Tom Izzo Final Four press conference transcript

"I do think North Carolina has the most talented team in the country, and I say that because I think they can beat you with so many different kinds of people." --MSU coach Tom Izzo.

THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. Coach, quickly recap your team's performance in Austin then we'll open it up for questions.

COACH IZZO: I was real pleased with our performance down there. I thought we beat two not good teams, but great teams and great coaches. I think in both games, we've had leading scorers that have changed. We've had some consistency. From a consistency standpoint, I think Paul Davis has rebounded the ball very well. Maurice Ager has played very consistent and for the most part, Alan Anderson has played with some consistency.

Our defense has been pretty good most of the way. I think we've taken pretty good care of the basketball, which has been a big plus. At tournament time, turnovers, defense and rebounding are all keys. I think for the tournament itself, we've rebounded the ball okay, not great. We have rebounded better in the last two games.

It was a great tournament for us. It was a climactic finish with the game against Kentucky. I'm just excited to survive and move on.

Q. Could you just talk a little bit about North Carolina, particularly about Raymond Felton and the sort of problems he'll present for you?

COACH IZZO: Well, I do think North Carolina has the most talented team in the country, and I say that because I think they can beat you with so many different kinds of people. We had a situation here where we had Zach Randolph, Jason Richardson coming off the bench, a lot like Marvin Williams does for them. You know he may be one of their best pro prospects. Raymond Felton stirs the drink, as they say. Felton is the guy that I think is one of our toughest match up problems. He's shooting the ball so much better this year than he had been in the past. He can take you off the dribble with his quickness. He can get into the paint, use his strength, and he makes other people better, so he does create some problems for us. We're going to have to try to guard him with probably more than one person. I don't mean just individually, but I mean probably a player and a half is going to have to contain him just because of his ability to penetrate.

Q. Shannon Brown had a big game against Kentucky. If you look at his numbers in the four games of the tournament, it looks like he's kind of stepped it up a notch in most areas. How important is he going to be for what happens?

COACH IZZO: Well, I think he's going to be very important because the difference that Shannon Brown is learning and Maurice Ager is learning, as you move on in the tournament, if you really want to get to championship level and play against teams that are of that caliber, you got to be able to play on both ends of the court. I think Shannon has taken enormous steps in his defense, and a lot more steps in taking care of the basketball. He's becoming a more complete player. As he does that, in this game, you know, he'll be one of the guys that will have to play Felton some, as we'll try to put our best athletes on him, sometimes our stronger guys on him, sometimes our quicker guys on him, sometimes we're going to send a variety of guys at him, but Shannon will be one of them.

Q. You mentioned your rebounding had been okay. Have you become a better rebounding team as the season has gone along? How big a factor do you think that will be in this game with Sean May and Paul Davis playing so well?

COACH IZZO: I think it's going to be a big factor because they can offensive rebound, too. You know, the fast break starts with good, clean rebounds. What I meant by that, too, is I think we were a Top 10 team in the country in rebound margin, but in the tournament we haven't been quite as good.

I thought some of those teams, Old Dominion and Vermont, had good rebounding teams that did do a good job, but we're going to have to step that rebounding up another notch to compete with North Carolina.

Q. I'm sure there were some seasons where maybe fans, coaches, players expected to go to the Final Four. Was this unexpected for your team?

COACH IZZO: Well, I can't say that we totally expected to go to a Final Four. I expected to have a great year, you know, with the nucleus of the guys that went to the Elite Eight two years ago, with the addition of a Shannon Brown. There had been so much inconsistency on this team because of moving players all around, it was the first year that we kind of got to play players in the position that they were meant to play.

I think, you know do I think we could get to a Final Four? You know, you always dream it. But reality is it's been a little bit of a surprise.

Q. The Big Ten took a beating most of the year. How satisfying is it to you from a conference standpoint what your league has done in this post season?

COACH IZZO: Well, I don't want to be very good at, you know, saying, "I told you so," this and that. I don't think we should be sitting here complaining as the Big Ten that nobody gave us any credit.

I think there are a couple conferences that deserve to be ranked higher than the Big Ten. But when they start putting a sixth (seed), seventh, even eighth, I said I thought it was ridiculous. We just didn't get some credit. We all played pretty tough non conference schedules, and teams, like Indiana played a brutal non conference schedule. Even Iowa played a pretty tough one in Maui.

When you lose some games, you're not ranked; all of a sudden there are only two or three ranked teams in your league. You never get the quality wins. I think it was more because of what they did in the non conference than the conference.

I'm pleased for our conference. You know that I've been in it (coaching) so long; I think there have been some good teams. Ohio State was a big case of a team that hurt us because they were awfully good but got no credit because everybody knew they weren't going to be in the tournament.

Q. Was wondering if you would talk about your fast-break points, just mentioned, 60 to 16 in your favor in the tournament. Can you run against North Carolina? Do you have to be selective when you do it because they lead the country in scoring?

COACH IZZO: I was going to say that I think you can run against them, but you got to make sure you don't just get into their game. You know their biggest strength is their running. I think one of our strengths is our running. But I do think with Raymond Felton they do it a little bit better than we do.

And so we're still going to run. But selective from the standpoint of we don't want to be turning the ball over while we're running and play at a pace that maybe benefits them more than us. But we're going to still do what we do best. I mean I played North Carolina once in the Sweet 16 in '98, and felt like I changed a few things because I was kind of weary of them. I thought that hurt us the first half. We were down big and then cut it in the second.

I don't think any team at this point should be changing what they do best. Yet, I don't want to play into their hands either. We're going to try to run, maybe selectively as far as not forcing the action.

Q. You made a reference to the Sweet 16 game. Do you regard that loss as sort of the beginning of the turning point? Since then, obviously four Final Fours in seven years. Was that a night when you realized you could play, just needed to get over the hump?

COACH IZZO: Yeah, I really thought so. It was a big win for us against Princeton to get there. Then we get there in Greensboro, I don't know how many it holds, 20,000, but there were 18,000 North Carolina fans. You know, they had a couple pretty good players on that team, as we recall (laughter). In fact, quite a few of them.

In the first half, I think we were down 13, 14, but I think we cut it to three or four in the second half. You know they were in kind of control of the game, but we hung in there. I think that gave us some confidence to know that we weren't that far away. The next year, you know better things happened. And we've been on a pretty good run.

I guess that would be kind of a turning- point game to at least go against one of the best.

Q. Speaking of your program's presence in the Final Four is there such a thing as more pressure once you get there if you're someone as a Roy Williams, who doesn't have a championship?

COACH IZZO: I guess if I was Roy, I'd like to have that pressure. I mean that he's been there a lot of times. You know, this thing about not winning it, I think if you talk to 90 percent of the coaches, you don't need to be validated by winning it. Validating it is consistently knocking on doors of things, and he sure has done that. He did done an unbelievable job at Kansas, even his years as an assistant at North Carolina.

Is there more pressure on North Carolina in general? I'd say yes because they've been picked most of the year. Even with Illinois being the No. 1 team, I think a lot of people think North Carolina is the team to beat to win the national championship. And that's pressure.

But, hey, that's why you're at North Carolina and that's hopefully, why you come to Michigan State. I don't like it all the time either. I don't have that kind of pressure, of a Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, but somewhere in the mix, that's why you're at those places.

Q. Obviously, the games are coming down to pressure backed, crunch time situations, probably will continue in the Final Four. I just wonder, what do you tell the team; tell the guys to calm them down? Is there a risk of maybe getting too complicated with a player? Also, are crunch time players, are they made or born?

COACH IZZO: Good questions.

What I tell my players in the last seven minutes of the game if it's tight, I tell them this is just where we want to be. We were maligned for not finishing games. We've done a better job of finishing games. I think we have some confidence in that. What we don't have that some teams have is a true, true go to player, maybe one where you just know where he's going to get it in. Alan Anderson, he's done a better job, so we look to him some, things like that. It's not like we kind of go with the flow compared to some teams who just have a guy that they can put the ball in his hands, maybe like a Raymond Felton. Doesn't mean he's going to shoot it, but he's going to make something happen and someone is going to get a good shot.

I'd say we're getting better at it. I feel comfortable at the end of games. But as far as whether they're born or whether they're made, I guess, like leaders, I kind of think they're more born. You just kind of have the quality, you have that confidence. I'd say for us a Shannon Brown and a Maurice Ager are the guys in the huddles at the end of games, they want the ball, and they verbalize that. I kind of like that, especially like a Mateen Cleaves did. Doesn't mean he always took the shot, but it means that he wanted the ball to do something with it.

I guess I'd lean to a little bit more born than made. But if you weren't born with it, it's our job to make it.

Q. You guys have been on both sides of it this year. How is the mentality different in playing from behind and playing ahead in a pressure game?

COACH IZZO: Well, you know for us, I mean, it changed so many times during the year. But over the years, you know, I always said it was good to be the hunted because that means you were on top and people were looking up at you. Even during a game, you know, I don't think there's any real difference. I think we've adjusted here where having everybody after you or trying to catch somebody, I don't see much difference. I think in the good programs that have done it for a period of time, people should know that there's going to be pressure on, you got to deal with it, whether it's in the game, in the season or in the Final Four. That's what I'm hoping to get across to them.

Q. What is the key in a game situation like when Kentucky is coming from behind or you guys are coming from behind, what's the key to getting your team?

COACH IZZO: I think just executing and knowing what we're doing defensively. My big thing is there's not a lot of margin for errors in those points in a game. You can't have a switch error or a non communication error on defense. On offense, you got to make sure that people are in the positions that give them the best chance to be successful. Some teams just have players that make plays, and we're one of those teams that we kind of try to put players in positions to have a chance to make the best play.

That's what happens when you don't have maybe the truest of point guards or experience at that position, so that's the only thing we try to do different.

Q. You've got 10 guys averaging nine minutes or more. How big of a factor is depth going to be in this game for you guys?

COACH IZZO: I think they have enough depth. I mean, if it was a Vermont, who only played five players or six, it's one thing. North Carolina plays eight, even nine. They play eight guys pretty freely. With the TV timeouts and the rest during the week leading up till Saturday, I don't think our depth will be as big a factor as maybe during the regular season with the shorter timeouts and the less time to prepare.

But you know still at the end of the game, if we keep running them, and we keep running players at certain people, if they have to play certain people a lot of minutes, I think it benefits us some.

Q. Sean May leads the NCAA tournament in scoring. Do you have to keep the ball out of his hands? If so, how do you do it? Is it harder than just saying it?

COACH IZZO: Well, I think it is. You know, they've got some other weapons. It's hard to just double him. If you front him, they throw over the top. He's got a great body, and he's got the best hands I've seen since Chris Webber. He's just incredible. As the ball touches his fingertips, it seems he sucks it in like a vacuum. I've been very impressed with Sean May. My assistant Doug Wojcik helped recruit some of those guys and knows them pretty well.

As I look at him, you hear that he wasn't always playing hard enough, or this or that. But I tell you what; I've been extremely impressed with the way he runs the court and what he's done in the post. He's got more than one move and his hands are phenomenal. And his offensive rebounding right now, I think he's averaging almost five a game in the tournament, which is another unbelievable stat.

Q. Based on your tournament record, what makes you so good at preparing for a team on short notice? What are some of the behind the scenes things that are going on that allows you to breakdown an opponent?

COACH IZZO: Well, I think we've got one of the more complex video systems here. It's one of the things from my football background. I've always been a big fan of videotape. We do a lot of preparing before the game. No matter who we play, we'll have all those teams broken down pretty well and I think it gives us a quick turnaround.

I think our first preparation in the NCAA was for Princeton in the second game. I think we got a pretty good system down where when we meet with our team, and we do a lot of 20 minute segments right before breakfast, right after breakfast, right before we go to shoot around, right after it. A lot of things are broken down into 20 minute segments. I kind of like the blueprint we have because it's not as draining. It's more time spent as far as you have more obligations during the day, but less time spent as far as an hour or two hour session, you know where you can lose concentration. So I think it's a little bit the video, a little bit the system, and a lot the players. The players are the ones that make the difference.

Q. How difficult is it, conveying that message to the players, to get an 18, 19, 20 year old kid to soak that in and then go ahead and execute?

COACH IZZO: The good thing is we've done it all year, you know. Sometimes because of TV, we played on one day turnarounds more than a couple times. I think that's where I always like to get in a pre season tournament where you're playing maybe two or three games in a row. I think all those things help a lot, I really do. And because of that, and the fact that we sell it, you know, and now, you know, you get reputations. You know, it's like I always say, you know, our reputation with rebounding is like Penn State's with linebackers. One of the reputations I think that the players in the past and on to the players of the present is that we do do a good job of it. And I think it's not me, it's more my staff, maybe the system and definitely the players.

Q. About your relationship with Roy Williams, if you could talk about how well you know him, if you served on committees or anything like that with him.

COACH IZZO: I have had the privilege of serving on some committees with Roy Williams. I've known him I think since he was an assistant. What I always loved about him is that he's very easy to talk to. Even when he was at North Carolina, I think when I first met him; I might have been a graduate assistant or something. And I think he's been a great guy, like the guy I worked for here and the guy he worked for, that told me he's cared about the game of basketball. You know, he's been involved at USA Basketball, he's been involved with the NCAA, and he's been involved with National Basketball Coaches Association. He's more than just a basketball coach; he's a guy that cares about the game of basketball.

If you ask me, believe it or not, there aren't a million of those guys left. And I have great respect for Roy, and he's always been very helpful to me.

Q. Everybody is going to be focused on Roy Williams going for his first title. Rick Pitino is back again. We heard these incredible stats about you at the beginning, four trips in seven years. Do you feel overlooked at all? You talked about a little less pressure at Michigan State than maybe some of these other places.

COACH IZZO: I honestly don't feel overlooked. I think those guys have deserved what they've done because they've done it longer than I have. I always say that there are no quick fixes. I'm not saying ours is a quick fix, but I think we're proving that we're getting to the point we belong up there.

But we're trying to get there. They've earned their mettle. I look at Roy's record when he was there at Kansas. I don't think I can go to as many practices as games he's won. Then you look at Rick, and he's done it at three schools and done some incredible things in the NBA. I have just as much respect for those guys as I do for Bruce Weber since he and I came in as assistants together, with Bruce at Purdue and me here.

Right now, it should be for the players. I really believe that. I've gotten many accolades myself. We've been under the radar a little bit, somewhat deservedly so, and somewhat okay with me. And yet, I feel we have just as good a chance as anybody to win this thing. There's no question Illinois is very good and Louisville is playing good now. North Carolina has incredible talent and very well coached. We're here for a reason too. We've beaten some pretty good teams on our way here. In fact, some of the best teams that anybody has played in the tournament. I think that prepares us well for this game.

Q. What is your daily or at least several times weekly workout regimen? How does it help you in a stressful time such as this?

COACH IZZO: I do run at least four days a week. I got a treadmill now that I brought into our film room, so I can run in there because I can get two things done; kill two birds with one stone. I think in the 10 years I've been a head coach; I've never missed a game day run. I have an equipment man that has run in about eight Boston Marathons and all 50 states, just finished last year. He's been a good inspiration for me. Dave Pruder. It helps me a lot.

Players laugh because sometimes I'm out running in the snow. But it's just something you got to get away from it somehow here, and that's my release.

Q. How fast and how far do you go?

COACH IZZO: Probably not very fast. But, you know, anywhere from three and a half to five miles when I go.

Q. Counting Mike Krzyzewski's American Express commercials, you can make the argument there will be five marquee coaches at the Final Four this year. What type of recruiting advantage do you think those commercials give?

COACH IZZO: I like them myself. I think anybody who has done what Mike Krzyzewski has done deserves to have commercials on the clock. I do think there's some recruiting advantage to it, definitely. But you know, I've also felt like, hey, you earn what you get, and there's no question he's earned what he's gotten. I love the one when he comes out of the bushes; I think that's a pretty good one myself.

Q. You made a couple of football references. You come from a football background. Is there such a thing as a football mentality, and if so, do you apply that to coaching basketball? Does your team reflect any of that?

COACH IZZO: I think we're getting closer. But to be honest with you, we're not anywhere near my teams of three, four, five years ago. I had about four Division I football players on a lot of those teams that were big-time recruits. The football mentality, everybody thinks it's just rough. It's not. I think you have to have great mental and physical toughness to be successful in any sport.

I guess some of my closest friends are football guys. I like the way they do some things. I've learned a lot from them as I've learned from basketball guys.

But I do spend the time on both sports. I love going to training camps. I love watching how I think a fascinating stat in football is where the head coach has to organize sometimes in the NFL 12, 15, 17 assistant coaches, and they all become head coaches. So I think they utilize their staffs better. And I think maybe that's one of the reasons I've had success helping guys get jobs because I think we do utilize our staff here.

Football has been good to me, not just because my best friend's a coach, but also I love watching the Bill Parcells and Nick Sabans, people that have had so much success in the NFL. I talk about it with my team, in fact. I show them tapes of different press conferences and things that I think are beneficial.

Q. Haven't talked about Paul Davis yet on this call. You tell me, he's having a great NCAA tournament.

COACH IZZO: I think that's the great part because we were always talking about what he hadn't done. What he has done has been unbelievable in one category, and that's he can always score, but now, he's rebounding with a consistency, getting double doubles, what we talked about for a couple years. I think for the last month-and-a-half he's consistently become a tougher, better rebounder, and that's starting to change his game, and for the better, and change our team for the better.

You're right, what he's done is he's quietly done it because he's been consistent, he's maybe not putting up the 20 point numbers consistently, but he's consistently been a 15 and 10 guy, and that definitely makes our team a better team.

Q. Michigan State obviously is known for its toughness, having tough players. You look at a guy like Shannon Brown, the son of a police officer. Shannon had to kind of defend himself when he was in high school in tough situations, do you look for toughness in a player when you recruit them?

COACH IZZO: I definitely do. And one of the things I fell in love with Shannon Brown was his family. His father is a very disciplined guy, and a tough guy. I said Shannon will have an easy time playing for me because he's got a lot tougher time answering for things at home. It's those kind of guys that I think fit well in my system.

Shannon does have some toughness; he has some mental toughness. In other words, he's the guy that wants the shot. He can be having a tough game and he still believes. He has great self confidence, without being cocky and I think that's hard to find this day and age. He has been one of our favorite players because he works as hard or harder than anybody, he spends more time, he's self motivated, he's a great student.

And I know his background is, yeah, tough situation in some spots, but an incredible family. His mom and dad and what they bring to the table, they're never pointing fingers at anybody but either themselves or Shannon. And that's not the norm in this day and age.

Q. A lot of people have been saying after this past weekend all the great games, in some ways it kind of resuscitated the college game. TV ratings have been going down for the Final Four the last few years. Would you agree with that?

COACH IZZO: Well, I think it really has. This has been an incredible tournament. I heard the ratings are way up. Last weekend was pretty spectacular. I didn't think anything could top Saturday's games. I'm not sure we topped it -- the dramatic comebacks -- but as far as 50 minutes of pretty solid basketball, I thought in our game was phenomenal.

I didn't get to see all the game North Carolina-Wisconsin, but I watched it on film. That thing went right down to the wire too. There's been a lot of close games, and uncharacteristically, a lot of points were scored in many of these games. I think it was good for basketball and definitely good for Big Ten basketball.


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