#1 Michigan State Spartan Coach Tom Izzo Media Day Press Conference

Hondo S. Carpenter

Breslin Center

East Lansing, MI

The #1 Michigan State Spartans set off the season a few weeks ago.  Last week they had Big Ten Media Day in Chicago.  Today they held their school media day here at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

Below is the entire transcript of Tom Izzo's conference in which he talked about a myriad of topics.  Above is the entire video of it should you prefer to watch!

Michigan State University Basketball Media Conference

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Tom Izzo

Men's Media Conference

TOM IZZO: Well, this is a great, I'd say midway point. It's kind of odd. Usually midnight madness, everything's on the same date, but with this uniqueness of when we're starting our season, we're actually at the midway point of the preseason three weeks in.

I told you three weeks into practice from the first time I talked to you that we'd have some issues. The team has worked extremely hard. I really like the lack of egos. I like the fact that nobody acts like they're better than somebody else. The chemistry is good. When you get a lot of guys back, that's important.

No secret there is -- you know, there's a chance we could be ranked 1 for the first time in the history of our school to start out the season, which means, unfortunately, nothing except to me it means the only team I know that went end to end in the last 20 years was Carolina, and they beat us by 20-some at the beginning of the year and beat us by 18 at the end of the year. So they're about the only team, and yet on that team, there were about, I think, three or four NBA players.

But it would be an honor if that happened, and if it did, we would embrace it. We're going to be picked in the top five, and I think that's awesome for the program, awesome for the players. We do have our set of question marks. When we opened practice, I told you the couple of big question marks. Who would play the four spot or one of the forward spots? There's no numbering system anymore. How's Josh's health a little bit? How is Kyle Ahrens' health?

I feel better about the questions now, but some questions won't be answered until we start playing. Is Josh going to be able to go day after day after day after day? He's definitely not going to be the same player today as he's going to be in three weeks, and he's definitely not going to be the same player then as he'll be probably by the beginning of December. I looked at it the whole time that it would take three or four -- got to love it. Somebody's wife's calling. If he's out seven to seven and a half months, it could take three months to get him back to where he's at. But we'll answer those questions soon enough.

With the brutal schedule we play early, especially in the first 26 days, I think it will be important to maintain a perspective regardless of wins and losses and what we're really trying to accomplish. We're trying to accomplish get better every day. We're trying to accomplish get better by the end of the season. And that's what we're going to keep our eyes on.

To some people, we have four starters back. You know, I could turn that around, as I said, and with Cassius, Xavier, Aaron, and Josh, it looks good. On the other hand, you could easily say that we lost three starters. We lost Matt McQuaid, we lost Kenny Goins, and we lost Nick Ward. In that group, it was 30 points and 15 rebounds. I think people have lost sight of that a little bit, which I don't think matters one way or another.

So while I'll embrace the expectations, while I'm excited about it, I'm hoping we're still going to remain the same blue-collar institution that we are and blue-collar program. We're going to continue to preach that. More importantly, our leaders will continue to preach that.

We do have some talented players. We don't have a ton of guys that are in everybody's first round, all everything, but we have experience. We have very good players. Any success we have is still going to be through two things if you ask me. A lot of hard work and try to limit the distractions that are out there every day of the year. So that's what I'm looking for in the short run. I'll hit my team real quick, and then I'll open it up to some questions.

If I go from my seniors, in Langford, he has made great progress. He was averaging 15 points a game through the early part of the season. Then he started playing not as much and then not at all for January on. That was a problem. But since he started playing full a few weeks ago, he's been very impressive but still with some unknowns. So I'm excited about Josh because he's excited to be back playing. He kept himself in great shape. He did an unbelievable job with his body this summer, not being able to do much running. He shot out of a chair all summer. His shot looks good. It's, again, playing every day will be the big key.

And Kyle Ahrens, he too had a great summer with his health. Josh didn't start playing until probably August, but Kyle started playing probably in July. We really missed him in the NCAA Tournament. He was playing 18, 19 minutes a game, and I think we got in foul trouble and having him out really hurt us in those games, but he's come back and has really been one of our vocal leaders. He is one of our best athletes, and I think he's been kind of a forgotten man here in a lot of ways that, if those two guys stay healthy, of course, it's going to make our team a lot different.

And Conner George, another fifth-year player, I've been pleased with Conner. He can really shoot the ball, and he's a great offensive rebounder.

Braden Burke, he too has improved his body. We think in certain teams we might need an extra big body, one that's 6'10" or bigger, and that's what Braden brings to the table.

Last but not least is Cassius. We rested him the first six weeks of the summer. He is the straw that stirs the drink, and I think deserves all the attention he's been getting because he is a special player, but I think he's handled it pretty well too with a lot of class and has worked hard.

To have a chance to reach something pretty impressive, and that's 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, should be one of his goals, should be one of our goals because it's something that is very, very special. But maybe more special would be to lead this team each and every day to getting better. I think his strength is a lot better. Definitely we worked on his leg strength. I think his defense has improved a lot in practice. We'll see how it goes in the game.

The juniors, Tillman, a player in the post who had a great NCAA Tournament, great finish to the year. He made big steps when we moved him into the starting lineup when Nick was hurt. From when he came here as a freshman to where he is now is physically and skillfully an incredible improvement. It's not the 35 pounds or more. It's the improvement on his shot. We asked him to get better in the post. Last year we asked him to get better from the free-throw line. I think he's one of the great on-ball defenders in the country as far as defensively, and he's getting better at both pick and pops and pick and rolls, and I think Xavier is primed to have a great year.

Two other juniors in Jack Hoiberg and Brock Washington. Both of them have been members of our scout team so far, but both of them have been guys that, I think, can play here someday. Brock is really shooting the ball better, got in great shape, and Hoiberg is a guy that is maybe one of our best defensive point guards and has improved his shooting.

Aaron Henry, like Xavier, had a tremendous NCAA Tournament. Down the stretch, he was big for us. What did he have to get better at? He has to get better at his ball-handling, better at his perimeter shooting, which he's made great strides in. I think he also could be one of the best defenders we've had here since Gary Harris. Coming from the same area, that's a compliment.

And then we've got our three guys that I think are going to determine a lot for us in Kithier, Gabe Brown, and Bingham. Each will be in a position where each will be starting or playing a lot. They all should be part of the playing group. Thomas got a little more experience than the other guys. He's a good complement to Xavier. He can play some center. He can play some four.

Gabe had a great game against LSU in the NCAA Tournament and has worked really hard over the summer. Probably spent more time in the gym than anybody since Shawn Respert. I say that I think last week he got 2,600 shots up -- or last week, he had 2,600 in four days. I think he's just a guy that lives in the gym, loves the gym, and is trying to improve his defense, and that will make a defense. He's really shot the ball well.

Marcus, he did exactly what we asked him to do this summer. He went from 193 as a freshman to 225. Got a little sick a couple weeks ago and dropped down to 220, but hopefully we can keep him at the 220 to 225, which is a good 25 pounds from where he was, and yet if you're real -- if you're heavy, like Xavier was, and you lose a little weight, they say it's like a chair off the Titanic. Well, this, I don't know what is the opposite because this kid has gone very, very skinny to a much more physical kid. Still in my mind has got 20 pounds to go, but he's really rebounded the ball better, which is a surprise. He's taking contact better, and he's made some progress. So I'm excited for him.

Foster Loyer has gained 20 pounds from last year, which he needed to do. Can really still run a team. The same issues that Cassius had as a freshman Foster has. Can he guard people and get better at that? He's done that. The added strength has helped. So he's made progress.

And the other sophomore would be Hauser, which is where we are with him as you're starting to see. There's been three or four denied and three or four accepted in just the last three or four days, but sooner or later this kid is going to be a great player.

As far as the four freshmen, Rocket is starting to -- he missed the first six weeks of the summer, and I thought that set him back a little bit, but lately, he's starting to shoot the ball better. He could be one of our best defensive guards also. He's tough. He's athletic. He's a really good defender. He's worked hard now to get that shot back, but I've been a little surprised at how well he's passed the ball.

Malik Hall and Julius Marble are a little bit clones. One's a little better shooter, that would be Malik. One's a little tougher, that would be Julius. But he's caught our eye in the preseason, Julius. After sitting out a while, we look at him as an Andre Hudson type guy, also that can shoot it a little bit but can play in the post, not afraid to be physical. And Malik, he's a very good rebounder, but he can shoot it better and is a three-point shooter.

The last one is the unsung guy in Steven, my son, and he too has been very committed to what he's doing. What he's doing is a little different than the other guys. He's been part of -- learning how to be part of a team, learning how to work. I figure that's still -- he's been on the scout team. He's kind of been the manager that does all the drill work with them, and all the time I missed in high school, I probably made up for in the three weeks they've been practicing, I made up for the 16 games I missed his senior year. So I figure I'm getting something out of it. Hopefully, he's getting something out of it. And most importantly, I think he's a good teammate and a good locker room guy for the rest of the guys.

So that was a lot said. Now the fun part. Let's open it up to some questions.

Q. This summer talking about Cassius, a chance to do something never done in college basketball. Kind of surreal, he said that doesn't matter to me. I just want to win a championship. How does it feel to have your leader with that kind of mentality?

TOM IZZO: A lot of guys say that stuff. But deep down, I don't care if I score 20 points, I'd sure like to score 20 points a game. He doesn't care. He really doesn't. If you talk to Cassius, when we talk to him about NBA opportunities or what's going to happen at the end of last year, you know, it was like sometimes he's in awe of where he is. That is the neatest humbling feeling you can have for a star.

What I've been told, though, if sometimes you're too humble, it hinders you from being great. That's the happy medium we have to find. I love his humility. I love his humbleness. But I want to make sure he knows I think he can become one of those special guys and play and help lead us to great things and then play basketball after college.

I think that's my goal. I think that's his goal. I think it's cool when the coach and the player have the same goals, and I do appreciate his humbleness over the entire time he's been here, but if you really look at what that kid has done, when you look at his freshman year and everybody was disappointed and questioning and this and that, that summer he went to work. He got better that summer, and he got a little better the next summer. He had a great year. Until at the end of the year, the knee a little bit, just wear and tear.

I watched a couple of those Big Ten Tournament and NCAA games last year, and he felt like he was -- you could see him almost walking on his knees. This summer, took some time off, and we told him he's got to get those legs stronger, not only for his quads but also his defense because that's one area that has to improve if he's going to really take us to another level.

I thought he did everything we asked of him and more, and I'm anxious to see how that pans out.

Q. How does this team compare in terms of talent to the best you've had in those departments? And what do you hope you learn from having top five teams preseason in the past?

TOM IZZO: Well, did Nick call you guys rat poison guys? Is that what he said? I've got to keep awake all the expectations as far as what the social media world and all that. That worries me that a lot of my other teams that didn't worry me as much. It's not the talent of a Jaren and Miles. It's the experience of a Denzel team, or even the team we had when we won it where we had a lot of experience and very good talent. I think we have a lot of talent, but the problem is those unknowns. Where will Josh and Kyle be? That's an unknown.

Which one of those young kids will emerge? We do have an empty position there a little bit. Someone's going to play in that position that doesn't have much experience, and that will be a question mark that I think we're going to have to address as we go.

But what I like about this team, I think it could be very good defensively. If Josh gets back to like he was, he'll become one of those great two-way players. I think, on the other wing, Aaron Henry could be as good a two-way player as we've had in a long time, and I think Cassius is almost a three-way player. If he can guard, like I think he seems to be able to, the way he can shoot and pass, he becomes a three-way player, and that gives us a lot on the perimeter. I know we're solid as a rock with Xavier and the improvements he's made, and yet there are unknowns at that other position.

I like the pieces. I like the opportunity. What I don't like is there's not been a lot of separation yet. It seems like Malik can do a little something. Marcus can probably shoot it better than anybody. Thomas Kithier probably pays the best with Xavier right now. He knows how to stay out of his way in that. Julius Marble might be the strongest, toughest of the bunch, one of the best rebounders of the bunch, and yet there's not a lot of separation.

So there's going to be some picking and choosing here the next couple of weeks. That's why the scrimmages and the preseason are going to be important, and then we're right into the fire with Kentucky right off the bat.

Q. I guess looking at Aaron Henry, you go back to the NCAA Tournament, you mention how well he played throughout the tournament. There obviously was that little thing in the beginning of the tournament. What did he learn from that in terms of, not necessarily your lesson to him, but more about the eyes being on him and all the attention that comes with playing in this program, playing in the spotlight games?

TOM IZZO: That's a good question because there are things that everybody learned, including me, but at the same time, if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't change one thing because there had to be a reason, and there comes this line of demarcation in everybody's life where you're going left or you're going right. If you looked at Aaron Henry from two plays later on in that game to the rest of the year, you looked at his summer -- and I told him the other day, I just laugh about it. I said, Aaron, I don't think I've talked to you once about going hard. I don't think I've said a word to him all summer.

Give that kid credit. Give his family credit, you know. Supported, stayed on top of it. And give Aaron a lot of credit on that -- they're waving their finger. It seemed to create problems. ** you'd better give Aaron some credit that from day one he didn't even blink at that. Never complained about it, said he deserved it. That was -- it's so sad, this screwed up world we live in with the social media. It's so sad that you can pick and choose things, and you guys make the narrative that you want. Let's be honest about it. That's what interviews are all about right now. I go in. I want to interview somebody, and you have a thing you want to get through, and so the questions are asked that way, the narrative is painted that way, and that's hard. It's hard for me, but it's hard for them.

I'm not blaming you on it, it's just the reality of the world we live in now. But Aaron never said a word about that. I heard him talking to a couple guys, and if we had to recruit up this summer, I said, there's Aaron Henry. Why don't you go ask him what it's like to get a finger waved in his face? First thing he'd say is, hey, it wasn't Coach's fault. I needed that. There was a process. That's what people don't read into it.

So probably I think I'll wave my finger in low hanging fruit. Maybe I'll do it down here. Maybe I'll stay in the huddle if that satisfies everybody. But understand this, the point's always going to be the same. Do your job. Take care of your business, and good things are going to happen to you. If you want to be praised and you want to be coddled, do your job. And if you don't do your job, then -- I didn't take him out of the game. I didn't bench him. I just sat there and told him that he'd better learn how to run harder and play harder.

Boy, if there is ever a time that I was proud of a kid, his next two weeks were phenomenal. That's okay because that's short term. His spring, summer, and fall have been off the charts as far as his work ethic. He's still got to get better with his shot and a little bit better offensive rebounding, but that running the lane, that going hard, that playing defense -- that kid's giving me everything he's got.

Q. Tom, I got two questions, if I can. With the Joey Hauser situation, is that something that you'll know something definitive by --

TOM IZZO: I told you guys the preliminary stuff that I got, it didn't look good. Then as you go through and see some of these people and how they're getting them, what's going on, it's out of my hands. Do I think I'll know something by this week? 100 percent. It seems like everything is trailing down to now.

Q. You'll know something before the season starts?

TOM IZZO: Yeah, I think before the season starts way for sure. I even think -- I mean, we have a couple of events coming up maybe that I don't know if I'll know, but I think I will know shortly. And what that does is that gives us some experience at that position a little bit more, but if not, we're going to move on and find a way to fix it anyway. Second question.

Q. You talked about a lot of players, a lot of depth that you have on this team. Is there a certain number that you want to hit as far as a rotation?

TOM IZZO: I think that's the hardest thing for me right now. There is a lot of depth on this team. Sometimes depth doesn't always mean greatness. In other words, part of the problem is I think 1 through 6 or 7, I know exactly where we are. I think 7 to probably 11 or 12, nobody's separated themselves. So it's good depth. It's good potential talent, but nobody's raised up or fallen down yet. So that's the job of my staff to figure out not only who would be the best to help us, but who would fit in with the guys we got.

Xavier, we think Xavier's got to be able to do a lot of things. We think he can shoot a three. We think he can be good in the post. We think he can put it on the floor. We don't want guys getting in his way. We're going to try to space the floor out a little bit more this year.

I still think you're going to see some games where it could be Gabe Brown, it could be Kyle Ahrens finishing games at the four if we need certain shooting, if we need certain free-throw shooting. Have I always felt good when we have the ability to go big or go small? I never felt good about going home. So I'd like to go big, go small, not go home. So I think that's the kind of team I have.

Q. Coach, speaking on Aaron Henry's development, what would you say you've seen from him in terms of his, I guess, development and skill in the open court handling the ball. He showed an ability to facilitate last year. Do you think we'll be seeing more of that this year?

TOM IZZO: I think you will. Lately, he's turned it over a bit more because he's trying to get used to a new role. That new role is putting it on the floor more. He's not only a willing passer, but a little better passer than we gave him credit for. So that's been good. He's got to not turn it over. I still think that's one of the weaknesses of my teams over the years is I still think it got better, but we still turn it over too much.

So getting him out on the wing, getting him in open court where he can do some of that and use some of his athletic ability is one of the reasons we need him to run on a consistent basis. I think he's in way better shape than he was in last year, and I think that's part of it. But I also think his skill level, the ability to make a shot. He has that uncanny ability to finish with his right hand or his left hand, and that is going to, I think, really bode well for him.

He's not a finished product yet, but he's got some qualities that it's fun to coach.

Q. You mentioned that Rocket has been a better defender than you expected thus far. Is that just an athleticism thing? How has he adjusted to this scheme?

TOM IZZO: I think a little bit it is on the athleticism because he is a phenomenal athlete, but I think it's more that he's kind of got that you know like the reason I like Keith Appling and some of those guards that are from Detroit, there's a certain toughness that I think you bring from that city, and he has that. He's not afraid to climb into you. He's not afraid to get into you. He's got the athletic ability to do it, but I think he's got the heart to do it, and that's a big, big factor.

If some of the guards we're going to play early, there are some very good guards out there, and having a guy that I think can really get into them, maybe even full court some, I think is going to bode well for us.

Q. Coach, motivation is a big factor in success, obviously. In your 25 years at Michigan State, how has your motivation changed from the early part of your career to the latter part of your career? And is there one motivating factor that drives you today? Be it an accolade, a relationship, or how you've made this first-class program.

TOM IZZO: I think what still drives me today is to help guys live the same dream I've gotten to live. I'm still here. Still here coaching at a high level and accomplishing some things, whether it be accolades, whether it be financial, whether it be record-wise, and it's the same thing I hope for our guys. Do they do something here that will last a lifetime? Do they do something here that will propel them into the next 60 years of their life in a big way? That's what happened for me, and that's why I always say I get to live my dream. That's probably my number one motivating reason.

Number two is I still love this place. I really do. It is getting harder. It's getting harder to coach at this level. You see coaches taking off. I understand it. I understand the challenges that there are out there now, but for me, probably when you get to coach some of the guys I get to coach, it makes it easier, you know. I sleep with a half eye open, but I don't sleep with two eyes open like some of the years I've had to. It's been a pretty good run the last five, six years. Maybe it's because we decided to try to recruit that way. Maybe it's because of the culture we've developed. Maybe it's because of the former players coming back. It sure as hell isn't on me.

My assistant coaches, a lot of people have done a good job. It was fun a couple of weeks ago when Magic came back. It was fun to have the Pistons here and Isaiah Thomas talking about our program. I do appreciate those things. I do -- so I guess I still do it for that. What does that mean? Is that success? It's something that I'm hoping will last. I still think I'm building the basement in the first floor. Someone's going to come and hopefully build a skyscraper if it's done right. A skyscraper can't survive if the basement and first floor isn't solid as a rock. That's still what I'm trying to do.

There are always people pecking at the basement, you know, and to try to keep that thing solid and consistent and still keep the culture when you're losing players and transfers and all the things that are going on is not easy. But right now I'm still enjoying it.

Q. Tom, with Joey, what is he giving you guys in practice at that spot with when you're looking at evaluating Malik and Julius and Tommy, all those guys? What do you see in practice with a guy like that? And what do you sort of need to see to eventually know who your guy is going to be at that spot?

TOM IZZO: Joey is a little different. He started for a whole year. He's probably the second-best shooter on our team. He can really shoot the ball, like an A.J. Granger and that. What impressed me about Joey is he's a little more physical than I thought, a little more defensive than I thought, and a lot, lot better passer. If you asked him right now what his favorite thing to do and his strongest suit is, he'd tell you passing. He's not Magic Johnson, but he really sees the floor, and with his size, he can throw phenomenal passes.

What I need from the guys that isn't there or other guys that still will be playing in that position, I need people that can hit an open shot. I need people that can make a pass, but I need people that can guard -- because with our four-man is Kenny. Kenny was a guy we could switch a lot with, but Kenny, as I watched those games the other night that I watched, phenomenal rebounder. He averaged almost nine rebounds a game at a 6'6-1/2" kid, 6'7" max. Those guys now, everybody wants to hang around the perimeter. Kenny hung around the perimeter a little bit and still found a way to get there, used his athletic ability.

I think a guy like Malik can do that. I think he's got the athletic ability and the strength. That's one thing about two of those freshmen -- in fact, all three of them have strength. The fourth one doesn't have any strength, but that's not his heredity because we all know why it's not. Those three guys are tough enough to play right now, and that makes a big, big difference, physical, and we're going to need some of that.

Q. Tom, I spent some time with Rocket recently, and I asked him what he'd learned most so far, and he said to listen. I thought that was a unique answer from him. Does that surprise you a little bit that that's hit him most from Cassius?

TOM IZZO: He's had a tough go. He's been in different programs and moved around a little bit. I think Rocket is like he does want to learn, but he doesn't know how to always listen. You're right. He's trying to learn how to do that because he's had so many different people talking to him.

I've really seen, like this last week, Cassius is starting to take him, Gabe is starting to take him, Josh and Kyle Ahrens. There's been a couple of guys that have really tried to take him under their wing, and that's the coolest part of the job. When Magic was here, he called him out in a positive way. But I think he needs to have a little success. He needs to learn how to be a little more disciplined as a player.

I mean, he's -- open court he's great, passes the ball. Sometimes he's not as disciplined of a shooter. He can really shoot the ball, but sometimes he makes a good shot a bad shot. So he's working on that. He's been getting in more. He's been doing all the things that you're supposed to do. As I told him, we're trying to speed the process because we think he can help us.

Q. Coach, you mentioned before how you want your players to handle the expectations and not be caught by the distractions. How have you learned over the years to do that? Or do you still kind of catch yourself believing the hype and reminding yourself not to do that?

TOM IZZO: Easy. I ordered my tickets for Atlanta because I'm going there one way or another, you know. I'm going there as a spectator or as a coach.

You know, it is difficult. We all want to feel good. That's why I don't read things because I don't want anybody telling me we're good now and telling me we're bad two games in. I just try to keep a perspective on things. I try to look at us every day, and I watch the film of every practice, and I say are we getting better? We had a week where we didn't get any better. Last week we had like four days in a row where I thought we made a significant jump each day.

We had a day off Sunday. I wasn't really excited about yesterday's practice. I didn't think we made that jump. We talked about it after. We had actually a film session. Today we have Media Day, so we're off. And then tomorrow, and then Thursday and Friday, we need three good practices in a row. This is the time now where we're starting to go three days in a row off a day. We've been going two days on, one day off. We've actually taken more days off than normal, but we started so damn early, that I think it was a necessity.

So I don't know, for me, I mean, hey, somebody's always mad at you about something. It always keeps you humble. I'm definitely not reading our own press clippings because I still think we lost a lot. I'm still proud of where we are, happy with where we're rated, wherever that is, excited about having a chance to live up to expectations, but the reality of things is there's been a lot more loss than we're looking at, and that's what I'm trying to stay humble about.

Q. Tom, last year over the course of the season, offense kind of changed, adjusted, evolved, whatever word you want to use. A lot of it was due to circumstances and lack of bodies. But given what you saw maybe over those last 15 games, what would you like to take from that, add to this year, and then also maybe take -- I imagine some of the stuff from earlier in the year, higher possessions, running more.

TOM IZZO: I thought running more would be one. I also thought we utilized Xavier in more ball screens and roles. Nick wasn't as good, then Nick was more of a low post player, we threw it in. You know, we do forget he was averaging 15 a game when he went out. He was playing very well. So when you lose a guy, there are some good things about it, and there are some bad things about it.

We don't have the low post scoring like we had with Nick. We probably are a little better in the ball screen area. But I think running with the depth we have on the perimeter right now is going to be essential, and I think all those four men can run, and Xavier can run. So I'd like to run even more. I think we've got a chance to be an even better defensive team.

What I can't do is play Cassius into the ground like I did, played McQuaid into the ground like I did. That really wasn't fair. It wasn't even fair to put Aaron Henry in the position I put him in going from playing a little bit to having to start and play a lot. But as you say, there were some circumstances that were handed to us, and I thought our guys did a great job of adjusting to those circumstances.

Q. We talked a lot about Xavier and what he has done really the last two postseasons to kind of build into the next season. I guess, where is his ceiling right now for this year?

TOM IZZO: That's really not only a good question, an important question. I say that because I constantly want more out of him because I think he's got so much more to give. He has been our most efficient guy. We've done a lot of charting of scoring and rebounding and assists and turnovers. He has been by far the most efficient guy. He's scoring with his left hand, his right hand. He's scoring from inside. He's scoring from outside. Still not the post scorer that Nick was.

That's an area that I'm -- you know, I think we need that to get a little better. But I think his defense is a little Draymond-ish. He can guard different people. He can guard the ball screen, which is off-the-ball defense if somebody is on the ball screen. He's always in the right place. He's getting steals. He's doing things. He's a very, very efficient player that I think is improving.

What you love about a guy -- and Denzel was like this a little bit -- he's gotten better every year. Although Cassius has gotten better every year, Josh has been hindered by some of the injuries. It's going to be interesting to see if we can get Aaron Henry better every year. If you're getting guys better every year, kudos to the assistant coaches, but kudos to the player. That means the player is spending time in the off-season working on his game. I really enjoy that.

Q. Tom, you've been highly rated before, picked to win the Big Ten before. Is there anything different about this season, either by circumstance or by where you stand in your career, where the program is? Is there anything different about this being a favorite team?

TOM IZZO: You know, I don't know. When I look at it, we were picked second or third in some polls back in '11, and we barely got to the tournament. So I keep reminding myself of that to make sure I keep my head on right, and that was because of distractions. I think this team has pretty good leadership at the top. Not as vocal a leadership as I would like, but they're all really good guys.

I think there is a hunger of getting so close and getting another chance. I think we got close in '09. I think '10 we had a lot of injuries. I think we got close in '99. 2000, we won it. I think we got close in '15. '16, we had a hell of a team. We just couldn't get by Middle Tennessee, just situations. I think we had one of our best teams in '17 and just -- was it '17 when we had Miles and Jaren? '18. A lot of things different.

What's different is I like the path we've taken, maybe not try to win the National Championship. Maybe Zell's team did that a lit bit more. Yes, we're always, as long as I'm here, going to have an interest playing late into March or early April. That is the goal every year. Will always be the goal unless there's some freak, and we lose three-quarters of our team.

But that is always going to be the goal. There are more realistic times, and I think this is realistic times because we have some depth, we have a quarterback. We have a quarterback that is very stable and very solid, and I think is making improvements and understands that without getting carried away with his own goals and ambitions. Cassius can score it, but I swear he'd still rather pass it. Hard to beat that from one of your stars.

Q. Tom, I've got a two-parter. One serious --

TOM IZZO: Go ahead.

Q. It sounds like you were hinting that maybe you might be looking at going with a little more full-court press this season. And then secondly, when you think about it, are you more excited about the fact that you could potentially start the season ranked No. 1 or that your guys responded to Twitter like they have?

TOM IZZO: You know what, I don't get fooled by the Twitter thing. That was totally theirs. I didn't know they were going to do it. There are so many other forms of social media, that it doesn't over excite me. It's like I haven't been on Twitter since the day I was born, and yet every day somebody tells me what somebody said about me or somebody said about our program. So I don't think those guys are going to totally get away from that. I just thought it was unique that they felt -- that they tried to sacrifice a little bit to get a little something.

Back in the Cleaves days, remember when they all shaved their heads? That was their deal. Everybody makes a different commitment for a different reason. I saw where Catholic Central is doing something that they want to do to try to sacrifice a little bit and give back a little bit. I think those things are all cool.

So what was the second part of that question?

Q. The full-court press.

TOM IZZO: The full-court press potential -- it is a potential. It just depends on what guards I use. I think Aaron and where we are physically, where can Josh go, what can he do. I feel very good about where Josh is, but, again, it's been three weeks, and we've had a lot of days off, meaning we haven't gone four, five days in a row like you're going to have to do during the season or in a tournament in Hawaii or something. So some will depend on that. Some will depend on is Cash going to be able to do some of those things, and are we going to be able to rest him enough? I like my chances of that too.

So that's in the game plan. Whether I'll use it or not -- if I do, if I do, it will be hard for Larry to criticize me.

Q. You have two married guys on your roster now. Kyle got married over the summer. Wonder if that's a first for you since you've been here. What's that dynamic like?

TOM IZZO: The wives tell me it's a definite positive. History doesn't tell me anything because I've never had it. So thank God -- I mean, Xavier's gone through it, and Kyle, I think, Kyle's been dating the same girl. I think they met, I don't know if it was nursery school or when they were born, but they've been dating for a long, long time. I don't think there are any major changes. They're still staying in the hotel the night before the game. They have shown no difference in anything they do.

With Xavier last year, there was some process to the guys spent a lot of time over there. Guys helped him with his daughter. I thought it was a little bit of a team bonding thing. We've done a few different things. I've really adjusted to the times. So we had a little function at my house, and for the first time in my career, I bring all the managers, all the student secretaries, all the players, all of our families, and this time I invited wives and girlfriends. And it was awesome because I made a bet with my staff that 90 percent of the guys wouldn't bring their girlfriends, and I was right on, but I invited them. I invited them all. So that was kind of something new.

So those of you that say that I don't change with the times or I'm not up to speed on what's going on because I don't use Twitter, you're full of it.

Q. You're fond of saying that, if a player isn't playing, it's hard to lead. When we talked about, everyone to a T mentioned Jack. At the Final Four, he runs out on the floor to yell at Cash about something. I'm curious. Have you ever had a situation where a guy probably isn't going to play but is one of your key leaders?

TOM IZZO: Not often, but he has respect from all of the guys. I don't know if it's his -- it's kind of, you look at Jack, and you say this kid has really gotten better each year too. Had a chance to go with his dad and wanted to stay here. I'm hoping it's because of me. I'm thinking it could be his girlfriend. I don't know which one. Either way, I'm excited to have him back because he is somebody that everybody on this team likes.

He was very close with Jaren Jackson. He just has a way about him, and I think he understands what it's like to be in the limelight. I think it will be good for Steven, as crazy as it sounds because he had to live in his dad's shadow a little bit.

So, yeah, I think Jack can be a leader. What I've got is a lot of guys that lead by example. What I'm looking for is a few more guys that lead by voice, and I still haven't found totally that, but it is getting better. I think that will -- we've got two, three weeks to go. What is it, three weeks from today? Three weeks from today we open. It seems like we've been practicing for a hundred years.

Q. You mentioned Loyer gaining weight, and you mentioned Aaron Henry's ability in the open court. What have you seen from him, as well as Rocket Watts and Loyer in their ability to maybe give Cash a breather? You mentioned you don't want to run him into the ground. Are we going to see a combination of the three? Will one of the three-step up?

TOM IZZO: I think you'll see a combination of Foster, Rocket can play the two or some point. Cassius can actually play the two, and sometimes that would get him off the pressure of being on point the whole time with people just nagging him, and he'll be able to come off screens instead of having to create everything. So we do feel we can move some guys around. Foster does run the team, can make shots, and Rocket, he can really guard, and he really can pass the ball and make shots. He adds the dimension of being able to guard in there.

So the game plan is to get it more like some of the good years when those point guards are playing 30 minutes or 32 minutes instead of 36 minutes. Get them some rest, a couple of minutes each half, and do a better job of managing the team or managing the minutes because there's no question. I don't think I had a choice last year. So I can blame myself or beat myself up, but the situation we're presented with led to the way we did it.

If you watched that last game and watched McQuaid kind of cramping up twice during the game, him and Cassius just -- the Aaron Henry foul situation got us in trouble, but a lot of guys played a lot of straight minutes, and that wasn't healthy for us, especially with a team that played seven, eight guys constantly.

Q. You brought Tum back to your staff. What elements has he brought to this team?

TOM IZZO: You guys know I love Tum. It's funny because we had somebody in from Denver the other day that had been at Phoenix with him, a scout, and he was just talking about all the guys. Tum has been almost more vocal. He's realizing that there's so much more to playing -- more to coaching than playing in a lot of ways. I came in this morning at a quarter to 7:00 because I had to go on the road a little bit this morning. Who was the first guy in? It was Tum.

But with him and Chris, I had two graduate managers that -- Chris didn't play here. His brother did, of course, Benny. But there are connections to here. They've both been great. Not good, great. I think over the years I've had some good graduate managers, but these guys are as good as I need to have. They do anything I ask them to do. They can spend a lot of time in the film room. They understand a lot of stuff. Chris picks up things quick.

You look at Tum, and this is kind of his fifth year here. So having him back, it's good for me because every single day, just like the four years he played, he's always happy, and every single day, including the four years he played, I'm 90 percent miserable. So we have two people that are -- you know, we keep balance on this program, and there's good balance. So Tum's my balance guy. He's one guy that I can look eye to eye with, so he's always going to be special to me, and he's one guy that cares about people. He gets along with everybody. I told him, we've got to get Rocket in more to shoot. Rocket's been in more shooting.

I don't know if he'll end up in coaching because he has so many other things he wants to do, but this experience is going to help him, it's going to help me, and that's been a good deal for both of us.

Q. I think the word distraction has been brought up probably at least five times in this press conference. First of all, I'm wondering --

TOM IZZO: 500 in my career here.

Q. How many times in practice so far has that word been brought up? To differentiate maybe your teams in the past from the level they're at in terms of expectations, how is that going to separate, if you just use what you learned in previous years in tuning out distractions and how it can help the team in the level it's at?

TOM IZZO: It's like Xavier, Cassius, those guys were there when we got beat by Syracuse, and there were a lot of distractions. I look at what I do with every football team around the country, what I do with every NFL team around the country -- it was interesting having the Pistons here. I thought Dwane Casey was phenomenal, just the things he said. I spent every night with him just because they have some of the same problems.

Yet college kids have more of them, believe it or not. There are just more people hanging around all the time, and they're more impressionable in some ways. So I do harp on that. I do harp on the distractions. I just say we've got to keep our circle close. We've got to tune out the outside world and really try to challenge ourselves every day. Did we get better today? Did I get better today? If those two things are happening, we're going to make some progress.

There's not a coach in America that won't tell you the biggest thing they worry about are the distractions. They come in a lot of different ways. Sometimes injuries are a distraction. Sometimes wives might be a distraction. I'm going to find that out, you know. Sometimes different problems become distractions. Sometimes academics become a distraction. It is a commonly used word, and sometimes it's thrown around, but I promise you this, usually championship teams have fewer distractions.

You always hear it. You hear it with the Patriots. You hear it with -- you heard it with Golden State. Play group guys, and when that started to dissipate a little bit, then you get other issues. So I try to take a lot of programs, a lot of teams, where I do watch press conferences to find out how coaches handle things. I still call a lot of people.

That's one area I try to stay on top of and learn from and show my team films of different things that have happened, different press conferences, different motivational things I see because staying focused -- let me tell you something. It's hard for all of us to stay focused. There's just too much noise out there, and it's the way it is. They convinced me that I'm not going to change certain things. So I'm going to try to adjust the best I can and try to help these guys through the things that thank God I didn't have to deal with as a player or as a young assistant or as a young head coach that I have to deal with now.

Q. Tom, you mentioned you're probably not going to play him against Kentucky, but you've obviously been in the spotlight for a long time, but having Steven here now, I guess, just simply how excited are you to kind of share that with him this year, I guess, for a few years?

TOM IZZO: I don't want to make it bigger. I don't want to make it worse. I can only tell you this, throughout my career, as I looked back on when we order rings for people, I look back, and some of the rings I ordered for some of the players I've had and some of them nobody knew about, but I took a kid one year just for different reasons. He'd battled some health issues, and in my mind, there were things he couldn't do, and it was a rewarding experience for me, for my players, for him. So it's a win, win, win.

I just want to make sure everybody knows nobody's taking a scholarship from anybody or really a spot from anybody. I don't even know what I'll do with him. Am I going to redshirt him in case he grows six inches over the summer? I might do that. Am I going to play him in a game sometime just so he can say he played in college? I wouldn't think you're going to have to spend a lot of time researching, but you do got to appreciate that, whether people think so or not, I bleed, I cry, I get excited, I get sad.

I'm no different than anybody in this room, and a lot of you in this room have kids too. Some of you, I've been around as your kid follows you around in your job, right? And mine's following me around in mine except I get to yell at him once in a while. It's a cool deal.

Thank God for Mike Garland because Mike's got him. It's just been enjoyable because I don't give him any slack, and yet I don't -- you know, he's not out there all the time, guys. He's doing drill work, helping us, helping the other guys get better. He's doing some things, and we'll see.

One thing he can do -- and I don't know where he got it because I couldn't -- he can shoot it. I enjoy that part of him. But what I really enjoy is every day I come to practice, I get to do something I didn't do for 18 years, and that's the only thing I took a little offense on, and my apology for that because I understand how people feel and think, but once in a while, once in a while in this job -- I can't tell you there's been many times in this job that I have put my family before my job, and once in a while I'm actually proud of that.

To be able to do a little bit of both, it's pretty cool. It's pretty cool, and I'm going to do it the best I can as long as he remains a good student, a good teammate, and listens to his dad on the court. He can be the same jerk off the court that most 18-year-olds are, and I'm cool with that, somewhat cool with that. Everything else has been good.

Q. The camaraderie, the cohesiveness, the connectedness that made last year's team so special, how anxious are you to see that with this year's team on the court? Maybe you won't get to analyze that until you get to live game action.

TOM IZZO: I'm not going to lie. I still say the biggest worry I have, so everybody can figure this out, I mean, we open with probably the -- maybe the toughest 26 days that we've ever had here, if you look at the rankings if you look at the teams. I mean, here's a Kentucky team we open with and used to say, well, at least you have five freshmen starting. Now they actually have sophomores. Cal screwed me up a little bit. So must be holding his players back, as they say about me sometimes.

But that is going to be a tough stretch. My worry is does Josh push a little bit more or not? Is he going to try to get it all back? Is he going to -- you know, how do people react to things? So it's going to be hard to get me to waver because I already know going in what I know. The goal, if you check the print shop, no 40-0 shirts at the print shop. I'm hoping to survive early and get better and get better and get better.

We know this is a good team, a really good team, with good talent, with good experience, but we also know that we have some things that are unanswered yet, and that's what the next three weeks will be for, and that's what those three weeks at the start of the season will be for.

Then we're going to see. If we win some games, maybe we're in a better position than I thought, we move forward. If we lose some games, it will give us something to work for. I always worry that I bite off more than I can chew. This year, just because of the Josh/Kyle thing a little bit, it keeps me up at night a little bit, but at the same time, I know this is a good team, and I'm not afraid of that at all. I'm excited about it. I know I've got good guys, and I know I've got different things at each position.

Putting them together, is Gabe going to be consistent? We scrimmaged two days in a row, and I think he was like 13 for 16, really shot it well. Is that going to continue? Is he going to get better defensively? What will Aaron do? What will Josh do? How do we play those guys together if they don't get as much time in practice because we've got to rest Josh now. We can't play him every day yet. Those are kind of the things that I'm looking forward to.

But I am looking forward to -- we had a little campout last week that we couldn't have because of the weather. So we had 4,500 to 5,000 students in Breslin. I think it was the largest group ever in the history of this program. That was exciting. We did some things. We had some events. We had practice. We watched the football game. Reconnecting with this university in that way is pretty exciting for me.

So I've got a lot of great things to look forward to. There's going to be some struggles. There's going to be some times when I'll probably shake my head, but at the same time, I can't wait to get started because I do think this has the potential to be a special year. What we've got to realize is, boy, since Gary Harris, you know, after that two years maybe when we went to the two Final Fours, I thought we had two semi unpedestrian-like years for us where we were okay, and then we got back to the Elite Eights and Final Fours and Sweet 16s and were playing for something, just about every year right now.

That's exciting. That's what I'm proudest of, and yet I want to win another one. I think there's a lot of guys out there that want to win another one. There's a lot of guys that want to win the first one. There's a lot of guys that want to get to the first Final Four. I'm going to try to make sure that we get as good as we can be and give these people around here something to be excited about, something to cheer about, something to have fun with because I've got good guys. They're going to be good for you to interview them. They're going to be good to watch play, and we plan on having some fun.

Thanks. Enjoy the rest of the day, and whatever you need from me, you can get.

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