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Izzo, Michigan State embrace basketball as university tries to heal

February 19, 2023
<p>Head Coach Tom Izzo gets emotional while Michigan’s band plays the MSU Shadows to honor the university and the three Spartans lost during the mass shooting on Feb. 13, 2023. The rivalry matchup was MSU’s first game back, the Wolverines ultimately beat the Spartans, 84-72.</p>

Head Coach Tom Izzo gets emotional while Michigan’s band plays the MSU Shadows to honor the university and the three Spartans lost during the mass shooting on Feb. 13, 2023. The rivalry matchup was MSU’s first game back, the Wolverines ultimately beat the Spartans, 84-72.

TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses the mass shooting that took place on the evening of Monday, Feb. 13 on Michigan State University’s campus. We encourage all community members affected by this tragedy to reach out to the free and confidential services offered by Michigan State University and East Lansing, which can be found here.

For about a week now, every student, faculty member and employee at Michigan State has enrolled in an unfair, impromptu lesson on grief

After Monday evening’s shooting on campus left three dead and five more injured, the university and the surrounding community has been forced to reckon with the aftermath. Naturally, grief and healing have taken center stage as days march on

Each person grieves and handles grief differently. And that’s ok. Whether it’s finding solace in friends or peace in isolation, there isn’t a right or wrong way for people to cope. 

For Michigan State’s basketball team and its head coach, basketball has been an essential part of the healing process

“Everybody deals with it differently,” graduate student forward Joey Hauser said. “I guess basketball was an (outlet), just to kind of get away from it. Not forget it. I think being around each other was what we wanted most out of it.” 

The Spartans returned to practice on Wednesday, just a couple days after the shooting. It wasn’t easy. In fact, that first practice went pretty poorly

But as the week has progressed, the practices got better. Surrounded by fellow players and a caring coaching staff informed by the university’s mental health professional’s, MSU’s roster was able to surround itself with basketball and cope in their own way. 

“It’s been a tough week, with everything that’s happened,” Hauser said. “We’ve been kind of able to just rally together and stick together and lean on each other when we need each other most. “

Motivating and coaching players in the wake of tragedy. There isn’t exactly a blueprint for coaches on what to do following such a horrific event. While Wednesday night’s scheduled matchup against Minnesota was postponed, Michigan State would still have to practice and prepare for a trip to Ann Arbor Saturday evening. The Earth kept turning while life in East Lansing came to a screeching halt

Head Men's Basketball Coach Tom Izzo and his coaching staff had a game to prepare for. They had to balance the typical “tough love” approach favored by Izzo with a more empathetic, understanding view of what the players were dealing with

“I appreciate the effort they gave me," Izzo said. "It was an interesting week, to say the least. Trying to figure out how to deal with it, manage it - motivate, sympathize, there were a lot of keywords that went into what we did.” 

Izzo handled things a bit differently this week. He made it clear that whatever emotion his players or the students on campus were feeling, was okay

But Saturday night, once the emotional pre-game tributes were wrapped up and the players took the court, it was almost business as usual. Izzo wasn’t afraid to give an earful to his players. There was plenty of in-game action and, of course, a little bit of chirping - junior guard A.J. Hoggard received a technical just a few minutes in for jawing at the Michigan bench

“I feel like once the ball tipped off, we kind of locked in and played our game,” sophomore guard Jaden Akins said

For a couple hours, Michigan State and Michigan locked into an entertaining and competitive matchup that captured the attention of the state. It was a much-needed distraction for some. Michigan came out on top 84-72 thanks to some impressive baskets in the waning minutes of the game, but in the grand scheme of things, that didn’t really matter

“We played that game for two hours to try to make many people that are back in East Lansing and around the world that are Michigan State alumnus escape for two hours and try to enjoy the moment,” Izzo said. “I thought for the most part, we did our part, they just did it a little better.” 

The game is over and the weekend is coming to a close. Now comes one of the toughest parts of the grieving process: returning to normal. Monday morning, students and faculty are expected to return to campus

It’s going to be hard, there's no doubt about it. But some, including Izzo, believe it’s a natural - and essential - part of what’s going to be a long healing process

“I realize there's going to be problems and people are going to have to deal with things but I don't know how you learn to deal with things if you've never been through,” Izzo said. “I think it’s important that normalcy regains itself. And yet don’t forget what happened. That would be an insult to the victims. Don’t forget it, but try to do better.” 

There isn't one way to heal or one way to deal with grief, and returning to campus won’t be easy. The university is offering free crisis counseling, both online and in-person, for those struggling

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