SAN DIEGO – Following a press conference with reporters Thursday night in San Diego, Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo reached into his green quarter zip and pulled out artifacts he received earlier in the day.
They were three medallions given to Izzo on the eve of MSU’s matchup versus No. 2 Gonzaga aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. The team took a tour of the 1,902-foot aircraft carrier that afternoon, where they met crew members and learned about the operations of the ship.
Izzo said he particularly bonded with Commanding Officer Amy Bauernschmidt, who is the first woman to serve as an executive officer of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. She’s also a Milwaukee native, who, like Izzo, is a Green Bay Packers fan.
“She was great and gave me a lot of insight on things,” Izzo said. “It was just as special or more, especially seeing the sailors and the different people. But she agreed with (Gonzaga Head Coach) Mark Few and I: the greatest team in the world is our military. So we're both fighting for second place.”
Despite Friday being the second time Izzo has coached MSU on an aircraft carrier, he said the same lust was there Thursday as it was 11 years ago when the Spartans fell to North Carolina. Izzo said he spoke with former North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams last year when he was in East Lansing, who even as a three-time national champion said the 2011 Carrier Classic was “the coolest thing he’s ever done.”
The players seemed to have taken notice too.
“It's really eye-opening and it's really a shame and I don't do a good enough job myself in helping all those that come back from war in the military,” Izzo said. “We don't treat them with the dignity and the respect that they deserve.”
The opponent makes the matchup that much more interesting, with Michigan State and Gonzaga juggling the balance between the game itself and relishing the once-in-a-lifetime experience. And with that also comes the obstacle of playing an organized game of basketball outside rather than inside.
MSU also partook in a shootaround Thursday afternoon that presented some unique challenges the Spartans wouldn't normally face inside the comforts of the Breslin Center.
The wind was whipping and the air felt even a tad cooler than the abnormal November heat wave that blanketed East Lansing for the past week. Even for senior guard Tyson Walker and junior guard A.J. Hoggard who both said they have played plenty of outdoor hoops, playing on top of the USS Abraham Lincoln could be a whole new dynamic.
“It was a little windy, I'll be honest with you,” Izzo said. “The last time we had no wind and it was probably 10 degrees warmer. It was 50 some degrees (tonight) and a little windier than I thought, but it's supposed to be nice tomorrow. And whatever it is, is the same for both teams.”
Friday’s forecast calls for temperatures hovering around 66 degrees at tipoff with winds around seven to six miles per hour – slightly less extreme than the weather Thursday.
“I don't know,” Izzo said when asked if anything could change tactically. “We'll adjust a little bit to things, but I'm not really worried about it. I didn't lose any sleep over it.”
A victory for the unranked Spartans could do more than just add a tally to the win column. It also could be a quick measuring stick and tone-setter for next month with Friday marking the beginning of a non-conference gauntlet consisting of Kentucky, Villanova, Notre Dame, Alabama and two others in the Phil Knight Invitational.
“But it's not like we come here to sightsee,” Izzo said. “We got to spend a little time on the ship and that was awesome. It was educational in itself. It's not like we've been out screwing around. We didn't go to the zoo. We didn't go to the beach. We didn't go to surf. We came here to play a game and yet play a game in front of people that sacrifice a hell of a lot more than we do.”
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