MSU Coach Tom Izzo and Players Transcript from Final Pre Game Press Conference Here in St. Louis

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The Spartan Nation has known what the national media is just figuring out, that come March NO ONE is better than Izzo.  Photo courtesy of Kevin Krzeminski.

The Spartan Nation has known what the national media is just figuring out, that come March NO ONE is better than Izzo. Photo courtesy of Kevin Krzeminski.

MODERATOR: We're joined by Michigan State. First half hour will be five student-athletes with Coach Tom Izzo. We're going to ask Tom to open up with a short statement, then we'll go to questions for everybody on the dais, all six.

Tom, please.

COACH IZZO: We're very excited to be here, as you can imagine, with an opportunity to go to a Final Four on the line. It's a dream-come-true as far as the opportunity we have. And I'm proud of what they've done, and we have great respect for Tennessee.

Kind of interesting for us, because we just played a team that is so big and strong, maybe not as athletic, but great shooters. Now we go opposite end of the spectrum, guys with a lot of length, great athletes, slashers and drivers.

So it will be interesting to see how the contrasting styles, what problems it creates for us.

MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. Draymond, as far as adjusting to the sixth-man role, how difficult was that for you, and do you enjoy it now at this point?

DRAYMOND GREEN: I think with me playing like six minutes during the season last year, it really wasn't that difficult, because I wasn't accustomed to starting anyway.

And I'm a team player, so regardless of what the role is that my team needs me to play, it's pretty easy for me, because I'm willing to do anything that will help our team out.

Q. Draymond, not to take anything away from Korie here, but Coach said that he had some plays for you at point guard. How eager are you to try to give that a shot and what do you think you'll be capable of doing in that kind of game situation?

DRAYMOND GREEN: I think I'll be capable of doing a good job. But it wasn't needed. Korie played a great game, and he played 39 minutes and didn't seem to be tired at all. He stepped up to the challenge, and he ran our team very well.

Q. Draymond, what are some of the keys to keeping Tennessee away from getting into their game plan?

DRAYMOND GREEN: We can't let them get open lanes and open passes to the bucket. That's a big part of their game. And also stopping them and getting back in transition. They like to score a lot in transition offense.

Our transition defense is going to be key for us. We just have to get back and build a wall and not let them see any gaps.

Q. Draymond and Durrell, how different is it when you get to this time of the year? You're playing for a trip to the Final Four, you guys have been here before, you know what to expect. What does Tennessee have and does that give you guys an advantage?

DRAYMOND GREEN: We do know what to expect. But at this time of year, emotions can take over that. They're feeling very hot right now. I think this is their first ever Elite Eight, if I'm not mistaken. They're feeling very hot and very good about themselves and they know one more win can get them to a Final Four. And that's going to make history in their program.

But we also know what's at stake, and Final Fours is a big thing in our program, and we

 

know what we have to do and we know what we need to do and we know what it takes to get there.

DURRELL SUMMERS: I think just getting there before is just a lot of little things that go into it. And you gotta kind of -- we're just as excited as they are, even though this is their first one. All of our guys are just excited to get back to an Elite Eight.

And I think you have to keep your emotions in check, when the time comes. You can kind of celebrate it right after the game a little bit. But it's back to business. Because any little slip-up, letting emotions, just thinking things are supposed to happen, and you could lose the game.

Q. Delvon, just the usual question we ask you every day: How is the knee feeling now? When you made those good plays in the second half, the dunk and then the other shot, how were you able to overcome kind of when you were limping early to then come back and make those shots, and how are you feeling today?

DELVON ROE: I'm feeling pretty good today. A little sore, which is expected. But yesterday, those plays I made in the second half, was just trying to bring some type of energy to the team.

We were lacking a little energy out there, and I felt that I had to try to do something to get this team started. And I think I was able to do that.

And then Korie did great, and Draymond and Durrell was making shots. And it was a little bit easier on my part after I made those plays and the crowd got involved and everything started to turn our way.

Q. I don't know if it's possible to get Tom, Korie and Raymar to all give me a quick comment on this, but just the heart of the team as you guys have gone on, just kind of the steps through the past two weekends, going from New Mexico State to the win over Maryland, to this, how the team has changed, grown, learned, and really come together?

KORIE LUCIOUS: Well, I think after the Maryland game, when Kalin went down at halftime, I think that was a big turnaround for this team.

We all just made a commitment to rally around each other and just play together as a team. And we all just figured that if we come together as one, as a family, we can do anything.

And I think after Kalin went down, everybody just made that commitment to just join together, just try to make a run. And that's what we've been doing.

RAYMAR MORGAN: Yeah, just pretty much what Korie said. We have always been a talented team. We always knew what we could do. It's just this point in time we realize there can't be any mistakes. And we're just feeding off of that and just playing off of that.

And Coach has done a great job in getting us prepared for each game, and we're just playing it like it's our last.

COACH IZZO: I'll tell you after, because that's the rules of the game here. So after they're done, I'll speak.

MODERATOR: You can speak.

COACH IZZO: I can?

MODERATOR: Absolutely.

COACH IZZO: I'm used to being run by Jud. I don't ever speak out of turn.

But I think they all said the right thing. But I don't think it just happened at the end.

You know, we won some big games at the end of our year. We won three big road games. And, I mean, blips in the road, whatever you want to call them. I've said all along I didn't think this team maybe was as close, meaning to each other, and I constantly said that looks like it means they don't get along. That's not it at all

I don't think they relied on each other. And I think you have to rely on each other to go very far in this tournament. Because there's so many obstacles you run into and so many different kinds of teams. You need everybody. Because everybody brings something different.

I looked at it last night and the difference between the first half and the second, Korie, Durrell, and Delvon, all did some great things, but it was Ray and Day-Day that have been kind of the solid stones that we can all build around. And we got the ball into those guys. They got it out. Got him some good shots. A little more freedom for Korie, because we were getting it inside.

So I just think, yeah, it culminated at halftime at that Maryland game because I think they understood that Kalin just lost what sometimes we take for granted. And then I think they bonded and tried to do something not only for him but for the team and for the program.

So it hasn't just happened in two weeks, but it has grown as the season went on, and it took a little longer than maybe I'd like it to. And, yet, we won the Big Ten. We did some good things during the year

Q. Raymar, at halftime last night, when you have zero points, does anybody point out to you, hey, Ray, you're shutout in what could be your last college game, and how much does that senior effect play on you right now?

RAYMAR MORGAN: A lot. Through every minute of every game it plays on me. Coaches did a great job, and my teammates did just a great job in encouraging me and telling me they need me in the second half.

And in the second half I just tried to make a couple of plays to get our team going.

Q. Tom, between injuries and rebounding that have always been kind of your team's hallmarks, the toughness is always seen as one of the signatures of your teams, could you talk about how you cultivate that, whether it's as much in recruiting as in practice, just overall?

COACH IZZO: Well, I think it's done with the players before. Like Ray's group brings it down to Day-Day and Korie's group, the sophomores and the freshmen. I try to recruit tougher guys, but you run out of that in basketball; you don't get a lot of two-sport guys.

So, I think it's semi-built and it's built by the players. I mean, we run a few drills. We do a few things. We kind of don't leave a lot of room for excuses.

But it's the players that pass it on to the other players.

As I remember, even going on Suton and Marquise Gray did to Day-Day his first year and now he's passing it on to Nix and Sherman, and Ray has always been a beast if you ask me. He's always been strong and tough enough.

And so I say this guy's playing on one knee. So you know he lied to you, because his knee is struggling, and it's been struggling. But he's got a warrior's mentality.

And, I mean, Durrell -- there's one thing that I've not questioned about the guys on the podium here. I've questioned a lot of things, but I've never questioned their toughness.

And that's about as good a compliment as I can give them, personally.

Q. Tom, when you plug somebody into a role like Draymond has this year as a sixth-man first guy off the bench, do you look for a certain mentality, personality? What makes him a good candidate for that role?

COACH IZZO: Well, thank God one of his mates from up in the Flint-Saginaw area, Morris Peterson, was the first player that ever was the sixth-man that was First Team All-Big Ten, and had a good role model. And I think even at one time I told Morris to talk to him.

I think he did. But the other thing is Day-Day, you know, because of his versatility, I mean, he can do a lot of different things. He can handle the ball. He's becoming a much better shooter. He has a great IQ defensively and offensively, where he can pass the ball.

So what I tried to tell him is, look, you're good enough to start, but I can bring you in for different people, and I need that. And it's proven out in the past for some great sixth-men we've had that have gone on to play in the NBA and things like that.

And I think he said it best. You know, I think he was disappointed for about a week. And, I mean, that -- I'm not saying mad. Disappointed. And then when he realized that he's going to be in there when it really matters, and that he is going to give us a lift. And I give him freedom. He gets up, takes his stuff off.

I used to be able to tell him who to go in for and now he tells me who he's going in for. So I think that's a better deal for him.

Q. Raymar, Draymond said that the Final Four is a big deal at Michigan State. Could you describe the legacy that you guys have and how is that passed down from player to player, and particularly this being the tenth anniversary of the national championship team?

RAYMAR MORGAN: It just tells us where the program is at. Coach has built a legacy here that Final Fours are important. And every year that's our goal. This year it was the goal of ours to get back to the Final Four and taking it one step closer and further ahead than last year.

And at this route, we're doing that. So I think if we just stay focused and keep playing our best basketball, we have a really good chance to get back to where we always dreamed.

Q. Tom, I wanted to ask -- you touched a little bit about Draymond's skill set and

 

versatility, and if you've ever had a player with a similar package as that and kind of the some of the freedom it gives you to do different things with him?

COACH IZZO: I don't know. I think Raymar has a lot of those skill sets. He can do some of the same things, and yet he can guard even more people. I think Alan Anderson who had that versatility. Morris Peterson, we used to play him at the 3. Played him at the 4. Played him at the 5. He'd guard two guards. He's do a lot of different things like that.

So you don't get a million of those kind of guys, and yet, if you ask me, that's one thing Tennessee has. I always tell our guys, versatility is the key. Can you be 6-5, 6-6, 6-7, I tell Durrell this, and be a multi-dimensional player, be able to do a lot of different things.

I think Day-Day was very well coached in high school. And because of that, you know, his mother coaches him still and he just has a great understanding of the game.

And some of that I can't take any credit for. He had that when he came.

Q. Tom and Durrell, I'm wondering, Tom, when you thought your message got through to Durrell, and if you ever thought that it would. And, Durrell, if you could talk about the evolution of your relationship with your coach?

COACH IZZO: God, talk about putting me on the spot. I love Durrell now.

No, you know what, this guy here next to me is one of the more talented players that I've ever coached. And I've said that through thick and thin.

And I've told him, you know, I've coached a lot of guys. You hate the word potential, and you hate the word, you know, he has the potential but didn't meet it.

And when you go through a couple of guys like that in the past and it didn't work out for them, I kind of vowed I'll never let that happen again. And so there's no question I pushed Durrell to new levels, if you ask me. But it's because I know what he has.

And he's good enough to be one of the best defensive players, one of the best rebounding guards, and I've had a couple in Richardson and Peterson and Charlie Bell who were off the charts. And he's got every ability to be as good or better than them.

He's got a great-looking shot. He can run. He's an athlete. He can run like a deer. And as I'm starting to learn, he has more parts to his game. And the whole thing to me is just staying focused on what he's got to do. And sometimes people take things casually. And I think a lot of players do. And I've probably been harder on him, because I think he has more to give. You know, when you have more to give, people are going to push you even harder.

And yet, in saying all that, I'll close by saying: Adversarial at times, maybe, but maybe not. Because I think what we're both starting to realize is we want to get to the same place at the end. And I've dealt with a few players like that. And those players ended up with Final Fours and NBA careers, and I see no reason why this guy won't continue in that same light.

DURRELL SUMMERS: And I think my relationship with Coach, you know, is it started off a little rocky, just trying to get to learn each other and know each other, and I think, just like he said, it might take longer for some guys just to see it.

And I kind of understand why he do some of the things he does, and why he's constantly on me. I understand now what he wants out of me, pretty much perfection, even if sometimes it could be a play that might be impossible to make, but Coach feels I could make it and he might get on me for not making it. And I don't fight him on it. I'm going to make the play or I'll try. He knows it matters to me.

And I think we've just grown in that way. So it's just been a different type of coaching. We're just interacting different. And it's great. It feels good.

Q. Korie, Tom, or the other players, when Kalin went down in early February in the middle of the game, you guys couldn't come back against Wisconsin and lost without him at Illinois. What's been different personally or for the team this time around in the same type of quick turnaround to adjust to life without Kalin?

KORIE LUCIOUS: When he went down at half at Wisconsin, I think it was a shocker for all of us. The game was already kind of in favor of Wisconsin, so it was kind of tough for us to come back.

And leading to the Illinois game, I don't really feel like I was ready to take on the responsibility of being a starting point guard and playing a lot of minutes and trying to lead this team.

But, I mean, since then, just playing with these guys and them just giving me the confidence every day in practice and in games, they've just been helping me all year. Ever since the Illinois game I didn't really play that good, and they've just been staying on me, telling me to just keep playing, keep my focus and everything like that.

So this time around, when Kalin did get hurt, I was ready for this responsibility. And I just tried to go out there and just play hard and try to lead my team in any way.

With the help of these guys, they made it possible for me.

Q. Draymond, certain college teams have a name they use for their starting five. Do you guys have a name you use for your starting five?

DRAYMOND GREEN: No.

COACH IZZO: We've had a lot of different ones.

DRAYMOND GREEN: Our lineup changes every day. So due to injury, due to a lot of stuff, matchups, whatever it may be, our lineup always changes.

And I think that's one of the things that is good about this team. A lot of teams wouldn't be able to deal with a lineup change as much as ours changed. They wouldn't be able to feel comfortable with it. But I think we do a great job with our lineup change. And Coach does a great job of still keeping the rotations pretty much the same.

Me and Delvon, a few games ago, came off the bench together. And you would never think it would happen that way, because we're so used to Delvon starting, but he didn't start and Raymar started at the 4. And everything still flowed perfectly.

It just says a lot about our team and the depth we have. We have like eight or nine starters, in reality, but you just can't start that many people.

So I think it says a lot about our depth and our team and about our coaching staff.

Q. Korie, I think yesterday you even had something like six boards. Knowing you guys have had to go small a lot this year, what do you think Coach and the staff have done to still get that typical dominating Michigan State nation-leading rebounding effort out of you guys, knowing it's one of the smaller teams he's probably had as far as the playing group?

KORIE LUCIOUS: Every day in practice we do a little drill called war. And our assistant coach, Mike Garland, he stresses that the guards -- he stresses that the guards get rebounds. And even if we don't, sometimes when we do and he don't feel we're going hard, he'll blow the whistle and say you're not going hard enough or the guards need to get more rebounds.

So I think just staying on the glass with our guards and our bigs has been key for us. The bigs does a great job at most of the games getting the rebound. So we just try to get the loose ones and Durrell and Chris and myself, I just try to get in there and try to help out and pick up the slack.

It's been successful for many years, and we're just trying to keep it up and stay on the glass and still trying to get those rebounding championship titles.

Q. Tom, could you tell me what Steve said to you as you came off the court yesterday and just talk about having your close buddy with you this time?

COACH IZZO: Well, he's just so excited to be here. I think when you're in pro ball for so long and you get the college atmosphere, he loves all the NCAA tournament games, and he flew in all day from Iron Mountain. He was up visiting his dad and on his way back.

And he was just proud of all of us. I think he's excited about it. I think he loves the atmosphere. You know, it's kind of different than the NFL in a lot of ways and pro ball in general, I guess.

So he loves being around the locker room. He loves being in the film room. Last night he watched film with us until wee hours of the morning. He kept telling me to run the fly pattern. I don't know what the hell he was talking about.

But other than that he's pretty good. He enjoys it.

Q. Coach Izzo and any player who would like to address this. There's been some discussion that the shoes that you've got, the team shoes are maybe a little bit too light and maybe they're to blame for some of the injury problems you've gone through. Do you feel like there's any truth to that? And what kind of balancing act is it for you; you want to be lean and fast, but you don't want to sacrifice too much support, I guess?

COACH IZZO: That's a new one. I blame these guys for a lot of things. It's about time I can blame somebody else. The shoes did it. All right. No, I don't think that has anything to do with it. In Kalin's injury, it was just a freak thing.

And, you know, I think for the most part, you know, we haven't had a ton of injuries. I mean, Delvon's has kind of been ongoing a little bit, just because he's tough enough to play through it. And most of these other guys, I look down, Ray's broken nose and pneumonia, I can't blame the shoes for that, that's for sure.

So I think in general these guys have played through everything. And I happen to like the shoes. I happen to like the uniforms. I happen to like the players. So I'm just going to blame myself from now on when we play bad and I'll leave everything else up to speculation.

Q. Korie, if this was a situation with Kalin would have happened four to six weeks ago, do you think you could have stepped in and played like you did last night? And, also, when did you feel like maybe you and Coach were getting on the same page a little bit more as well?

KORIE LUCIOUS: Probably four to six weeks ago, I probably wouldn't have been ready for this role to lead the team and try to win games for us.

But, just throughout this whole year, like I said before, with all the confidence my teammates have been given me and my coaches, that he put me into this position to be ready at this point in the year.

And I'm just excited to take on the challenge. And with the help of these guys, I'm going to keep on playing as solid as possible and try to help them and lead them hopefully to another Final Four.

But as far as Coach, we've had a rocky year as well. There have been times I haven't been playing as well as I would like to have been playing. But he's been sticking with me, keep telling me to watch more film and stay in the gym and just try to be more vocal as a point guard and just try to be as solid as possible.

That's all I've been trying to do. Like I said, with the help of these guys, they've been helping me and my other teammates, and the entire staff that's here. I just gotta thank them for sticking with me and staying on me all the time and telling me to keep my confidence up. And I just thank them for everything that's happening for me.

Q. Tom, you've been doing “War” for a long time and still makes you smile. Can you just give us your own description of it? And did this come from Jud or was it your own invention? And what do you get out of it?

COACH IZZO: No, this was my own invention, and it happened because my first year we opened up against Chaminade. We beat the hell out of them by two. And in the second game, Carolina beat us by 30. And then Steve Nash beat us bad. We were coming back and we were going to play Arkansas.

Nolan Richardson had a great team, and I put a guy named Antonio Smith in as a small forward. And I just said, you know, we missed so many shots that the only chance we had was to go get the ones we missed.

And so we came up with something in practice. Tom Crean, Stan Heath, I think Brian Gregory, who is now at Dayton, and we started doing that drill, where I think we had 25 or -7 offensive rebounds against Arkansas.

And, as you know, he's one tough cookie, and they're tough. And so then Jud labeled my team as the greatest team, greatest offense to missed shot. As we got to be better shooters, we also got better players. And the Richardsons and Bells and Petersons, they really flourished on going to the boards. And we just -- so we became better shooters.

But we've led the nation a lot in rebounding with different kinds of teams. I don't see how you can be a good defensive team if you don't finish it with a rebound. And that's part of the defense.

And that's the way I sold it. And thank God these guys believed in it and we haven't been as dominating as sometimes. I mean, in those couple of years we were plus 15 and 14 and now we're eight or nine. But we're still one of the nation's leaders. And the drill, like Korie said, it's only a five-minute drill, but we do do it pretty religiously, like probably every single day.

Q. Coach, you mentioned Tennessee's versatility a minute ago. Where do you start at defending them? And do you see some similarities between Tennessee and yourselves, the way you play?

COACH IZZO: You know, I think some. I think they have multiple ball handlers. Chism is like a matchup like a kid named Sims in our league that plays for Michigan. He can score inside, he can score outside, he can put the ball on the floor.

He's got great versatility. And the length creates a problem for us a little bit, because sometimes, although it's not as much so now, I mean, there were times before Korie was being polite. He was playing a lot of minutes with Kalin. And we were playing two real small guards, in a way, with some teams.

But now we're only playing one small guard. And so it doesn't create as many problems for us. But I just think their ability to be so athletic and have so many different ball handlers that can finish at the rim is why they don't press as much as Bruce used to press. At least it doesn't seem that way. But they still get their hands on a lot of balls, knock a lot of balls loose and get in that open court. And they're very effective when they do that.

Q. Coach, anytime you talk about Durrell's potential you mention his ability to be a great offensive rebounder. How important do you think it is against a team like Tennessee? And, Durrell, if you could talk about how important offensive rebounding is to your game?

COACH IZZO: Well, I've often told Durrell, when I look at those great players that I compare him to, whether it be Peterson, Richardson and Bell, to list three of them, anyway, they scored a lot of points on the offensive boards, you know? And Durrell is just learning how to do that.

I mean, he's got the ability. If you want to be a 20-point-a-game scorer and you get so many with your shots and you hopefully get four or so at the free throw line. And like Bell used to get four to six points just on offensive rebounds. And I think Durrell has the ability to do that, and more.

So I think it's very important to me. And I think it's very important for him, not only in the present, but in the future.

DURRELL SUMMERS: Yeah. As far as rebounding, Coach just is always telling me just be selfish in that way. If you want to get baskets or something like that, just go get every rebound, on offensive and defensive end.

So I just try and get myself going that way. Not always trying to get going off a jump shot or something like that. Just be selfish and go try and snag a rebound and put it back up. And that's been a big key for me.

MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. Questions for Coach Izzo.

Q. I know Bruce Pearl was in the Big Ten for a while, and then went Division II, and then Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I know you haven't played them, but are you kind of familiar with him just because of some of his past stops? And have you worked with anyone kind of -- like last year you had Tom Crean come in, help you watch film and scout. Have you worked with anyone who might know something about Bruce and Tennessee?

COACH IZZO: Well, number one, he was with Tom Davis for quite a while. And the system he runs is similar. Not quite pressing as much. But has that in their arsenal. Still running some of the flex offense that they ran. Recruiting similar type guys, athletic guys that can do a lot of things.

If you know of somebody that wants to help me, I have no ego on that. I'd love to get help. But doesn't seem to be anybody flying around St. Louis right now. So we're just going on the film we're watching and what I know of Bruce.

As you said, I have followed his career. I do know what he's done at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, especially as a head coach, Tennessee as a head coach, and then his assistant days at Iowa.

So we think we have a pretty good idea what they do. It's stopping what they do that's the problem.

Q. Tom, your first Final Four run came through here this region in '99. What do you remember about it specifically when the team went down on that pick by Najera in the semifinal?

COACH IZZO: Yeah, that's still one of the deals on our highlight film. I mean, it personifies the toughness that both those guys had, to be honest with you. They both got up. Najera took a little longer because he had some stitches, I think. But that was one of the more violent hits I've seen in basketball.

I mean, football guys were salivating over that hit. It looked like a linebacker and a fullback going at it. And it was -- shouldn't joke because it was almost dangerous. It was nobody's fault, but it was a play that happened.

To me that kind of play in the semis and then Antonio Smith made a couple semis of the regional, I should say, Sweet 16. And then Antonio Smith the next day, two days later against Kentucky, made a couple of big plays here against some pretty good inside guys.

And I think we started to get our toughness background through those kind of things. So, yeah, it kind of has its special place in the film room of Michigan State.

Q. Did that sell the program, or did you -- do you literally sell that moment to kind of sell the program?

COACH IZZO: Yeah, I don't know if I sell it in recruiting, because most basketball players are a little wimpier, they don't want to see that. But once I get them here I tell them, This is how you gotta be. So moms don't enjoy that as much, the recruiting process, and basketball is a little bit more huggy-feely, and you get them there and you say, Oh, by the way, this is what I expect of you.

Q. Just as a fellow coach, seeing what Coach Pearl dealt with the arrests, the suspensions, if you could just kind of comment about the job he did in keeping his team together, and then the dynamic sometimes that happens in those situations, drawing a team closer together or whatever happens?

COACH IZZO: Usually, adversity, it either makes you better or kills you. I mean, there's no question that you very seldom have adverse things that happen and you stay the same.

And I think it takes great leadership by the coach and probably by the players on the team, whoever his leaders are, to weather that storm.

And it was one that was sort of shocking, the way everything happened. But he sure has done a heck of a job of weathering it. And it definitely does bring you closer in some ways, because everybody has to realize that the microscope's on you now, even more than it was. And you better have each other's backs. You better stick together. You better watch what you're doing, all those things that I think can end up positives.

And I take my hat off to Bruce on that. I thought he did a great job. And yet I can't comment on it because I don't know all the particulars and what happened. But I do know this: It could have killed some teams, and it seemed to -- over time he's built onto that and has made it something that I think he'll be able to use for years to come and those players will be able to use for years to come.

Q. Over the years, it seems like there's been kind of a correlation between Raymar Morgan's confidence or where his mentality is at in a certain game and how he performs. Has he matured and moved beyond that? If so, does that mean he's better at backing up from a less productive game than he was in years past or even earlier this year?

COACH IZZO: As Draymond said, at halftime if there was one thing I went after was those two guys because they're rocks. Raymar has been, like I said -- the last ten or 12 games he's been dynamite. And, I mean, you know, you still have problems like foul trouble seems to bother him more than most.

And yet he's a very intelligent player, very intelligent person and so gifted with the body and strength and all the things that he has. And, yet, once in a while he's been his own worst enemy. I can't even take credit for those things, meaning coaches get on players and some players respond. It's not coaches getting on him. It's Raymar getting on Raymar.

And I think he has grown in leaps and bounds. He really started making some progress last year, and then the pneumonia and all the things, and the broken nose, you know, kind of set him back a while.

But this year, for the most part, I think he's been much better. And I think he's been really focused this end of the year, which happens to a lot of seniors.

And no question, you could argue whether he's been our best player in those ten or 12 games, but he's been our most consistent on all ends of the court.

And you talk about versatility, like I said, he's guarded a center last night, and he guarded Vasquez last week in a point guard. And that's not easy to do. And that's why I think some day he's still got some basketball left to play.

Q. You guys have obviously endured a lot of things that have been beyond your control with the injuries, but I get the sense that there's been some frustration on your end about getting this team to mesh and be the kind of team that's gotten here. Can you talk about the level of frustration that you felt with

 

this team?

COACH IZZO: Well, I think it's been high. I still say -- I tell our writers all the time, the first day of the new school year I wrote three things on the board: The first one was chemistry, leadership and distractions; the second thing was our defense; and the third thing was our post play, because we lost 15 years, three guys that were fifth-year seniors.

And I said, But number one's probably going to be the big one. And the reason I thought we lost our best leader, no question about it, in Travis Walton. We lost our best chemistry guy, no doubt about it, in Goran Suton and the distractions like NBA opportunities, the Final Four being picked second.

I didn't think we were that good then. I thought we were a top 15 team that could move into the top 10. But all those things put more pressure on. And as I try to tell our media, that makes it sound like, you know -- I mean, to think about it, a guy is going to be -- everybody's picked on in college sports. That's our job. Our job is to drive people to places they never thought they could go.

And I think I do a decent job of keep driving. And sometimes you have to mature to understand that. But that's why it makes it so much fun to have our former guys come back. Even Earvin, who is here now, he's around all the time.

I remember earlier in the year he picked up some things with Lucas at North Carolina and Steve Smith was down there, picked up some things. And different guys came in. And that always helps.

But when everybody's always patting on you the back, let's face it, we didn't go to the greatest Final Four because the last game was a disaster. We got killed. But it was the biggest Final Four, and it was in your home state.

And everybody's patting you on the back. And it's hard to deal with that sometimes. That's not the players' fault necessarily, but it is my job to make sure they understand you're in Disneyland, not the real world, let's get back to the real world.

Yeah, it's taken some time. Yeah, there's been some frustration. As my old buddy Nick Saban used to say, yeah, there's been some roadkill on the way. But you know what? I never felt better about what I think my ultimate job is, and that's holding people accountable to the dreams and goals that they want to achieve.

And we're maybe one game from reaching another huge plateau of those goals that we're trying to achieve. And it was Draymond Green last year that I thought said the most prolific thing that I've heard a freshman say, and that was when I was trying to address my team and tell them I was proud of them even though we got beat by 50 points by North Carolina. He said, “Coach, can I say something?” I said sure. He said, “Remember a year ago North Carolina was down 40 points to -- I think it was Kansas at the time. And now they're national champs.” And that was his way of moving on to next year.

For a freshman, I thought that was a great sign. And every once in a while I've got to remind him that he said that and that I thought it was one of the greatest lines I've ever heard.

And it's harder to understand that when you're getting patted on the back and told how good you are all summer.

So, yeah, there's been a little bit of roadkill, but I'd say, for me it's been a better year from a standpoint of I think I became a better coach. You know, I understand more guys. Sometimes we as coaches, we get into that dictator mode where you just tell and you don't listen and you don't try to understand them.

And so maybe it brought me back, more meetings, meetings at my house, meetings at a restaurant, meetings at the office. It was good for me in the long run and I think good for them.

Q. Tom, can you remember what -- the first time that you got to the regional final, what it was like and did you feel a sense of being overwhelmed, and how much more comfort do you have now? And do you have like a system that you use when you get to this point that you developed?

COACH IZZO: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I guess the Final Four was even more than the Elite Eight. But I always joke that I was still doing tickets in hotel rooms the Friday night we were there. And I was supposed to be coaching my team. But, you know, I think it helps.

Although, that first year we played Kentucky. They were defending national champs right here in that Elite game, and they got off to I think a 19-4, some lead. And having experience helps, but it doesn't win games for you.

The games are won on the court. And the games aren't won by the coaches or the

 

secretaries that know the systems. That helps with the distractions. And sometimes that's very important. But as I've always said, players play the game and the game will be won by players. And that's what's so neat about it.

And sometimes they're oblivious to all these things. But I think when you go in, and maybe dealing with the media is the hardest thing. Some guys are shy. Some guys have never had to do it. And all of a sudden you get here and a guy like Korie, I'm proud of Korie, because a week ago, a week and a half ago he was just another player.

And one shot put him into stardom kind of. And I think he's handled it about as graciously and as good as any player I've had. And those are neat things to watch and see.

And I think that's one of the things I'm proud about our league. I think people in the league do a great job, and we have a lot of good coaches. And that's why I think it helps us keep stable here as a group.

Q. The fact that Tennessee beat both Kansas and Kentucky makes them a rather unusual No. 6 seed. Was there any discussion among you and your staff, for example, as fans, let alone coaches, about Tennessee as this tournament started?

COACH IZZO: Yeah, I mean, you always look at a team that has beat the giants, and they did it two different times. And I really like Kentucky. I thought as early on you could maybe get them. But later in the season, to beat them, you've got to be playing good.

And Kansas, to me, was the most solid team in America, when you talk about offense, defense, rebounding, coaching, being able to do a lot of different things. And they beat both of them.

And you're right. Last year we played USC, the second game, a 10 seed who had won the Pac-10 tournament because they had some injuries, and I said how in the hell is this a 10 seed? I'll probably say tonight in my sleep how is this a 6 seed. I think it also speaks volume of where the tournament's gone.

Because it is. And so the respect factor for Tennessee, the good news is when a Northern Iowa beats Kansas, when a Tennessee beats Kansas and Kentucky, you know, players gain great respect for those. I mean, they see it. They read it. They talk about it. That's worth a lot more than a coach telling them something, I can promise you that.

Q. In hindsight, you talked about how Korie's grown up and he talked about some of the keys. But do you think maybe just having him sit him that one game caught his attention and maybe at the end of the day that's what got him pointed in the right direction?

COACH IZZO: I think you hit on something that I believe in from the bottom of my heart. I mean, I kidded Durrell and told him -- I sat him the second half of the Minnesota game so I could rest him for the tournament. I think Durrell thought I was telling the truth. But I wasn't.

But anyway, you know, the problem with this day and age is everything is so magnified. It makes it harder for us to do those kind of things that are just normal. We do them with our kids every day. If the schools would do it, we'd have better school systems.

I'm talking about things that the great coaches get to do and maybe are a little smarter than I am.

But, you know, Korie knows that accountability is important to me in anything we do. And we're not perfect. I make my mistakes; they make theirs.

But as I said, you know, if I'm sitting a guy because he missed a couple of classes, you can rest assured he didn't miss two. It was an issue. If it was something else, rest assured, it's an issue.

We're not dumb either. And yet I've often said when I was 15, 17 years old, if I came home at 10:00 and I was supposed to be home at 9:00 and nobody said anything to me, you think I'm coming home at 9:00 the next night? I'm probably coming home at 11:00, you know? And that's our job. That is our job.

And we always talk about the kids are so different. Are they really? I think I would have done that. I would have come home at a different time.

So it's just part of the process. It really is. It's just magnified so much more now that it makes it harder to do, and that's why I'm glad that I've got the right place I work for, the right conference I work in, the right AD that I have, because even though it's sometimes hard, I know I'm going to have the backing of those people

And you know what more than anything? The right parents. The parents that everybody complains about in high school and this and that. I got some parents that are unbelievable. And I think we try to grow that family just like we do our team family. But they're unbelievable. And they've done such a good job for me and makes it so much easier

Q. One more war thing. Is it my imagination or a myth that you guys ever did it in helmets? And whatever the answer is, how much is the football mentality still there for you?

COACH IZZO: Yeah, you know, we did. We did do it in helmets. We got beat by Ohio State actually in a rebounding thing back when I had Zach Randolph and Jason Richardson and Mateen Cleaves and we had a heck of a team, and we got beat on the boards.

And I just didn't like the mentality. So I thought I had some wimpy guys that didn't want to compete. So I told my equipment man to get ahold of Saban and see if I could borrow ten football outfits. The last 20 minutes of one of those practices he wheeled in the helmets and shoulder pads and all the gear.

And, you know, my guys, I had four football players on that team that were recruited Division I's. Those guys were fired up. And I was mad. By the end of the day, it got to be one of the things that at every reunion we still talk about, because they had fun. And they couldn't get hurt. And I still remember Cleaves trying to teach our 6-9 guys how to button a chin strap. It was really interesting.

So it was good. It was fun. I've done it three or four times since, if some things get really out of whack or if I think I have a soft team, I put them in those. They know they can't get hurt. And they can still bounce around a little bit.

But there is a mentality and the mentality is players play and tough players win. And I mean that in any sport, any walk of life. And could be physically. Could be mentally. But it's usually the way it is. And I follow that.

Q. Tom, you wondered about your team earlier in the year. And we sort of assume it will find itself by tournament time.

COACH IZZO: Why didn't you tell me?

Q. History suggests it will. But I'm assuming that you probably don't assume that. And when do you think this team got it? Was it the Big Ten tournament? Was it halftime at the Maryland game? Was there a time?

COACH IZZO: You know, I think it was around the tough losses to Purdue and Ohio State that we got it, that all of a sudden they said, this isn't the right way. Then it took, you know -- there was a little confusing part where, okay, how do we change it. A leopard doesn't change his spots. Is this who we are, or are we really somebody else.

I spent some time going back and showing tape of what we did last year. And Travis Walton actually made a highlight tape of -- and he was hardly even in it. That was the neat part.

He was hardly even in it, even though he was -- and he said to me, Coach, watch this, show it to the team. It was about a nine-minute tape and I showed it and it was amazing. Guys were flying around. It just seemed so different.

And like the old adage, you know, did we get a little fat and sassy, complacent, not understanding what got us there, whatever the adage would be, I think there was some truth to it. I think we started to get it then.

And then traumatic things like the Big Ten tournament and maybe the way we lost, and then the Maryland part of it, because Kalin was playing so good, he had 25 points the night before and had six assists already in that game in ten minutes, and I think just seeing him laying there, you know -- we were in a room and the locker room was here and there was a little room and there was a big window. And seeing him laying there, knowing that his year was over I think was a wake-up call, you know, to say, you know what, we've got to put it all together.

And I told them, I said, you know what -- before we left, I said, Go tell him good-bye and that you're going to win this for him. And every guy went in there. And this team is not a Magic Johnson, Mateen Cleaves, huggy-feely embracing everybody. And that day from Kalin to maybe my coldest player on the team, there was that huggy-feely embracing, tear-jerking moment that I think, who knows, I don't think we have to get to a Final Four for me to embrace that and talk about that in the years to come for me.

I think I already feel it and I already know it. But if we get to a Final Four, it will probably go down like the war drill, you know? It will just take on a life of its own because it was sort of a turning point.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

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