Izzo hopes national hype will provide extra motivation
Tom Izzo fully understands what it’s like to be expected to contend for a national championship; he’s been there before.
Izzo, in his 23rd year at the helm of the Spartan basketball program, has won a national championship, seven regular-season Big Ten Championships and five conference tournament titles, along with seven Final Four appearances and a Big Ten-record 20 straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament with MSU.
The recent Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinee knows the stress, the pressure and the work that goes into maintaining expectations of what the country deems a championship-caliber team.
“We’ll see now as it gets turned up a little and basketball season starts to come — more exposure for them, more interest for them,” Izzo said on Friday. “How do they handle that? I guess I won’t know until I found out, but I like our chances of handling it well. They just seem to be a group that is more driven on what they want to accomplish personally and with the team than they are about what people think about them or say about them.”
Izzo hopes the favorable offseason predictions will give the team extra motivation and energy, and not an excuse to slack off.
“I’m hoping so. I think what’s cool is you really look for some signs,” Izzo said. “Are guys going to work harder, or are they going to think they arrived? What are their dreams and goals?”
Izzo said that when a collegiate athlete like Miles Bridges, who had a team-high 473 points last season, has the opportunity to forgo the rest of his eligibility and enter the NBA Draft, that player may let up on school and not go to class, but Bridges, however, is not one of those players.
“The other thing you look for is when a guy doesn’t go pro that could go pro,” Izzo said. “Is he going to bounce back now, or is he going to figure out, ‘I don’t have to go to class. I don’t have to do this. Who cares about the academics? I’m already arrived. Could I already have gone?’ So, just got to maintain what I got. And Miles is about as far from that as there is in a person. He had an incredible summer academically. He’s off to a good start now. Why does that matter? It just kind of tells you something about him. And so, I think that nobody is resting on their laurels. I think a lot of guys had great summers.”
Between now and the start of the regular season, Izzo said he hopes to find out how his team performs in three key aspects of the game.
“I’m hoping to see if we can guard somebody,” he said. “I’d like to see if we can do that. I’d like to see if we can handle distractions, because they’ll be some positive and some negative distractions. I want to see if we can handle that, and I want to see if we can not turn the ball over. Those are kind of our three issues that we’re really looking at. There’s a million more issues, but if you can handle distractions, it’s going to be very important, especially when you are highly ranked and you have pretty good players that could lead to a lot of distractions one way or the other. If you can defend well and rebound well, you’re going to have a chance to win the big games.”