A look at the family behind Tom Izzo's success
Indianapolis — As MSU head basketball coach Tom Izzo prepares his team in an open practice the day before his Spartans are set to take on the No. 1 seed Duke Blue Devils in the Final Four, up in the stands amid thousands of basketball fans, is about a dozen or so members of another one of Izzo's teams — his family.
One of the more tenured members of this team is none other than Lupe Izzo, Tom's wife of 22 years. And it's on the eve of her husband's seventh Final Four appearance that she stands among the crowd to snap a picture of Mateen Cleaves — a former MSU basketball player under Tom Izzo — as well as the man whose name is now the middle name of their son, Steven Mateen Izzo.
But as Lupe snaps the picture, steps back and smiles, it's clear she appreciates the completion of the whole moment. It was 15 years ago that she witnessed Cleaves — now covering the tournament for CBS Sports Network — as an MSU basketball player, playing in a Final Four in Indianapolis.
"I've been here several times and it doesn't ever get old," Lupe Izzo said. "I feel like we're a little bit more seasoned. We know how things happen. When we first started, we were so young and didn't know what the process was. Now we're more relaxed with it."
Lupe Izzo was first introduced to Tom Izzo in the early 1990s by her sister-in-law Beth Marinez, who was working for the team while Tom Izzo was still an assistant for the team under head coach Jud Heathcote. Ever since then, Lupe Izzo has had a front row seat to all that's become of the program throughout the last 20 years.
But despite all the deep tournament runs and Big Ten Championships through the years, Lupe Izzo also acknowledges that sometimes it's been taxing on her family.
"It's a real demanding life," Lupe Izzo said. "Our family sacrifices a lot for this program and for the University and as successful as he keeps getting it's still kind of hard for our family. But that's all we've ever known so we've adjusted to it."
Tom Izzo also agrees balancing life as a coach can sometimes be hard, especially when he has a family. But when asked at a press conference Friday if he ever feels burned out from it all, he said he's always done the best he can to find a middle ground, often by involving his team with his family as much as he possible.
"We're like one big happy family," Tom Izzo said. "Thank God my wife is one that puts up with that. I think especially my son now at 13, 14, he's thrilled when those guys come around. So burnout I think happens more if you don't enjoy what you're doing, you're just there for the grind of it. The day that happens to me, I'll be sayonara."
And the Izzo family wouldn't have it any other way. They've enjoyed being along for the ride throughout the years.
"It's a dream," Marinez said. "We get to travel as a family which is so cool. My kids are here. My sister-in-laws are here. It's a blast ... It's not just a game, It's everything."
As for Tom Izzo's daughter, Raquel, now an advertising sophomore at MSU, there's never a such thing as too much basketball and it'd be "weird" if their lives weren't the way they are today.
"I don't know anything different," Raquel Izzo said. "It's weird ... for people to be so crazed about him, he's just a normal guy that bakes chili and popcorn at home. You know, he's just my dad."