Indianapolis — Hundreds came from near and far to send Tom Izzo off to the Sweet 16 at a pep rally held a few hours before tipoff at the team’s hotel Friday evening.
But as the band played and food was served, the Spartans’ head coach was nowhere to be found.
Needing to fill time, and noting her husband is regularly late, Lupe Izzo began answering questions from the crowd, including one that drew a loud cheer.
“He wants to know how much we’re going to win by,” Lupe Izzo said, repeating the fan’s question. “We are going to try to win by at least one point.”
Moments later, Tom Izzo joined his wife at the podium with an emotional message of family, sparked by a YouTube video of MSU championship highlights shown to the team by senior center Derrick Nix minutes earlier.
The highlights combined with Izzo’s viewing of the pregame analysis on television helped give the Spartans’ head coach an emotional new perspective.
“What it made me realize is, this is my family,” Izzo said. “The proudest thing I can tell you, and it’s taken a lot of years, 16 years, 18 years as a head coach, (but) they didn’t talk about the team very much (on television). They talked about the program. I’ve been waiting for that my entire life.”
Despite the occasional heartfelt moments, the pep rally wasn’t without its moments of levity.
For the first half of his speech, Izzo spoke through a microphone at the podium that provided persistent audio feedback until someone adjusted its angle very slightly.
“That fixes it?’ Izzo asked as the crowd laughed. “Can you tell me how to handle the ball screens tonight?”
The light-hearted atmosphere was furthered by a crowd made up of a number of local Spartan fans as well as those who made the trek into Indianapolis for the tournament.
MSU alumnus Kevin Quinn of Fishers, Ind., missed the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in years when it was held in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, but seized the opportunity to see his team close to home when the NCAA Tournament bracket was released.
Quinn said a couple of college roommates he hadn’t seen in years drove down from Michigan and will be staying with him this weekend to take in the experience.
“As soon as they got picked in the Midwest bracket, we were looking forward to it,” Quinn said. “It’s part of being a bigger fan. No matter where you travel, I’ll where Michigan State stuff. I’ll go to conferences and people will seek me out and talk to me about the program, about the university and it’s just great to be a part of the Michigan State family.”
The family atmosphere extended to the band, which led the hour-and-a-half long event, performing a number of songs, including the fight song, countless times.
John Madden, director of the Spartan Marching Band, said he met up with a number of former band members at the rally and added these environments bring out the best qualities of being a Spartan from MSU.
“It’s the basketball team and coach Izzo bringing everybody together, but it’s kind of an informal family reunion, of sorts,” Madden said. “There’s a lot of energy from a gathering like this that reaffirms that hard to describe Spartan glue that pulls us together, that we’re proud of.”