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March 19, 2009
MODERATOR: We're joined on the dais by Michigan State student-athletes. From my far left, Travis Walton, Goran Suton, Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan.
Q. Kalin, before or right when this pairing was announced, had you even remembered of Robert Morris before? And just how has that changed in the last few days as you are getting ready for this?
KALIN LUCAS: That was my first time hearing about the team. They are a good team. They shoot the 3 well. So that's something we will have to work on. We have to get back on defense, because they do like to run in transition.
Q. This is for Raymar. People talk about upsets and, you know, these 2-15 games. Is all the heat really on you, though, in that for a school like them, just to get here is a victory, to a large degree, and all the pressure is on you. If you go out and beat them by 25 or 30, you are supposed to. If you lose, it kind of looks pretty bad. That said, is heat all on you and not on them?
RAYMAR MORGAN: I wouldn't say so. The tournament is a new season. Everybody -- everybody's looking for an upset. So I wouldn't say so. We just have to come out and play our game and stay focused on the task that we need to do.
Q. Travis, what's practice been like since the Big Ten tournament got over and has intensity changed or ramped up as this thing has gone forward? How would you describe that?
TRAVIS WALTON: I think our practices have been great. We have been excited. It is a new season, as Raymar said. Whenever you come into the tournament, you know, no matter who you're playing, the seed in the tournament, you are excited for it because every team comes in 0-0. Every team, especially the smaller teams, they won their conference, they have their hands up. We are looking forward to a new season and a great new start.
Q. This is for Goran Suton and Raymar Morgan. How do you guys feel physically? Goran, you had the knee problem back in December. Raymar, I saw you at Purdue and you were not feeling well. So where are you add physically?
RAYMAR MORGAN: For me, I'm back at 100 percent. I'm feeling well. My strength is back. It's just a matter of me getting my timing down, and I think that's back, so I am feeling all right.
GORAN SUTON: I have to say I don't think any player is -- physically, as far as their health, I don't think anybody is 100 percent, but I think it is the best I felt the whole year. My knees are feeling great and everything else feels good.
Q. For any of you guys. What does 21 bring for them, Chappell? Obviously the best player in their league. Not to kind of put him in one of your games, but could he play in a Big Ten game? And what does he do on film that you've seen so far?
TRAVIS WALTON: Well, I think he's a pretty -- he's a good player. You know, he leads them in all kinds of stats: rebounding, scoring, assists. I think turnovers. You know, so in every category you can lead the team and he leads them.
So he's a good player. When you look at smaller teams, and you got their best player, they can kind of play any level. So if he was playing the Big Ten, I am sure he would have a big impact like he has for their team. And wherever he can play he can have a big impact on them.
So it doesn't really matter where he plays at or where he's from, we know he's a good player and we have to look at him like we look at somebody who is playing in the ACC or the Big Ten.
RAYMAR MORGAN: Like Travis said, Chappell is a great player. He adds a lot to his game. He is very versatile, he is a strong guard, he shoots the 3 well and he goes off the dribble. So, like you said, he's a threat wherever you look at him, in every category. So we're just going have to have play him tough.
Q. Raymar, can you talk a little bit about your AAU days with Jimmy, what they were like and what kind of player he is and what kind of player he was?
RAYMAR MORGAN: Jimmy is a cool guy. He is a leader. He leads his team in wins. He is a heady guard, very crafty and can do a lot with the guard. A great shooter. He can shoot the 3.
So I think forcing with a lot of pressure, we can make him do some things that he doesn't want to do.
Q. Have you guys talked during the week about this?
RAYMAR MORGAN: We talked a little bit, texting each other. Talking a little trash.
Q. What do you say on the floor?
RAYMAR MORGAN: Nothing. It is nothing but respect between us. Jimmy is a cool guy.
Q. Who is the better player on that team?
RAYMAR MORGAN: I have got to go with me. I ain't going to down myself, so me.
Q. Did I hear right, were you playing against that AAU team, also?
TRAVIS WALTON: I can't really remember.
RAYMAR MORGAN: I don't think we played, no. We didn't play them.
Q. I guess for any of you guys, obviously the Big East has gotten a lot of pub going into the tournament about being the No. 1. It seems the Big Ten, if anything, a lot of doubters out there. Do you guys feel that there is a sense that you want to prove that hey, you know, we're from the Big Ten and we belong here as much as anybody else?
GORAN SUTON: You know, I think Big Ten has been disrespected all year, and I think, you know, I think there are a lot of teams in the conference that are, you know -- you look at Minnesota, they beat Louisville. And, you know, you look at Northwestern and they didn't make it to the tournament, gave Florida State a tough game.
So I think we don't really care what people think and we just want to take care of our business, and, you know, hopefully the Big Ten will do well in this tournament.
KALIN LUCAS: Yeah, the same thing Suton said, the Big Ten, I don't think we get our respect that we should. But you know what I think it is, some good teams in the Big Ten -- I mean Penn State, Penn State was a good team and they didn't make the tournament.
Q. I think a lot of people see the losses this year and don't know exactly what to expect from you guys, even though you obviously have a lot of talent. Do you guys know what to expect from yourselves in this tournament? Is there any curiosity? Or are you pretty confident in what's going to happen tomorrow and the rest of the tournament?
TRAVIS WALTON: Yeah, I think, you know, sometimes you pay attention to the losses, to the teams we lost to. But if you look across the board at any team in the Top 10 or Top 25, they didn't have losses that people questioned.
It is a new season and you can't really look at that and worry about what people are saying and what they feel about our losses, because our losses come to Northwestern who beat a Florida State pretty good or different teams like that.
So pretty much we just have to come out here and play basketball and then look forward to what we -- to how we feel.
And we're feeling pretty good. You know, we're excited about the tournament, about playing Robert Morris and the different teams that's here. We just have to look forward and not worry about everything else that's going on.
Q. This is for any of you guys. Last Sunday when you saw that you were going to play Robert Morris, did you guys know where Robert Morris was? And if you did, what did you know about them?
KALIN LUCAS: No, we didn't. I don't think I did. I don't think the team did either. But, you know, our main focus is we're going to take one game at a time. And, you know, we try to make a run in the tournament.
TRAVIS WALTON: Robert Morris is where Five-Star at. So, yeah, I know where it was a little bit because I played at Five-Star. So it was kind of I went to the Five-Star and that's where it was at.
Q. This is for Raymar. Travis mentioned a couple of days ago after practice the kind of sacrifices that you've made on this team. With your health, all of that -- kind of putting stats aside, knowing that you weren't going to get some of the post-season awards because of everything that you have been through. What does it mean to be around these guys now, be healthy, and kind of get a chance now when you absolutely need to to show this team's potential and have you be a part of it after what you have been through?
RAYMAR MORGAN: It is great. It is a chance of a lifetime. I can finally get to show the world what they have been missing for a while, and my team, it seems like we are playing our best basketball over these last couple of practices. So everybody's feeling good. Everybody is close to 100 percent. So we just can't wait to step on the floor.
MODERATOR: Okay guys, thank you. We'll go ahead and excuse them back to the locker room.
Joined on the dais by Michigan State head coach, Tom Izzo.
Q. Tom, Raymar just got done saying that he thinks this team's playing their best basketball over the last two practices. Have you kind of seen a little bit of a giddy-up in their step?
COACH IZZO: That's a great line, over the last two practices. Most people say the last two weeks, you know.
But I think everybody's aware of, you know, kind of some of the things we've been through. And we've had a couple of good practices. And I think, you know, we didn't play as bad on film as I thought over the weekend. We just didn't make shots. And when you don't make shots, sometimes that happens.
But even though it is a crazy statement, I kind of have to agree with him. We've had some good practices and I think guys are very focused in on what we have to do. And now we have to play the game.
Q. Speaking of Raymar, Tom, how has he looked recently? And what do you think you can get out of him, specifically in this game?
COACH IZZO: I think that's why he said it. Raymar has had his best week. He's had his best couple of weeks as far as being consistent. He shot the ball better. You know, he did not maybe have a great game in our last outing, but as far as the consistency of the last two, three -- two weeks for sure with Raymar, things have been a lot more consistent. And he's starting to feel a lot more comfortable shooting the ball.
But his defense in practices has been unbelievable, too. He's starting to rebound now every time. So, I'm expecting big things out of Raymar and I think we'll need big things.
Q. Coach, do you talk about any of the 2-15 games before, Coppin State or Hampton or Santa Clara? I know it is foreboding to do so.
COACH IZZO: I kind of look today's games a little bit more. You always see in the first round of the tournament -- and Memphis had a struggle there for a while. We were coming back from our practice at a high school, or at St. Thomas. And, you know, listening to the score and I think they were down 3 with about eight minutes left or something like that.
But, you know, this tournament is so much about matchups and so much about, you know, maybe how you're playing, but maybe who you're playing that we've been beaten by the 9th place team in our league at home, and we have beaten some very good people on the road.
So I can use our own experiences. I don't have to look at others to kind of see where we are. I think our players are starting to learn more and more that it's not how good you are, it is how good you play on a given night. And I haven't stressed that. I haven't spent a lot of time on it.
I have talked about a 1-16 is going to go down sooner or later, and I say that just because of the parity in college basketball when you start looking at it, and we talked about this the night of the Selection show. You start looking at teams like an Arizona, you know, as a 12 or 13 seed. It shows you how deep it's getting. And you know, I look at Boston College and USC being a 7 and 10 seed. There's parity all the way through right now and I think everybody is starting to realize that.
Q. Talking about just these last few days of practice, is there any other player that you've seen just kind of really step up even more, take it to another level? Just someone who may have put --
COACH IZZO: Chris Allen has had a very good week. Actually a couple of weeks of practice. I think he has definitely, on both ends of the court, shown more. If I had to pick two guys that, you know, maybe have shown more, it would be those two guys.
Q. Coach, Brian Gregory was talking earlier about his involvement with you and Michigan State. What's your reaction to what he's done at Dayton?
COACH IZZO: Did he lie to you and tell you that he coached the team that won the national championship (laughter)? I taught my assistants well, take credit for what you can and give blame to the head coach.
I am very impressed with what Brian has done. And I watched his team last year. And unfortunately, and this year, too, he had a serious injury again. But last year when Chris went down, Chris Wright went down, and he lost another player, I think, too. He's battled through some things. I thought he had a tournament team last year if everybody would have stayed healthy after beating Louisville and Pittsburgh, and not getting in. I felt really bad for him last year.
But I'm impressed with the job he's done and yet it doesn't surprise me. He was one of the best assistants I've ever had.
And, you know, he went to Northwestern and Kevin O'Neal. And he's kind of been through it all. And each has a little military background. So I'm pleased for Brian. I am ecstatic for Brian. But it doesn't surprise me. The guy is a class guy. He works his tail off. He's got a good staff. And I think he's building a program there that's going to get back to, you know, the Donaher days, not that whatchamacallit did a great job, too, building it back, but that is a program that should be there every year, and I think it will be.
Q. Tom, Raymar said he pretty much -- he was in here and said he wants to show the world kind of what they've been missing with the fact that he is healthy now. Him saying that, is that kind of un-Raymar like? Has he maybe grown and matured and maybe looking to be a little more bolder and confident now after what he has been through?
COACH IZZO: There have been three different guys who told me Raymar said three different things. Three times as much as he has been lately.
You know, Ray, I think he is feeling some confidence. And, you know, some people have to tone down their cockiness and some people have to tone it up. There is a happy medium to both and Raymar is on the downside. If he is saying that and feels that way, I think that is half the battle. But visually I've seen a big step in Ray, especially this last week. The last couple of weeks, you know. And just getting comfortable back into things. Especially our break, where he can go with it. The offensive rebounding.
You know, as well as he was playing even a couple of weeks ago, he was making progress. The offensive rebounding is just starting to come back to him more and more on a consistent basis and he could be a great one.
So, you know, I'm glad to hear he's feeling good about how he has practiced and maybe progressed. And now the finishing topper would be to do it in a game. And he has made some progress in games, and I think he will hopefully this weekend.
Q. Tom, you guys get to the hotel early last night, you go all day, all night today. You are going to go all day and all night and tip off at about 10:00 Eastern time tomorrow. Is that long wait a concern to you or you just chalk it up to it is what it is?
COACH IZZO: It is what it is. It is a long time. I didn't realize -- I wasn't even thinking about it, not that we would have changed anything, because you have to be here today anyway. But that is a long time. Tomorrow is a long day. I think, you know, it's -- and yet we've played from 10:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night. So we have been well versed in this and that's why we practice at many different times.
And there will be a lot of excuses for things, but that won't be one of them. It really won't.
Q. At this point of the year you usually are what you are as a team. But given everything you've been through, is there a greater curiosity on your part about how are they going to be? Who is going to show up tomorrow and the rest of the tournament?
COACH IZZO: I don't know if it's as much as who is going to show up but just who is going to fit in. I have said it has been a different year to win 26 games, but I think the exciting part for me is I don't think we have played our best basketball yet. I think we've shown it a couple times. I was talking to Bill Self today and against Kansas we played awfully well, and it was days later that Raymar went down. And that kind of threw us into a little bit of, you know, inconsistency.
So I'm kind of excited about it, you know. I said all along we have a high ceiling and it's higher than the one we're at right now. But sometimes you never get to it. And I'm hoping we can get to it. Because if we do, I still think we have some good basketball left to play.
Q. Tom, when the brackets came out on Sunday, other than Garf having his camp there, what did you know about Robert Morris, and also what did you know about Mike Rice?
COACH IZZO: I knew Garf had his camp there and spent a lot of time there in different ways, all-star games there in the days. And I knew a little bit about Mike Rice because Pittsburgh, number one, and also Marquette when he was with Mike Deane there. And he did a phenomenal job there. That team plays hard. It's got some weapons, and the Chappell kid is a very, very good player. Can play probably a lot of places, or anyplace.
So I had been on the campus a lot of times, as you said. But did I know as much about, you know, the league and everything? When I was at Northern Michigan we played Mount St. Mary's and I was watching that championship game and they were Division II then, and when I was an assistant I laughed because we played them in the NCAA tournament and now they are competing at this level.
But, you know, I didn't know as much about them on a day-to-day basis. But he's definitely done an incredible job there. He's definitely got good players and he runs a lot of good things. And I think they are a very solid team.
So everything I've heard about them, his teams have been well coached. And coming from that Pittsburgh system, which I think has been a lot like ours, or ours has been a lot like theirs over the years, I think he's got a bright future, that's for sure.
MODERATOR: Okay, well, if we don't have any further questions, thank you.
COACH IZZO: Thank you.