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Family affair: Steven and Tom Izzo reflect fondly on four years together

March 16, 2023
<p>Head coach Tom Izzo celebrates with his son, Steven Izzo, after becoming the winningest coach in Big Ten history with his 663rd career win. The Spartans celebrated this season&#x27;s seniors at the Breslin Center on March 6, 2022, along with Izzo&#x27;s milestone.</p>

Head coach Tom Izzo celebrates with his son, Steven Izzo, after becoming the winningest coach in Big Ten history with his 663rd career win. The Spartans celebrated this season's seniors at the Breslin Center on March 6, 2022, along with Izzo's milestone.

Photo by Sheldon Krause | The State News

For most people, Take your Kid to Work Day is a one-day event. A time when kids are encouraged to spend the day at their parents' place of work, allowing them an inside look at what it is that their parents actually do all day.

For Head Men's Basketball Coach Tom Izzo’s son, senior guard Steven Izzo, the day has lasted a bit longer. Four years, in fact, and the two couldn’t be happier about it. 

“The experience for me has been phenomenal,” Tom Izzo said. “Just having him around every day, going on trips, seeing him get to warm up in some of the greatest arenas.”

The initial idea to join the team was Steven’s. After seeing the sons of other head coach's walk-on at top programs — Tyler Underwood (father Brad) at Illinois, Saul Smith (father Tubby) at Kentucky — Steven approached his dad prior to his senior year of high school proposing the same.

Tom was agreeable to the idea, but only if Steven played on his high school team at Lansing Catholic during his senior year.

After voicing hesitation about playing his senior season, Steven tried out for the team and made the roster. He began taking his game more seriously in anticipation of joining his father’s team the following year. 

Steven appeared in 24 games during his senior year, compared to nine his junior season.

As Steven’s senior year ended and his freshman year at MSU approached in 2019, the Spartans' head coach was uncertain what role Steven would take on the following year. He assumed team manager, if anything. Therefore, he was surprised when Steven asked him when summer weightlifting started. Steven intended to join the team as a player. 

Surprised and unsure whether his son would be able to keep up with the rigors of Division I college athletics, Tom’s fears were quickly realized.  

“I’ll never forget that first day in the weight-room, he was throwing up and doing all the things that you do when you’re not ready for that kind of workout,” Tom said.

While Tom doubted Steven’s resolve to endure a summer of MSU men's basketball workouts, Steven had other plans. He not only survived the summer but has remained a Spartan walk-on basketball player ever since. His father couldn’t be happier.

Lupe Izzo, the wife of Tom and mother of Steven, was confident that Steven would stick it out. Over the past four years, she’s been able to see MSU men’s basketball from a different point of view: as a parent.

“I’ve always been Tom’s spouse as far as being the head coach’s wife and I have my role as far as basketball and university related things,” Lupe said. “These last few years have given me a new perspective of being a player’s parent.”

The Hall of Fame coach’s rigorous work schedule hindered his ability to be a typical father while his children were growing up, causing him to miss out on milestone events over the years. 

"Most people get to raise their kids and I get to see mine from afar, cause I’m raising everyone else’s kids,” Tom said.

While Steven admits he didn't see his dad as much as he would have liked growing up, he said he never felt like he missed out on anything and that his dad always made it work.

During elementary school, he often joined his dad on weekend road games or recruiting trips. As Steven grew older, it became more difficult to travel with his father. Classes became more demanding, and middle school and high school sports took up an abundance of time.

“It was difficult, but he always made time for me,” Steven said. “I felt like he did his best and anything I could be included in, I was.”  

The remark is bittersweet for Tom.

“It’s kind of cool that he looked at it like he didn’t miss out on that much, but it also makes me feel bad that, man, you don’t know how it should’ve been,” Tom said.

The Spartan walk-on understands the sacrifices his dad’s job requires, but also recognizes that he’s more fortunate than most coaches’ children, as his dad has remained working for the same team for 40 years, allowing him and his older sister, Raquel Izzo, to remain in the area. 

“I have a great system,” Steven said. "A lot of coaches move around so they’re coaching at a school for four years and then moving to another school. I’ve been here for 22 years.”

After watching his son from afar for 18 years, Tom was able to get some of that time back.

When Steven’s decision to walk-on went public, the family received substantial backlash, alleging nepotism was involved and that Steven would be taking up someone else’s spot on the roster — somebody with a higher basketball IQ and therefore more deserving.

Tom acknowledges that welcoming his son to the team was the one selfish decision he made during his time at MSU, but he made it for all the right reasons. Lupe tends to agree.

“Not only was it good for Steven, but I thought that it was going to be really good for Tom,” Lupe said.

Since joining the team in 2019, Steven has played a scant 39 minutes. Despite not being a rotation player, he attends practice every day, running through the drills and workouts like everyone else. He understands the responsibilities of being a roster member and works hard to ensure that his dad sees him as worthy of the privilege.

“Why is he on my team? Cause I want him on my team,” Tom said. "So, I can make up for lost time … and so he can experience some things that I think are very valuable.”

The two have a rule. When they’re in the Breslin Center or away at another arena, they’re player and coach. But as soon as they leave the premises, it’s back to father and son. 

Most of the time, the rule is followed, but not always. When Tom is gifted a technical foul, Steven is usually the one tugging at his shirt pulling him away from the official. And Tom loves that.

“There’s something about … him pulling on my jacket when I get a T,” Tom said. “There’s a bond to that, that’s special. I appreciate it, it really means a lot to me.”

Steven’s first road game as a walk-on was in November 2019 at Madison Square Garden for the Champions Classic against Kentucky. His dad pulled him aside and asked an announcer to take a picture of the two together at half court before tipoff.

With that, a tradition was born.

“I started doing it a little more that year and he thought it was dumb and by the second year I would get 'Dad, we gotta take our picture.' I think he looked at it as it’s gonna be pretty cool down the line,” Tom said.

As a fellow coach with two sons playing Division I basketball, assistant coach Doug Wojcik understands how difficult it can be to find a healthy father-coach balance, especially at a top-tier Big Ten program like MSU.

Wojcik coached at MSU for two seasons prior to his return in 2018, including during the 2005 final four run. The veteran assistant coach has watched Steven mature and recognizes how much the past four years have meant to him and his father.

“It’s nice to see that father-son relationship, that father-son love,” Wojcik said. “I can see that they cherish their time together.”

As Steven’s senior season approaches its end, Tom and Steven reflect fondly on the four-year-long "Take Your Kid to Work Day" experience at a place that means so much to the both of them. 

“I’ve made a lot of good decisions here; I'm sure I've made some bad decisions,” Tom said. “Having (Steven) on my team has been one of the greatest decisions I made.”

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