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March 26, 2009

Tom Izzo

Kalin Lucas

Raymar Morgan

Goran Suton

Travis Walton


BILL BENNER: We're joined by the Michigan State student-athletes. We'll open it up for questions.

Q. Travis, the significance for you to make it to a Final Four, given that Coach Izzo's record of getting four-year players to the Final Four, can you tell us about that?
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, it's always important for us to -- not only for myself, but for the program, even be considered a Final Four team or being able to make it to a Final Four. It's always important for us to strive for the best, and the best is to get to the Final Four.
But we got to take it one game at a time, focus on Kansas. Hopefully we can win this game on Friday.

Q. Goran, Cole just said he looks forward to playing against you. He said it's fun because you bring a European style. He calls you a very smart rebounding team because of the way you are aggressive. Talk about going against him, what you have to do to try to shut him down.
GORAN SUTON: Well, you know, he's a great player. You have to keep him away from the basket. But at the same time you can't front him too much because they'll throw over the top pass, easy layup or a dunk.
So I think you have to be physical with him, make him take some tough shots, force him away from the block as far as possible. I think run some ball screens on the other end, make him guard outside.

Q. Raymar, Coach Izzo's teams almost year in, year out are the best rebounding teams in the country. How does he teach rebounding? What does it take?
RAYMAR MORGAN: Well, rebounding is a technique. You never know what side it's going to go off of. It's just different techniques you can use, different boxing out drills we do in practice. A drill we like to call War. That gets us prepared for each game, the way we rebound.

Q. Coach talks about how it would be difficult to try to stop one of you because someone else always steps up. He says that's confusing for him setting a game plan. Other teams have trouble picking out a guy to defend. What is it like to play in the system where you never know who's going to be big on any given night?
KALIN LUCAS: Yeah, you know, we have guys that can step up for us. We do have guys that can score for us, if it's me, Raymar, if it's G. Then as far as defense, one thing we do, we do play solid defense. And Travis plays great defense.
TRAVIS WALTON: Yeah, I think it's a fun system 'cause, like you said, you never know who can step up, who gonna make a big shot. I think it's got to be tough for an opposing team to put out a scouting report for us. Every day, it could be a different leading scorer. I think all our games this year, it's been a different person leading. I think it's important. Talking about the system we have is pretty fun because, like you said, coach kind of give everybody opportunity to score the ball, everybody is put in the opportunity to score the ball. So it works pretty good for us.

Q. Kalin, how do you perceive your role in the offense and how much freedom do you have in the offense?
KALIN LUCAS: One thing I'm supposed to do, I'm supposed to get guys involved. One thing I got to do is try to create for my teammates, get shots. One thing I'm supposed to do is score, too. You know, that's really it. That's really it. That's what I'm really just supposed to do, just get my teammates involved and score.

Q. Travis, you as players for years now have gotten used to substitutions every three, four minutes. Mentally how do you get used to that in a system like this? Seems like coaches have hockey-type line changes every once in a while.
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, I think as a player, when you come into college basketball, you always think you can play 40 minutes. You want to play 40 or you want to play 35 minutes. But I think as you look at your whole season, look at what you want to accomplish, look at teams that's been successful in what they did, you kind of understand that, you know, in order for us to be pretty good, for us to have a great season, you got to have different people step up and you got to have different people play a lot of minutes.
So if they called on to step up, they can step up. And I think that's been the thing about coach, is that, you know, he always have players that can kind of step up. You know, so when we kind of run a nine to 10-man rotation since he's been here. I think that's something he can hold his hat onto. Recruits also. A lot of freshman come in and play a lot of minutes for us. It's pretty good for us because it's different people that can come in, that's going to be comfortable if they be called on to start, if you look at a situation earlier on in our season.

Q. Tell us about the War drill.
GORAN SUTON: It's one drill I used to like my first two years. I don't as much any more.
You start five guys inside, five guys outside of the three. The ball goes up. The guys inside try to box the other guys out. The guys that are on the three-point line try to get an offensive rebound. It gets physical, it gets rough. But I think it's one drill that works. It's something we've done every day, every practice since I've been at Michigan State. I think that's the reason we're one of the best rebounding teams in the country.
RAYMAR MORGAN: I think G pretty much covered everything. It's a pretty physical drill, though, a lot of contact involved. There's just guys that start from the inside just going to seek contact and boxing their guy out, getting the rebound, going down to the other end, fast breaking.
It's a pretty tiring and physical drill.

Q. Travis, I know it didn't work for USC last week. I know Kansas primarily plays man-to-man. Do you expect to see any junk defenses?
TRAVIS WALTON: I think they probably going to run a 2-3 zone or 3-2 zone. They played that the first couple times we played them. I wouldn't be shocked for them to play any type of defense. They primarily a man-to-man defense team. That's what they've been making hay on, defense. They putting pressure on players. They zone defense has been pretty good also.

Q. Travis, last week I asked you about your defense. When Bill Self talked about you, he talked about a midrange game. He was impressed by it. Is that something maybe we should know more about?
TRAVIS WALTON: No (laughter). No, I'm just joking.
I think the last time I played Kansas, I had a pretty good game against them also. So maybe it was one of them things, where I think I had 11 or 13 points the first time we played them, I had a pretty good game against USC.
He probably not going to not guard me. He probably put a lot of emphasis on this, like we can't not guard him. We have to look at Goran, Raymar and Kalin as the main players, and if we can contain them, we can do all right.
BILL BENNER: Gentlemen, thank you very much. We're joined by Michigan State University head coach Tom Izzo with us. We'll take questions for coach.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about your relationship with Goran and how it's grown over the years, then talk about how his game was developed.
COACH IZZO: Well, Goran is an interesting kid. He's been in East Lansing for four years before he came to college after coming from Bosnia. He's one of the more intelligent players I've ever coached. He has a great understanding of the game. We've worked through some injuries. But I think he's grown to learn to change his body type a little bit, maybe his passion for the game. He's always been a good player with just maybe not as big a sense of urgency as I would like or he would like even. And I think he's learned how to love the game more and more.
He had a great summer. Unfortunately, he had some injuries early in the year that set him back a little bit more. But he's a guy I can talk to whenever, you know. In some ways, some people think he's my whipping guy, and he probably is a little bit. But I understand what motivates him. He's even said to me, I need to be motivated. And, at the same time, if there's issues on the team, I can go to him because he has a good feel for everybody on this team. He's a fifth-year guy that kind of not only understands basketball, but a very good student, so I think he understands life.
And going through what he went through in Bosnia with the war and all the things that he's been through, I think he has sometimes a better perception of things than even I have. When I try to make things life or death, he's kind of gone through that.
You know, he's a guy that I'm always on and I'm going to probably miss tremendously, if that makes any sense.

Q. You said all season long that you wouldn't know how to box-and-one your own team or triangle-and-two. Tim Floyd tried it. Didn't work out. Is that about what you expected? How nerve-wracking is it when you don't know who you would box-and-one?
COACH IZZO: Well, it's not as comforting to me to go to bed at night and not be able to lay down and say, "I know this guy is going to get me 20 and 10, whatever the figures may be. But it's kind of fun to see somebody box-and-one somebody and somebody else score 18 points that you were leaving alone. That's the kind of team we have. We've had 10 different guys step up during the year. We've had eight different guys in double figures in the tournament. Somebody has always stepped up.
Not as comforting for a coach from a standpoint of knowing what you're getting. But since it's happened game after game after game after game after game, I think it's fun for a coach because somebody's always risen to the occasion. It may be harder for the opposing coach to figure out who do you really have to stop.

Q. This is the time of year when guys who are sitting on these podiums around the country get asked, Are you interested in this job, we hear these people are interested in you. You've gone through this before. What have you found the best way to answer those questions?
COACH IZZO: You know, I just answer them the same way I always have. I think I've been always honest. One or two jobs that I've looked at, for me personally, I always went through my president. He always knew what was going on. Usually my athletic director. And I would say that anybody that answers them that they have no interest in anything, that's insane, because nobody else in America would ever feel that way. And yet the best way I can answer it is, you know, I probably would never say never.
But I would say this: I am so happy where I'm at. I have a wife and kids. My wife has a lot of family where I'm at. I have goals still of what I want to achieve at Michigan State. They have not been achieved. I'd like to leave the place not only, when I'm done, better than I got it, but I'd like to leave it with a footprint that hopefully will last many decades after.
So there's still things we have to accomplish. I'm just going to keep doing my job and get through and think it's flattering if a job here or there, if somebody thinks we're doing the right things, that there's interest. But I've been taken very well care of at Michigan State. I have as good a facilities as anybody in the country. I get paid more than fairly. I've got goals and objectives yet to fulfill.
I would just say that for me 'never' just means -- I think it's crazy when people say that. But for me, I'm very happy where I'm at.

Q. You talked about the balance of your team, how on any given night anyone can step up and lead your team in scoring. With Kansas, it's not been quite that way, especially in the tournament with Collins and Aldrich. What kind of challenge does that present with two such good players?
COACH IZZO: I think you could argue and Collins and Aldrich are maybe two of the best players at their positions in the country. I mean, I know -- I've seen Collins. I recruited Aldrich a little bit in high school. The development that he's had is a testimonial to him and Bill Self. I think he's developed incredibly well in that system.
And Collins has gone from they say a sub last year. You're a sub, but you start on 99 of a 100 teams, I don't consider you a sub in that respect.
But I think they've grown with him. He is a Lawson-type player, except I think he shoots it better. He can go north and south as quick, and I think he can go east and west. He's a hard cover. His strength, his intelligence, and his ability to shoot it make him a hard cover.
And all driven, he's just long. There's seven-footers that are seven feet, and there's seven-footers that seem nine feet. He's one of those seven-footers that seems nine feet to me, although a 6-footer seems eight feet to me, so that's not really fair. But I do think that those two guys could rival any center point/guard in the country. You could get a good argument why they're the best.

Q. Your teams always emphasize rebounding. I'm wondering where the genesis of that philosophy came from as you were developing your own coaching philosophy, and tell us about the War drill, where you came up with that?
COACH IZZO: The only reason my team -- Jud wasn't a huge rebounding guy. I guess it was my own creation out of necessity. What I mean by that is we were such a poor shooting team my first year. We played, I think it was Arkansas after we came back from Maui, got schooled by North Carolina, Steve Nash, Santa Clara. We came back and played Arkansas. I inserted my power forward, I played him at the three spot, Antonio Smith. I said the only way we can win is make the missed shot our best offense. That game against Arkansas, I think we had 24 offensive rebounds and we won.
Then I started thinking about it. I realized, too, that it was something that I think stood for something you stood for some toughness, some aggressiveness. I guess the War drill came about when we got beat on the boards by Ohio State for the first time. I think it was in the '98 or '99 season. I told my guy, we should put football pads on and go at it. To my surprise, my players enjoyed it. Instead of were upset about it, they enjoyed it. They had some fun with it. Then we just started doing it.
It's just lining up five guys around the three-point line, five guys under the basket, throw a ball up, see who can knock somebody down and get a rebound. That's about all. It's not very complicated. We do it every day. But there's not a lot to it. It's not very sophisticated. But I think it has helped us.
Again, we're one of the top rebounding teams in the country and we've been that way throughout my whole career. The offensive rebounding is more by disaster of not being able to shoot it well. The defensive rebounding I think has been more -- I just think it shows your aggressiveness and your toughness a little bit.

Q. Address the development of Kalin Lucas and just how quick he in your eyes?
COACH IZZO: Well, he's not as strong yet as a Collins or a Lawson, but he is every bit as quick, I think. He can get from one end of the court to the other. He has great speed. I think he's the fastest point guard I've ever had. As his ball skills continue to improve, his left hand, all those things, I think Kalin could build himself into -- you know, I called him a poor man's Chris Paul, and I think he has a game somewhat like a poor man's - don't take that wrong, I think the world of Chris Paul, but he has a demeanor like that. As his shooting keeps improving, I think he has a chance to be one of the great point guards. I think he still has to continue to get stronger. If you look at the best of the best, other than Collison from UCLA, most of those point guards have big-time strength, like Mateen Cleaves had or the kid from Syracuse or Lawson or Collins.
He's getting there. I think he's still got a long ways to go. I think he'd be the first to tell you that.

Q. You've you had success with a strategy of playing guys three, four minutes before subbing them in and out for a while now. Where did that idea come from? How has it impacted the program from a player development program, recruiting?
COACH IZZO: Well, this season would have been disastrous if we didn't have that just because of the injuries we had throughout the year. But I also think it's more fun for a team. We're still getting our best players. They're playing a lot of minutes.
But I think by subbing in and getting some rest, you're also getting some more guys some experience. Our practices are a little more fun because they know they're going to be part of the playing group. On given nights we've had kids like Draymond Green, Korie Lucious hits four threes in a game. I think it's been good for us.
Where did it come from? I don't know. I think I started back when Morris Peterson, as our sixth man, and made people in our program believe that coming off the bench, you know, I kind of grew up watching John Havlicek, he was an All-Star coming off the bench. Sure enough, we had the first player in the history of Big-10, Morris Peterson, to come off the bench and be first-team All-Big-10.
Whenever I have a kid that wonders why he's on the bench, I just have them call Morris, he tells them it's not so bad. I think it's been good for our team and it's been a necessity this year. That's what I'm learning. It's harder to go through a year. The seasons are getting longer, without injuries, so you better have some subs.

Q. The last time you played Kansas in a Sweet 16 was the '86 clock game when you were an assistant. Did you think that at all when you saw the matchup again? What do you remember about that game?
COACH IZZO: I can't say I thought about that game. Although I did when I was talking to Jud, you know, in between games the other night. I do remember that game very, very well because I was a GA that sat there and one of my jobs at the end was to watch the clock. When it wasn't moving, and I told Jud, he more or less told me where to go because I don't think he believed me. When he found out it really wasn't moving, he went down and very quietly informed the scorekeeper that the clock wasn't moving, you know (smiling).
But you look back on that game, I always talk to Larry Brown when he was with the Pistons about that. We kind of laughed. I told Danny Manning when he was at our place that we got ripped off. I was really just kidding.
I learned a good lesson that game. We got back in the locker room, and I remember how upset Jud was, because we had our chance to win it. We missed some free throws. Yet we had an incredible year, overachieved in everybody's mind. He made a comment, you know, The problem is, you don't know, you may never get back.
Boy, as I've watched some of the great coaches, I watch my own program, I catch myself wondering when you'll get another chance. And that's where, like last weekend, I explained to our players that, you know, every play of every game does matter. That's the difference with the NCAA tournament. If that puts pressure on you, then you're probably not going to be of the quality of team to move on. You have to embrace that, understand it, and do your best to make sure that every single play of every single game does have a purpose, whether it's a missed free throw, whether it's a missed free throw rebound, all the things that happen. Because we were this far from moving on and didn't. You know, as I look back, Jud never got farther than that the rest of the years I was an assistant.
As time went on, I really started understanding what he meant that night, because up until then I kind of looked at him like, We just had a heck of a year. We just played a helluva game. I didn't understand why maybe that team didn't deserve more credit at the time. The next day he gave it to 'em all. But that night, I'm starting to understand a little bit more how he felt.

Q. Because of the UConn situation, coaches Pitino and Self were asked what to do in this day of text messaging, agents. Rick said the individual schools need to start patrolling themselves better because the NCAA is too overwhelmed to do it. Bill said the coaches need to patrol each other a little bit better without 'ratting' on each other. Can you comment on your view.
COACH IZZO: I think both are right. I don't know how you patrol each other without ratting on each other. But I think it is a problem. I think the more money we make, the bigger the problem there is.
I don't think it can be left up to the NCAA totally just because of what you said. I think it's too big. It's too big of a problem. But, you know, there's somebody always circumventing the rules. I'm not saying that happened now. I'm just saying in general.
I learned a few years ago that you got to do what you got to do. You got to live with you. That's what I try to do. I used to complain about all that stuff. I don't complain about it anymore. I just figure there's players out there that I can get. I'm going to get those players. I'm going to try to compete.
But is it always a level playing field? No, it's not. But life's not very level either. It is what it is. I just feel bad because I see coaches losing jobs and things like that over it.
You know, I think assistants are trying to aspire to get the same kind of jobs, the same kind of money. Yet we, as head coaches, I do not agree with this, Well, my assistant went AWOL. You have a job to do. The job you have to do is you have to control your organization. Someday that might bite me right in the seat. But at the same time we have to be responsible for the things we are.
Usually, if major things are going on - I mean, I'm not big on the phone call thing, if you want me to answer that, I don't think there's 90% the problem. I think that's something that can be caught, so it's 90% because you can look on a sheet of paper. People that are getting caught for big things, it's not phone calls in my mind.

Q. We've talked so much about your depth, but yet as you advance deeper here, how important is it for Raymar to come through with a good game?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think Raymar Morgan is very important to us. As I listen to our own people back in East Lansing, I think a lot of people get down on Raymar because they see this Adonis-looking kid who is very intelligent, very good basketball player, and sometimes not as confident in himself as I think he needs to be. But it beats the heck out of guys that are so cocky and arrogant that they think they're better than they are. Somewhere there's a happy medium that Raymar has to find.
The biggest thing is he was having an incredible year. Definitely an all Big-10 year, maybe a Player of the Year year up until he got sick in the middle of January. He's recovered from that some. But a guy that's not as confident, and you lose that ability to shoot every day. Like I said, it wasn't the four games he missed. It was really the month he missed. He missed a month of practice, missing a month of doing what he can do.
We need him. He's one of our best players. I can promise you that. It's hard to advance in this tournament if your best players aren't playing well. So it doesn't put any pressure on him and it does put pressure on him. I'd say it's going to be hard for us to advance much if Raymar Morgan isn't pretty good to real good. So I think he is important.
BILL BENNER: Thank you, coach.

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