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Motivated by the Loss of His Father, Tom Izzo Slowly Turns to Next Season & An Amazing Freshman Class

Tom Izzo in a moment of contemplation 2016.

Tom Izzo in a moment of contemplation 2016.

Breslin Center

East Lansing, MI

I was asked over the Easter weekend when people would stop talking about the Spartans 90-81 loss to MTSU. I told them to get used to it, because it isn’t going anywhere. The loss mattered because the Spartans are held on the high pedestal of the college basketball elite.

Secondly Tom Izzo is talking about it. One of the many reasons to love the Spartans head man is the fact that he doesn’t live life with a governor attached to his vocal cords. If he is feeling it and you can almost certainly assume he is going to talk about it.

So before closing the chapter on last season and moving forward, some have speculated that the death of his father had a negative impact on the coach and his coaching. Something absurd in my opinion to even be mentioned, but Izzo took it head on. He said it did impact him and his coaching, but in a positive way.

“It did affect me. It affected me in a motivating way and the year my dad died I wanted to win the national championship. You can look at things half full or half empty and I’m a lot of times a half-empty guy. Sometimes I’m a half-full guy. When we won, the Big Ten championship, and my 90 year old mother was on the floor with me, and her first words were, man you’re dad’s looking down and he’s proud, if he’d have been proud about that one, he’d have really been proud about the next one, so that was motivating for me, that was not depressing for me. I didn’t lose my dad when I was 12 like some people, I didn’t lose him in a tragedy, I lost him because he couldn’t quite out-live time, he gave it a run, and I’m gonna tell you that, that was not why we lost the game. It was all good reasons. We just got beat.”

So has Izzo moved on yet? I know him good enough that he at least has his eyes set on the next season, but has he let go of this one that ended way too early?

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“I’m still not thinking about next year right now. The only thing I’m thinking about next year is I want to learn about what happened, and seeing the meetings I have if I can figure out something different happening, I evaluated it as. So I’m strictly worried about the guys I have here, and that will change pretty soon to how we can blend everybody in, but it’s not different than a lot of years.”

With 19 straight NCAA tournament trips in a row Izzo is loaded with experience. Has he ever had group of freshman like those coming in to use as a roadmap for moving on?

“I can look back at more than a couple of years when two or three guys came in. That’s another great concept, that I don’t start freshmen. I can tell you a bunch of freshmen I start over my career. Some could start next year, and some of these guys could work their way up. I think some of these guys have got to make some decisions on where they are and what they’re doing, too, about improving.”

But even with a couple of seconds talking about the new freshman Izzo goes right back to processing last season.

“What’s been hard for me this year is, I had a meeting with Javon Bess. I said ‘Where are you physically?’ And he said, ‘I’m pretty good, why?’ I said ‘Watching the layup line, you still don’t dunk off one foot, you still don’t do this, you still don’t do that’. It’s kind of like the question Larry asked. A guy’s got to be ready physically, b ta guy’s got to be ready mentally. I think mentally, he’s had two injuries, he’s almost afraid to jump off of it. Those are the things that you’ve got to try to handle in the offseason. Last year our offseason was full of, Kenny Goins, two sports hernias, Denzel a sports hernia, Gavin’s thing in the fall and Marv’s. Those things make it more difficult. I laughed when I saw the NCAA pairings, because I didn’t care if we were a one or a two. I said it point blankly. I heard everybody talk about all the things, ‘Well they lost these games during this stretch’, well nobody ever talked about the injuries. That’s supposed to be a major part. If I talk about them it’s an excuse.”

But if you are a Spartan fan and still hurting like Izzo is, here is some comfort. Each day since the loss the sun still comes up and the earth is still rotating.

“So I’m not worried about anything right now except the guys I’ve got getting better, the guys when they come in, and that won’t be until summer, and then we’ll work with them. I’m excited that Cassius (Winston) got Mr. Basketball yesterday, I’m excited about the seasons our other guys have had, just like I am every year. And don’t make this out to be such a different, I mean, we have gotten beat early on. We have gotten beat being picked by the president to win. I’m old hat at some of these disappointments. This one was bigger, I keep saying, because of the players I coach maybe than the team I had.”

I said to someone this weekend looking for the shock and pain to subside, this hurts more because of the enormity of the Spartan program and expectations. In the grand scheme, that is more telling than anything. Izzo will be back.