With school out of session and no limits to the amount of time his team was allowed to practice, Tom Izzo knew this would be a critical few weeks for his basketball team.
And Monday, he liked the way it started.
Izzo described Monday as the team’s best practice of the season, as the No. 20 MSU men’s basketball team (9-2) prepared to go on the road to face Bowling Green (5-4) tonight.
“I think this week is important for all of us,” Izzo said. “We don’t have to play great, Rome wasn’t built overnight, but we have to start taking some serious steps forward. We’ve got some practice time, we’ve got some ability to be together as a group. As coaches we get two-a-days and the ability to harp on some things. I think it’s a big week for everybody.”
The emphasis for Izzo and the Spartans is a number of areas, including improving the team’s shooting, screening and fast breaks.
But more than anything, Izzo is trying to cultivate a mindset, one senior center Derrick Nix described as “not playing like robots.”
Although some might dread the extra practice time, Nix said he enjoys it and thinks it will make a big difference for this team.
“We (aren’t) doing (anything) anyway. (There) ain’t no students or nobody here, so we’re just sitting around. Why not make that time useful in practice,” Nix said.
“It’s a big week. We ain’t got no more cupcakes. Let the party start.”
The break from school is welcome for freshman Gary Harris, who got his first taste of collegiate academics this fall.
The freshman guard said he thinks he handled the balance of basketball and his first semester in college well, but is looking forward to the opportunity to have a singlar focus.
“It’s just us,” Harris said. “We have no distractions. We don’t have to worry about school. We just have basketball, so we’re working on getting better.”
And so far the biggest way MSU has gotten better is through being more vocal in practice.
Regularly encouraging each other and communicating on defense are two of the signs Izzo noticed in his team’s rejuvenated energy.
“I think they were enjoying it,” Izzo said. “I think we were beat up those couple of weeks, I really do, and I think that was part of it. But part of it is you have to look in the mirror and figure out what you’ve got to do.”