Do you put a smaller guy on him, let him post you up, special play that they get it into the post on? Do you put a bigger guy on him and then hope they got enough help on the perimeter that he doesn't just drive around you?
So we've got both game plans in. I'm sure we're gonna have to alternate it, maybe even throw in a little bit of zone. I don't think you're going to see a lot of zone by either team out there tomorrow.

Q. Could you tell me the genesis of the war drill and your philosophy behind it? When is the last time you put the football helmets and the shoulder pads on?
COACH IZZO: I did it a year ago (laughter). I should have done it this year. I was afraid my guys would chicken out this year.
The genesis of it is we were such a bad shooting team that my first year I thought the only way we had a chance is to send four guys to the boards, start rebounding and make the missed shot our best offense. We beat a good team, Arkansas. We beat Arkansas real early in the year, had 26 offensive rebounds. Everybody started buying into it. Then we became a better skill team, a better defensive team. But I was fortunate to have a Charlie Bell or Jason Richardson. What I really did then is started to go to four guys to the basket. We became a better rebounding team.
Then one year when we had the championship year, in fact, we got beat by Ohio State, I think the only team that out rebounded us, one of only two that year. Figured we were getting a little stale. We won a lot of games. I told my equipment man. Call Saban, ask him if I can borrow 10 sets of gear. I was all mad about it when he got them. Matean Cleaves was on that team. Four Division I football players on that team. They were having fun. I was mad they were having fun. I wanted them to be angry about it. It was fun watching some of our football guys 6'9" guys to wear shoulder pads, buckle a chin strap. A couple didn't even know how to put a helmet on.
It was kind of cool, kind of fun. If nothing else, when we have our mini reunions, it always becomes the topic of conversation.

Q. How do you think your team's toughness at this point does match up with Pittsburgh's toughness?
COACH IZZO: That's interesting. I was just talking to a couple coaches that have been very good coaches out here. They think we're a lot tougher than I do. I think sometimes I lose perspective of what we are because I'm used to those teams with Richardson and Randolph and Cleaves and Hudson. I mean, those were just -- although Pittsburgh had a couple of those teams as couple years ago with those big guys that were, I mean, unbelievable.
I don't think either teams, where they were. When I look at Pitt, I think physically they look bigger and stronger than we are. We have a little height advantage and maybe a little depth advantage. We're probably tougher than I give us credit for. When I look at the matchup, I think if I was -- if it was a boxing match and I was going by the tale of the tape, I don't think we win that one right now. But that is the strength of their team. When you got a guy like Blair in there or Biggs, height-wise not enormous, but girth-wise, they are enormous.
It will be interesting to see. I'll tell you more tomorrow night.

Q. Can you just talk a little bit about how hard it is for a freshman, especially a freshman big man, to succeed on this level? When you look at Blair, what impresses you about what he's done?
COACH IZZO: Looking at him impresses me (laughter). I look at him, I say, My God, where do they grow those kind of guys? I want to get one.
But he's big. He's strong. He's got great hands. He's got good feet. And I think the big thing about him is he's not as physically bruising, meaning just knock you on your tail. He does what I call wedging guys. He just moves his body, and he does it very, very well. He's very good at using his body, not his arms. To me that's another sign of a tough guy. A lot of guys that aren't real tough always want to protect their body with their arms. He just moves his body in there and it doesn't bother him.
It is impressive what he's done in that league. He's gonna be a special player, there's no question about it.

Q. There's been so much talk about toughness. In the last however long you've been there, have you ever lost a recruit, almost lost a player who maybe envisioned himself as more skilled than tough and didn't want to come in and put on football pads?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, you know, just make sure none of you are recruiting against us. We do that two, three times every decade. It's not every week (laughter).
But it's interesting you'd ask that because I think I've had one of the greatest athletes that's ever played the game, one of, Jason Richardson, who was not real big and strong and learned to become tougher and enjoyed that drill. I always say if you want to play at the next level, you better learn how to be tough because you're playing hurt at that level every day. I mean, you got so many injuries.
So, you know, smash-mouth toughness is not going to happen any more. The game was more physical 10 years ago than it is now. But being tough doesn't just mean you have to be 280 pounds. So I think, you know, this probably is getting a little blown out of proportion. I think most teams are used to seeing us five or six years ago, and even now, I think they're tough. You got a point guard that's a bulldog tough kid. I think everybody looks at it that way. But they're skilled, too. They're very skilled. And I think -- I don't think it will be quite the shrug fest everybody thinks. It won't be Woody Hayes against Bo Schembechler, three yards and a cloud of dust.
You don't want to go underneath the boards not braced. I told my guy, low man is going to win. You better be ready to be banged around. I don't think a slugfest. I just think they do a good job of using their bodies, and hopefully we do. It should be an entertaining game.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thanks very much, coach. Appreciate your time.

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