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April 3, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by coach Tom Izzo. We'll begin with questions for Coach Izzo.
Q. Chris Allen is a rarity in that he's from Georgia. Most of your recruiting is to nearby states. If there was a top 20 player from California, Georgia, Florida, do you bother going after these people?
COACH IZZO: Chris was a special guy. His aunt and uncle live next door to Magic Johnson's mother and father in Lansing, and there was a connection there, and he used to come up when he was a young kid.
Sure, I would go after him. Again, it goes back to today. I believe in the state. I think there's enough good players in this state where us and Michigan can do very well. I still believe in the family atmosphere. Sometimes you get more kids closer to home, more parents involved. Some people can look at that as a negative. I look at it as a positive.
If you have a star in Boston, you have a name for me, I'd be glad to take it.
Q. Given the little flap that erupted yesterday over Ty Lawson's run in the casinos, did you feel any need to talk to your kids for warnings?
COACH IZZO: To be honest with you, I've already done that. I think I was a step ahead. I think when you look at them on some NCAA committees, you look at the problems everybody is worried about with sports in general. I'm not here to be judge or jury or say anything about that case. I don't know anything about it.
I did talk to my players. Let's face it, this is an image tournament to a certain extent. There will never be this many media that kind of come together for one event in any other athletic event they'll participate in. So that's what I try to talk to my guys about.
You know, I don't know the whole circumstances there. It would be hard for me to comment on it. But I do talk to my players about it. I haven't brought it up since because I already talked to them.
Q. You have some big contributions lately from your freshmen, particularly Draymond Green. Can you talk about the freshmen stepping up in general.
COACH IZZO: Well, freshmen have stepped up. Delvon had a great second half, Big-10 season, then studying a little bit. I think he hit a little bit of a wall. Korie Lucious had some big moments where he hit some big shots. One of the reasons we've been up and down, we played our three freshmen, our three sophomores a lot.
Draymond has been incredible of late. He was well-coached in high school, great understanding of the game, smart kid. I'd almost say his intelligence out does his skill level. He knows where to be at the right time. He knows where to read a rebound. Definitely he might not be the quickest guy, but he's the best position guy. Has a lot longer arms than his height. So he is a good rebounder because he's got some toughness. Even though maybe not a superior athlete, he's got that nose for the ball, that linebacker mentality, and he goes after it pretty good.
Q. You often talk about cutting off the head of the snake and the body will follow. What do you think you have to do with Price? How important is that matchup?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think that is a key matchup. Even though they have tremendous size up front, some very tough, good players up there, great rebounders. But I still think Price is the guy who stirs the drink. He's had an incredible tournament. He's making shots off the dribble even more. He's getting to the basket. If he gets to the basket, then we have to help with our big guys. It's going to be a dunkathon in there. We have to keep him in front of us, out of the paint. Easier said than done.
I ill still think Price, both from a scoring standpoint and from a penetration and cause-problem standpoint, is as good a player as we faced at that position now, and we've faced some good ones.
Q. You've talked about Goran as an enigma. Talk about his personality and your relationship with him over the years.
COACH IZZO: It's been great. It's one of those love/hate relationships. He needs to be pushed. He wants to be pushed. He's an incredible guy. Very intelligent and very worldly, would be a good word.
But there's times that he didn't love the game of basketball. I think he'd be the first to tell you. That might sound surprising to some. But it's more normal than you think.
But I think he has grown to really start to fall in love with it I. I think the last year and a half he's worked harder at it, had more success. If it wasn't for that injury early in the year that kept him out quite a while really - about eight weeks, missed all of our pre-season stuff, so he never had a good base - I think he would have had a dynamite senior year.
But what better way to save it than for the last month. He's been pretty good down the stretch.
Q. There was a great moment at the end of your workout, saying thank you to the crowd. Talk about what that meant to you, what was going through your mind at that point?
COACH IZZO: Remember, I was an assistant in the Goodwill Games. Flip Saunders was the head coach. Doc Rivers and I were assistants. We went to Australia. It was after that Olympics when we had some problems. After every game, Flip huddled the players in the middle and thanked the fans. I thought that was an awesome gesture.
So I guess I copied it. I just told the guys, Spend the moment to do two things: thank the people that came, thank Detroit, and then soak it in because you're not going to get to soak it in from here on in. It's dog-eat-dog. We're going to be thinking about what we got to do to accomplish our goals.
So I said, "Just walk to the edge, thank them, then soak in your walk back to the locker room."
Hopefully they did that. We really appreciated the people there today. It was incredible, it was awesome.
Q. A couple years ago you said you thought maybe you had a real shot against North Carolina if you would have had Ibok ready. He could have made a big difference. You have him now. With the stakes so high, knowing he doesn't play much, what can he do for you? What has he been like during the preparation?
COACH IZZO: You know, Idong Ibok is probably -- I look at Mateen from the past, different players I had a chance to coach that I think had a bigger impact on me than I did on them. Ibok is one of those guys. They did a story of him over in his native country. Just kind of learning about the kid. That kid has come to practice every day. He has not played a ton of minutes for five years. Every day he's done everything asked. He's been on the scout team longer than most people. It's not even legal.
In saying that, we used him in the Illinois game at the end and he came through big for us. I mean, he knows this weekend he's going to have to play. I know he's going to have to play. I think our players know he's going to have to play. I think everybody is comfortable playing him.
He's done his job, his homework. He hasn't given up on anything. You're right, we're going to need him this weekend.
Q. At this stage of tournament every team is talented. How much does it come down to will and toughness?
COACH IZZO: I think players play and the toughest players win. I never changed that when we were not the toughest team or the toughest team. You're right. Everybody has all their great players. Somebody is going to make a few more shots than somebody else. It really comes down to who is going to cut out on the free-throw line, who is going to get the loose ball. We got a couple loose balls in the last couple of games that we're game changers, that if you're an average fan, you probably never realized what Chris Allen did, what Travis Walton, Durrell Summers saving a missed free throw did.
You hear coaches talk about little things make the difference. The biggest reason for that is everybody does the big things. The big things are stuff you do every day. The little things are what people do when nobody's watching, that kind of thing. If you have a habit of doing the little things as you get deep into this tournament where every possession counts, I think it makes a huge difference.
Q. Between yourself, Coach Calhoun and Coach Williams, all been to multiple Final Fours, and Jay making his first trip. Talk about the way he's starting to establish himself among the country's elite coaches.
COACH IZZO: I called Jay and gave him some great advice that nobody gave me. I told him to get your tickets and hotel done on Sunday night instead of on Friday night the following week like I did the first time.
But I love Jay Wright. He's a great guy. He's a very good coach. I think he's making an incredible impact there. It's kind of neat with Rollie being his mentor, I kind of feel like him and I have some things in common. I think he's going to have just an incredible career because he's been kind of on the edge here the last couple years. He finally got over that hump.
Once you get there, it's harder to get back. But at least you know the road to get there. I think he'll be able to use that with teams in the future.
Q. Travis Walton was voted most inspirational on your team by the players. What is it about him that earned that title?
COACH IZZO: You know, that's odd. Usually it goes to a sub or something else. But I think because every day he brings it. Every day, everybody knows, if you looked at just talent, I don't know where you'd put him, sixth, seventh, eighth most talented player on our team. If you look at just heart, you'd put him 1by a mile. Somewhere in between is where I think or players have an appreciation for him being a difference maker, us being able to win a lot of games this year.
There's no question he has been. He's gonna have his hands full tomorrow because we've put him up against the best of each conference has to offer. Sometimes it's been 6'6" guys, sometimes it's been 5'10" guys. 99% of the time he's answered the bell. He's got a little tougher task ahead of him tomorrow.
But if there's anybody I feel comfortable in doing it, it's him.
Q. What's Raymar's mindset going into this game? How has he practiced this week? How big of a concern is Robinson? Do you feel you have to stay big in this game?
COACH IZZO: I think we have to stay contact with him 'cause if you don't, those jets go off in his legs, and he kind of leaps above everybody. I think you're going to have to have contact if have a big or small guy on him. Raymar is a decent matchup for him. I think there's no doubt Robinson is maybe the best athlete at that size I've seen on tape anyway. Yet Raymar is a pretty good athlete with maybe strength, too.
So I think he is the best matchup. Raymar's had a good week of practice. He had a good week of practice last week. I think mentally, honestly I think he's been a little bit beat up. I think his confidence has been hurt a little bit. Yet in saying that, it's nothing he can't recover from. When it's hard to recover is when you've never done it before. He's done it before and he's done it on a pretty consistent basis the first 14 games of this season. He's had it back a few times, but it's been a little tougher lately.
The nose doesn't seem to be an issue. The mask is a lot better than the hockey mask he had last weekend. I still say he's a big key to our success this weekend, if we have some.
Q. How much did you know about what Goran had been through back in Serbia before he came out here, before he moved to the U.S. Also, how much of an impact do you think all that he's seen through the years has on the person he is now?
COACH IZZO: I think anytime you go through tough times, I think of my trip to Kuwait, it was a life-changing trip for me, and that was a week. He had years of it. So I think it had a serious impact.
I did not know as much about it when I first was recruiting him. I knew very little about it. But as I've gotten to know him and listen to the stories, he really doesn't talk about it a lot, he doesn't want anybody feeling sorry for him in one day. He quietly lets everybody know things aren't so bad. No matter what goes on, no matter how crazy a practice gets, no matter how bad a loss is, he has a great perspective on life, one that I'm not as good at as he is. He's taught me some things there.
He's really a great guy. I listen to a lot of coaches last night talk. You probably don't get this far unless you got some pretty good quality character guys. Each has their own story. I think you do an incredible job in the Final Four, you find the personal stories. Had when you get done, I must admit, I go back and read all those, because for every team we play, they're very interesting.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH IZZO: Thank you. We're joined by the Michigan State student-athletes. We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Kalin, I think there's an impression of you, maybe because it's generalization of the Big-10, but you like to slow the game down. How much do you like to run in reality?
KALIN LUCAS: No, as far as the game tomorrow, we aren't going to slow the game down at all. We're going to try to run on them every time, try to make them get back and play defense. It's just going to be an exciting game.
Q. Coach said he told you guys before you got here, warned you about gambling. Wonder if any of you recall what specifically he said?
RAYMAR MORGAN: No gambling (smiling).
GORAN SUTON: You bet, you lose.
I don't really remember him talking about it that much. You guys?
KALIN LUCAS: No, he ain't talk about it.
TRAVIS WALTON: I don't think they remember. But, no, he just said no gambling. We don't want that distracting us.
Q. Travis, can you talk about the matchup tomorrow night with A.J. Price, what you expect, how you're going to handle it?
TRAVIS WALTON: Uhm, well, you know, he a great player. He make big-time shots. So it's gonna be a tough cover for me to kind of contain him. The main thing is try to contain him and don't let him, you know, embarrass me in front of my home crowd.
Q. Goran, can you tell me a little bit about your path to the University of Michigan [sic] and also what you think about the increase in international players.
GORAN SUTON: I have to correct you with that first. Michigan State University. We don't want to be confused with the U of M.
It's been a long path. I moved to America not for basketball, but for, you know, plenty other reasons that involve life and stuff. I went to Everett High School, got coached by a great coach by the name of Johnny Jones. Won a state championship there. Got recruited by Michigan State ever since my sophomore year and fell in love with the program, with all the coaches, you know. Five years later, I'm here playing in the Final Four. It's just a dream come true.
Q. Tell me about your feeling about the increase in international players in college basketball, going into the NBA.
GORAN SUTON: I think worldwide there are so many smart coaches. In Europe, there's a lot of potential, a lot of fundamentally sound players that are getting better over there, too. It's a difference between American play and European play, definitely. Hopefully I'll be able to play in the NBA one day.
Q. Raymar, can you give us a sense on how are you feeling? A lighter mask than what you had last weekend.
RAYMAR MORGAN: Yeah, definitely it's a lighter mask, tighter fit on my face. They made the eyes bigger so I can see out of my peripheral and things of that nature.
It's just a complete better fit for me.
Q. You're feeling?
RAYMAR MORGAN: I'm feeling pretty good, too (smiling).
Q. Kalin, there's been a lot of talk about this community, the struggles it's dealing with, also that the presence of your team might help the community as far as spirit. Do you think there's something to that? Are those hollow words?
KALIN LUCAS: No, I think it is something to it. Detroit has been struggling. A lot of people been getting laid off and stuff like that.
So, you know, us playing here in the Final Four, us being a Michigan team playing, you know, it can bring a smile to everybody that stay in the City of Detroit.
Q. Travis, you seem to be a guy who gets up for the defensive challenge. I know you asked to defend certain guys. How much do you judge your own performance on how much you limit an opponent? For the other guys, Travis was voted most inspirational. Can you talk about why he was voted that.
TRAVIS WALTON: Uhm, well, as a defensive player, you got to kind of judge yourself off of, you know, how many points the person you guarding scored, you know, what he did to change the game. You know, so sometimes it's kind of hard to stop the main player from scoring a lot of points.
But one thing you want to not let had him do is change the whole game, take over the whole game. You know if him scoring 20 points, but having five or six turnovers, and you win the game, you did your job. Or him scoring 10 points, but him having 10 assists, you know, doing other things, you really didn't do your job.
So it's pretty much, you know, containing him, you know, not letting him change the game where he making the other players and they beat you. So you got to kind of do a job of containing him and also not letting him change the game.
RAYMAR MORGAN: I think a blind man can see how inspirational he is. Just his effort on the court and things of that nature, the way he leads, is extremely mind-blowing. So I think that's why we voted him most inspirational.
GORAN SUTON: I think his enthusiasm, his passion for the game. I live with the guy. He watches so much film, so much basketball. He dribbles the basketball around the apartment. He drives me crazy.
RAYMAR MORGAN: We call him Coach Walton.
GORAN SUTON: He is like another coach. He's directing traffic, he's yelling, screaming, motivating everybody. You know, I think that's exactly why he's inspiring the whole team.
KALIN LUCAS: Yeah, the same thing these two guys said. You know, he is our coach on the floor. He is our leader. He is very passionate about the game of basketball. And, yeah, that's pretty much it.
Q. "Coach Walton," talk about Durrell's emergence in the tournament. He played well for you in the last game. His midrange and long-range shots will be key tomorrow night.
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, Durrell is a big-time player. If you think of all our big-time games, he stepped up in 'em. Not only when the big-time games when Raymar was sick, with his sickness, he stepped up and made big plays and came to assist our lineup, did some great things for us.
Durrell is key to the game, not only his offense, but his defense and his rebounding, because if you see him today, he can jump with the best of 'em.
He just a major key to our team of how far we can go and what we can do offensively and defensively.
Q. Goran, can you tell me how you match up with Thabeet. Take him outside? What's the game plan?
GORAN SUTON: Well, I don't know what they're going to do as far as who they gonna put on me. I think they're gonna start off with Adrien on me. If they do that, then I'll probably have to go inside. If they put Thabeet on me, try running the ball screens, get him as far away from the basket, making him work.
The defensive end, there's not much you can do against a 7'3" guy like that. Have to push him away from the basket, keep him from getting the touches as much as possible, keep him off the offensive boards.
Q. Kalin, coach talked yesterday how the midrange game is going to be big for you tomorrow. Is that something he's stressed to you as well? How do you think you can take advantage of that?
KALIN LUCAS: Yeah, that's something he has talked to us about, our midrange game going to be very important 'cause, you know, it is a giant standing in the middle. We do try to go in there. He just going to try to send it the other way. That's something coach has been stressing and that is something we have been doing at practice.
Q. Travis, you talked about your defense. How did you develop that? A lot of guys want to be the big scorer. Why do you put so much focus on your defense?
TRAVIS WALTON: You know, I think when you growing up, you kind of scoring on somebody else, you know, they scoring on on you, I think you kind of develop. I don't want them to score on me. I think that's why I got it, back in my hometown where I used to play basketball. Everybody be watching, you talking trash to your friend, you score on him, try to stop him so he can't talk trash to you, score on you.
I think as time grew, I started getting a name for it. I could stop people, you know, be tough, be the toughest one on the court and do those type of things. When I got to Michigan State, it was me. That's who I was. I was a defensive stopper. I wasn't supposed to play my freshman year. I probably wasn't going to play five minutes at the most. The only way I got on the court was to go out there and play hard basketball, defend people. I think my first time I played in Hawaii, I was guarding Adam Morrison, those different types of players. I developed that rep and it's been me ever since.
Q. The last night you had the salute. How was it to interact with the other players from the other teams? Do you know who on the team received the most ticket requests?
TRAVIS WALTON: I think it was a blessing for us to be there, first off, be around all the people that -- coaches and players that is blessed enough to be in the Final Four. It was a great crowd. We had great people there. We had some other great people there for us to see, us to talk to.
What was your next question?
Q. In terms of ticket requests, how you handled that.
KALIN LUCAS: Me, I got about a thousand ticket requests, everybody trying to come, family, friends, some people I ain't talked to in four or five years calling me, trying to hit me up on Facebook that I don't even know 'em. They try to get tickets to come watch us and trying to come out and just support us (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much.
End of FastScripts