East Lansing, MI
The 2019-2020 basketball season has brought many surprises to the Spartan Hall of Fame Head Coach Tom Izzo. But in that mixed bag of treats has been a blessing; being able to coach his son Steven Izzo.
While Tom Izzo can't go anywhere in America without being noticed, his wife Lupe, daughter Rocky, and son Steven can. Even among Spartan fans, they slip in and out without fanfare or accolades, and they like that.
But while so many know of Tom Izzo's legendary recruiting trips around the nation at all hours and during all days of the week, it is his family that has sacrificed family meals, vacations, basketball games, concerts, and normal family life, while dad works. While driven by the work ethic ingrained in him by his blue-collar father, it ate at him the sacrifice his family had to make.
With each step along the way, Lupe, Rocky, and Steven have done it. They have shared their husband and father with Spartan Nation. But this year, Izzo got a present. Tom gets to coach his son.
This year as the scenario of Steven being on the team played out, it was a gift. A gift to Steven, a gift to Lupe, a gift to Rocky and most of all a gift to Tom. I remember in great detail visiting with Steven at practices before he was in high school when he had to go to his own practices. He would come to spend time with his dad even though it was just sitting on the sidelines watching him coach.
A young boy who idolized his dad, but not for the reason others did. Steven didn't love Tom as "Coach," it was dad. For those that had no clue the Hall of Famer coach known for screaming at officials had a soft side, he does. Whether it is a kiss from Lupe and Rocky after a tough NCAA loss, or joking with Steven walking up the back steps wanting to call his mom to join them to eat as a young boy, Izzo's soft side shines with his family.
So, when Steven enters a game, the raw emotion from Tom, the smile on Rocky's face or the look of consternation from Lupe is because this tight-knit family has found a way to bond even closer than they were before. Now, they aren't just supporting and watching dad, they are all part of it.
There will always be critics. People want to know answers even though they were never part of the conversation. Why is Steven Izzo on the Spartan basketball team?
He deserved it. He earned it. Not for being a five-star point guard, but because Tom Izzo would not have built what he has had his family bemoaned his sacrifice. Being gone from family to fly around the nation during times the NCAA won't allow recruiting, talking to donors when basketball season isn't going on, searching for football coaches, and raising money for facilities that have nothing to do with basketball keep him busy away from his family.
Tom Izzo could have jumped to the pros. It is a much easier life for the family. But they never pushed him to go. They pushed him to do what he wanted. Lupe's amazing skills as a mother and Rocky and Steven's unconditional acceptance of their dad's work ethic and support of him made his stay here safe. It isn't easy coaching at MSU.
In fact, Tom has had chances that the public doesn't even know (as recent as last season) to leave for programs that winning would be easier. He doesn't go. So, the next time you see Steven Izzo on the court, remember he earned it.
Without the character of Steven, Rocky, and Lupe, Tom wouldn't be here. Tom is paying for Steven to be a walk on. His teammates love him and more importantly, Steven is giving something to his dad that NO ONE can, TIME.
Tom Izzo and I over the course of our friendship whether on his couch in the office, sitting at his desk, in his home, or over the phone have spoken countless times about giving your time. Tom Izzo worshipped his dad. He is now gone and Tom will never get more time with him. But in his relationship with Steven, the son has now become the father. They are close, they are together, and they are each giving the other something: TIME.
Steven Izzo being on this team was a gift to Tom Izzo, and it was a gift for the family. For a man who has sacrificed so much for the Spartan Nation and his family, he is now getting something back. Time. With his son, and as his friend, it is precious to see.
Merry Christmas to the Izzo family. Enjoy the time!
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