Michigan State coach Tom Izzo address the crowd during senior day ceremonies following an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State, Saturday, March 5, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 91-76. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Al Goldis
March 10, 2016

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Tom Izzo is days away from being showered with praise as he is annually for his ability to win during the NCAA tournament.

And rightfully so.

Michigan State is headed to its 19th straight NCAA tournament with a shot to advance to an eighth Final Four under Izzo and possibly to win a second national title with the hard-driving coach.

Izzo, though, is the first to acknowledge how valuable his staff is - especially now.

''This is a crazy time for them because they're coaching our guys, preparing for multiple teams and recruiting,'' Izzo said, sitting in his office after Wednesday's practice. ''During the NCAA tournament, we have a system where we prepare for one team and scout a couple more and we do exactly the same thing for the Big Ten tournament.''

The second-seeded Spartans will face the winner of the Ohio State-Penn State game on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. They took time Wednesday to prepare for the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions and assistant coaches were already were compiling notes on potential opponents in the conference semifinals.

''Those guys are also working on Maryland and Wisconsin because we will only have 20-hour prep before hopefully playing one of them on Saturday,'' Izzo said.

Each assistant - Dwayne Stephens, Dane Fife and Mike Garland - brings something unique to the table.

Matt Costello, a senior forward, said Stephens helps the program with his ''intelligence,'' Fife with ''humor,'' and Garland with ''wisdom.''

Stephens played at Michigan State when Izzo was on Jud Heathcote's teams from 1989-93. After playing in Europe, he started his coaching career at Oakland University and went on to work for Tom Crean, a former Izzo assistant, and helped recruit Dwyane Wade to Marquette. Stephens has been on Izzo's staff for 13 seasons, the past four as associate head coach.

''He is ready for a head coaching job'' Izzo said. ''He gets it in every aspect: academically, athletically, recruiting and by understanding people.''

Fife, too, may be ready to become a head coach - again - after being an Izzo assistant for five seasons. The former Indiana standout led IPFW for six seasons before stepping down to join Izzo's staff in the hopes of landing a better job in the future.

''To leave, it would have to be a great situation,'' Fife said.

Garland has advised both Stephens and Fife not to jump at just any opportunity to lead a Division I program. He did that and it didn't go well, going 23-60 over three seasons at Cleveland State. Garland returned in 2007 to Michigan State, reuniting for a second time with Izzo, his close friend and former teammate from Northern Michigan.

''I tell those guys, take a job when you have an opportunity to win because otherwise you'll be like me and you won't be a head coach for very long,'' said Garland, who is in his 16th season with Izzo. ''There are some places that won't win even if they've got Tom Izzo, John Calipari and Ben Howland on the staff.''

Izzo's staff includes more than just three assistant coaches.

Former Spartans, Thomas Kelley and Austin Thornton, are back on campus as graduate managers.

David Thomas, who was on Izzo's 2000 championship team, is the team's director of basketball operations. Drew Denisco, who was a seasonal video assistant coordinator for Cleveland Cavaliers, is the video coordinator. Quinton Sawyer is the team's athletic trainer and Todd Moyer is in his first season as its strength and conditioning coach.

''It takes a true team to make all of this happen,'' Thomas said, holding containers filled with Mexican food he ordered for the team's meal.

Behind the scenes there are almost 40 people, including assistant video coach Doug Herner, who played basketball at Michigan in the early 1960s and has two-plus decades of coaching experience, that play an often-overlooked part in Izzo's success. After home games, Izzo often watches them with Herner in a conference room adjacent to his office.

''This staff is second to none from the head coach down to the managers,'' Stephens said. ''No one is going to outwork us because we're committed every day to greatness on all levels.''


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