“Pick with your head, not your heart.”
That’s the advice Head Coach Tom Izzo gave his then 12-year-old son and now freshman guard Steven Izzo when asked if he should pick No. 3 Michigan State or No. 2 Duke in his 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket.
“I didn't think it was going to be brought up honestly,” Steven sighed. “I was 12 years old. I think I was picking to pick. They were good then. So I just figured might as well put ‘em down.”
Who could blame him? Izzo’s advisory is one I wish I would’ve heeded before picking No. 2 Michigan State over overall No. 1 North Carolina in 2009.
Steven turned out to be right, as Seth Curry’s 29-point performance eliminated a young, but talented, Spartan team’s title hopes and relegated Izzo to 1-7 versus Mike Krzyzewski in one fell swoop.
Last year, Steven was equally decisive in his choice, picking MSU over title favorite and No. 1 overall Duke.
“Once we got to that game, I was just waiting for it to happen,” Steven said. “I was with (my future brother-in-law) and we were just talking about how crazy the game's going to be. We just waited for that day. All we did was talk about it. We're like, 'We're going to beat them. We're going to beat them.' And there was no second thought on beating him. And when the game was over, we were in a hotel room just laying there like, ‘Dude, we just beat Duke.’”
Steven still speaks glowingly when reminiscing on the matchup, as he expressed his excitement for Tuesday’s matchup between No. 11 MSU and No. 10 Duke dating back to June. But the preparations for this blue blood clash are ones Steven has experienced multiple times over through years of being a fan, athlete and the son of Tom Izzo.
“I've always been a part of game plans and what we're going to do just by going to the coach's meetings and talking to them,” Steven said. “When my dad was just asking me at home when we're watching films, 'What do you think of this? What do you think about this? What do you think about that?'”
As the freshman explained the nerves he felt when “mentally preparing” for his father’s games, it became apparent that Steven has suffered and triumphed with this team in spirit for the majority of his 19 years.
“I would mentally prepare for my high school games. I'd mentally prepare for his (Izzo’s) games. I mean obviously different nervousness. I was just nervous for the game or what they're going to do.”
Now a freshman on the roster, Steven looks forward to experiencing the atmosphere in the Breslin as he attempts to make an impact as a player.
“Now I have some sort of an impact on the game or me, even if I don't get in, just cheering them on, being there for support, I have some sort of impact on it. So I don't think it will be looked at any different."
The only difference is, this time, he’ll be in a Spartan uniform.