Interview: Izzo and His Players

Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, Draymond Green, Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers answered questions at the press conference in Tampa about their match-up with UCLA...

Q. Kalin, I was just wondering, I know you had the Achilles situation in the off-season. How were you feeling at the start of the season, how do you feel now, how much different? And I know you didn't miss any games, but how did this bother you at some points in the season?
Kalin Lucas: At the beginning of the season, I mean, it was kind of tough on me just because I had to learn how to walk again, jog again, and I had to learn how to run again. As far as the beginning of the season, it was very tough. I feel like I was letting my teammates down a little bit. But as far as right now it feels great. It feels good.

Q. Following up with that, the injury, just talk about the mental toughness that it is as far as not being able to participate and just talk about the mental things that you had to endure with that injury.
KALIN LUCAS: This summer was tough just because I couldn't be with my teammates. They was hoping while I was doing treatments all the time. So as far as that, it was kind of tough. But my teammates and coaches, they stuck with me the whole way, and I just kept God first, and I knew things would be okay.

Q. Kalin, after watching your team go to the Final Four last year, have you been itching to get back playing in the tournament yourself?
KALIN LUCAS: Yes, I have been just itching to get back. I only played one game last year in the NCAA Tournament. So as far as this year, hopefully I'll stay injury-free and I'll be able to play all six games.

Q. Draymond, can you talk about Coach Izzo, and this seems to be his time of year, and even though you guys have had some peaks and valleys, is there a sense of confidence knowing he's in your locker room?
Draymond Green: It definitely is a sense of confidence when it comes March. You look at our locker room, and us three guys and a few more guys, we have a lot of experience in the tournament, and coach has unbelievable tournament record and all those different things. You know, it does come with a sense of confidence and kind of a sense of relief, and especially once you get out a confidence play, teams don't know you as well as teams do in conference play. And I think our coach does a great job of preparing us for teams that we don't know as well as they don't know us.

Q. Kalin, can you reflect on your career at Michigan State? What can you say you've learned? How different are you from the kid who entered to the kid who's about to leave?
KALIN LUCAS: I just think I'm more smart of a player, more smart of a player, watch more film. From my injury I couldn't play, so one thing I did all summer was just watch a ton of film. Watched film, a lot of games, watched games like the NBA, the point guards. I think as far as these whole four years, I think I'm just a smarter player.

Q. You guys are the most experienced team in this tournament this year. UCLA doesn't have a senior, don't have much experience. How much of your experience is going to be valuable?
Durrell Summers: I feel like our experience is going to play a big key just because we've got a lot of guys that played in a couple Final Fours already, and just experience, the whole tournament experience, we know how critical each possession is going to be.

Q. Durrell, I want to ask you about Honeycutt from UCLA, small forward, got some size, some athleticism. What do you see about him on film?
DURRELL SUMMERS: I think he gets a lot of baskets just being athletic, just back cuts, stuff like that. You know, I also see some disadvantages. You know, I don't think he guards that good or crashes the glass, but he just plays athletic. And it's probably going to be a bigger guy on the wing that I have to cover all year, but I'm up to the challenge.

Q. Kalin, with so many Michigan State great point guards throughout the years, and you're going to be obviously one of them, how do you want to be remembered when it's all said and done?
KALIN LUCAS: I just want to be remembered as tough, strong player, a warrior that's never going to back down and that's just going to give entertainment to the fans and just going to go out there and have fun and just play hard.
COACH IZZO: Well, we're excited to be here, and it's been a journey this year, not just -- we didn't sit back and wonder what seed we were in. We sat back and wondered if we are in. That's been different at Michigan State, but it's also been -- it's brought some humility to everything, and it's made you appreciate things a little bit more.
So we're excited to be here, and I'm also excited to play a program like UCLA. You're going to be in this tournament and you're going to be a lower seed, or a higher seed -- or a lower seed I guess it is, I think, for our guys to be playing someone from the West Coast, someone they're not familiar with, why not a program like UCLA who has a storied of a past as there is.
I've known Ben for a while. I think he's a very, very good coach. Three Final Fours explains that. His team this year is a little younger but pretty exciting and pretty athletic, and we're excited to be here.

Q. UCLA has wins over BYU, Arizona, a couple of marquee wins, but then they have a loss to Oregon which makes everyone kind of scratch their head. How do you prepare for a team that can be so good but also has shown that it can be so bad?
COACH IZZO: I would have liked to have been in this room when you asked Ben that question about us. What you have here is you have kind of two misfits in a way. We both had our issues, and we both -- you always prepare like it's for the best, because once they've done something, that's what they're capable of doing on any given night. If you prepare that way, then if they don't play that well, I guess to be honest it's in our favor, and same for them. I mean, I'm sure they're scratching their head sometimes looking at our film to be honest with you, and rightfully so.
You know, what you can see is individually they've got a lot of pieces to the puzzle. You know, Lee is a tremendous -- not many times have I been in any conference or watched any conference where there's three first-teamers on the same pick by the coaches. That's pretty awesome right in itself and I think all-deserving of it. Honeycutt, we got Magic out there trying to give us a scouting report once in a while, but he's impressed, too, with their athleticism, as I am.

Q. When you think of Kalin and what he's done, beyond the Xs and Os, I mean, what's the thing that stands out to you over these past four years?
COACH IZZO: Well, his world was crushed in that NCAA Tournament last year. I mean, when you kind of make a lay-up, stop, don't step on anybody, don't twist your ankle, don't come down, don't hit a cheerleader, he did nothing wrong, and he just turned and ran up the court and the Achilles goes, that's crushing in itself.
And then when you go through the rehab, as many of you have been through rehab, and athletic rehab is different than civilian rehab because you're trying to speed the process up. So what he went through twice a day all summer long and all fall, really, was incredible for him, our trainers and our doctors. I mean, the way they stuck together and worked and -- I thought he improved a lot. I thought he did it faster than most people. My buddy Marion, she tells me in football those are eight, nine-month injuries, and you don't get to see many of them in college basketball. That's supposed to be for some of us playing City League, Rec League or Church League, whatever you want to play in. It's supposed to happen when you're 45, 50, 60. I've really been impressed with it.
It's been hard for me to see when he really started coming out of it. I've thought it was at the end of December, then I thought it was the middle of January, but I think the middle, end of January is where I saw the speed come back and some things like that that probably would have made us a better team earlier, but it sure wasn't his fault. He did an incredible job.

Q. This is sort of related to that, but what other factors have contributed to this being more of a journey, as you say?
COACH IZZO: Well, if you look at it, even from this summer we released a player in August who started 28 games last year, was our best three-point shooter. We had a slew of injuries all summer to the point where we didn't play pick-up ball, from Delvon to Adreian Payne for six months to Russell Byrd, who just started playing now, to Sherman. And I mean it was just we had, I think, five major surgeries.
Then I think our schedule early really smacked us in the mouth. We probably weren't ready for that with the personnel we had, and we got beat by some really good teams, and that's okay. But I think when you lose like three, four of them and now you're picked so high as we were -- we've been under pressure the whole year, and it really mounted in the middle of January because all of a sudden it doesn't look like we can win the Big Ten, and then it was can we get in the NCAA Tournament, and these guys haven't had a minute to relax.
I told them yesterday, you know, that is the one thing I have great respect for. A lot of teams kind of go off the deep end and don't come back. We have come back. I mean, we've survived. We're like the NCAA Tournament, survive and advance. We've survived and we're advancing a little bit.
I think the Big Ten Tournament was good for us, but make sure you understand for the national people here that we've been through a lot, but it's not all negative because some of it was just out of our hands, some of it the injuries, some of it the confidence because of the schedule. But we're all going to be better for it, and hopefully we'll see it in this tournament.

Q. Based on getting through what you got through and now that you got here, you've had a lot of success in this tournament, and you've got some upperclassmen on the team. Can this be a little bit of a liberating experience, do you think, for you now that you are here and you've gotten through what you've gotten through as you go forward here?
COACH IZZO: You know, I think that's why the first game of a tournament is always so important. You know, for the first time in a long time, we were excited to get in. That's not meant with arrogance, it just meant we knew from January we were in most of these years, and February for sure. And so all of a sudden -- and then TV made us sit there and wait until the second or third to the last pick, and even though I thought by then we were in, it was a little nerve-wracking, and I would have understood either way. As I said, we did enough to be in, but we did enough not to be in. So liberating, yeah. I hope exciting, I hope a second life, i hope because of what you said is maybe the biggest factor we've got going for us. We've got six guys that have played in two Final Fours and played a lot. And we've got another -- when you look at Kalin, they've been to a Sweet 16, Final Four, Final Four. We've played in some of the biggest stages in front of the most people that ever witnessed college basketball games. I'm hoping that now that we haven't completely fallen off the deep end that that gets us going again.
And then it comes down to winning a game. If you win a game in the tournament, now all of a sudden I think some of the advantage flips to you. But it's going to be a tough game to try to win.

Q. As you mentioned this site has some of the most historically excellent programs here like as UCLA and Kentucky and then there's your program and Florida which has been to a lot of Final Fours in the recent decade. Do you think your recent accomplishments have put yourself and Florida in the same light as them to modern fans and modern recruits? Are you sort of in that club now?
COACH IZZO: Well, I've always downplayed that and said that I think when you find out if you're in that club is do you select recruits or do you got to still recruit them. Us and Florida have made serious strides, but I think when you look at Duke and Carolina and Kansas and Kentucky, UCLA, because of what they did, we're in the modern era now, which means what did you do for me just today, and we almost forget yesterday. But I think we've put a serious dent to get our name in that next group of ten maybe that we're trying to. But I think those four or five programs have earned the right over a lot more years than I've been alive to be there. But I think the way it works this day and age, yeah, in modern time, I guess our name is at least mentioned, and I think Florida's is, and Billy has deserved that, so I'm excited and thrilled about that. That's where you'd kind of like to get the program.

Q. If you could elaborate a little bit more on that point with respect to the coaches specifically, to beat a Ben Howland and Billy Donovan, those are Final Four wins over Final Four caliber coaches. How unique is it to see so many of those with your résumés here?
COACH IZZO: I couldn't beat Billy, but I know I could get Cal (Calipari), to be honest, if I was playing. Unfortunately, we're not playing.
It was like the week we had down in Texas a couple of years ago in 2005 when we were able to beat Duke and Kentucky, and they were 1 and 2 seeds, I think. There might not be a greater weekend for Michigan State than that weekend, just because the programs themselves and how good they were.
But Ben has done a great job. I mean, when he left Pitt and went out there, he did a great job right away. They got to those Final Fours. Because of losing some players, he's had to rebuild it. He's done that. He's, I think, an excellent coach.
And Billy has proven -- you know, the only problem that some of our programs had, and we had it early on, we haven't had it recently, is when guys are leaving early it does mess you up a little bit. We're not all Cal (Calipari). He can do it, and because -- partially because Kentucky is Kentucky and because Cal is Cal and he does a good job of that.
But this would be a heck of a weekend to win, and you know, we've got a chance. But we have to play better basketball than we've been playing, and yet I think our guys have better basketball in them. That's been proven in the past. It's sometimes a lot easier to ask guys to do something that they know they've done before and you know they've done before compared to asking guys to do something you really don't know if they've done before, and that's our advantage. That's the one thing we've got going for us. I'm going to try to milk that, too.

Q. Delvon said he's as healthy as he's been going into a tournament. Kalin said his ankle felt better. Where would you say your health is as this tournament starts?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, Delvon, it's almost criminal what's happened to that kid over the three years because he came in as such a good player, and he's had to battle this knee and that knee back and forth, and I think he is the healthiest -- it seems like from a doctor's standpoint, he's the best he's been. And Kalin is definitely the healthiest and, I think, as fresh as he's been now. He got a chance to get a little fresher over the last two weeks. That does play a big part for me. I mean, we're not as deep as we normally have been over the years, and guys got to play more minutes.
But Delvon Roe is a key guy because he can guard a lot of people, and he was just getting to be one of the better defensive players in our league and then he got hurt again in early February. So having him back moving well and practicing more than once a week is really critical to us. And Kalin the same way; he is definitely as healthy as he's been.

Q. You prepare for UCLA, you prepare for Ben Howland in those Final Fours. But then you look and they only have 32 total postseason minutes on the entire roster. Kalin Lucas has 322 tournament minutes. When you're preparing for a team that just hasn't been here before and yet you have a head coach like Ben Howland, is there any kind of -- you're almost preparing for his expertise and then the players' lack of experience, or do you just throw everything out the window?
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, I think what's neat about college is coaches get a lot more credit, and pro ball players get a lot more credit. But the truth of the matter is there's probably a happy medium in there. We do our jobs, but players play the game, and they just do. You know, we get credit where sometimes it's due; we get blame where sometimes it's due. But at the end of the day, there aren't many coaches that get to play against each other. I think where Ben and I can help is we have some tournament experience, and it probably helps you more than me right now because he's got to sell that to his players. My players have tournament experience. I'm hoping one of my theories in life is a player-coached team is better than a coach-coached team. So I think my players understand what it takes to be here, and yet we've had a little rockier road to get here.
I think the biggest question that probably when I lay down tonight I'll probably ask myself, I think we're physically a lot healthier, but mentally there's been a lot of drain on this team all year. I think we recaptured some of it, but as well as you say with his team, they don't have any of that experience. You know how exciting that is then to be in the tournament? I remember back a few years. It's really exciting. That's exhilarating in itself.
So at the end of the day, players will play, referees will ref, and we'll sit there and act important. (Laughter).

Q. You mentioned that this year has brought some humility to your program, and I always hear coaches talk about swagger, they want their guys to have a lot of swagger. So how does humility fit into this? Is it a good thing? A bad thing?
COACH IZZO: That's a great question because you also hear coaches say he's too cocky, then they say I want them to be cocky. That shows you just what I said, how screwed up we are, but this game kind of does it to you once in a while. I do think you have to have that subtle confidence.
Ours has been a rock. Durrell Summers has been a rock like nobody I've ever coached. Last week after the Big Ten Tournament, he said to me, "Coach, I'm putting the past behind me and I'm moving forward." He has been practicing better; he has been playing better. He's got it in him. He went from 11 a game to 19 last year. Why different people go through things, if I can answer that, I sure as hell wouldn't be up here, I'd be somewhere a little more safe and talking to people.
But you do have to have a swagger, you do have to have a subtle confidence. I don't think you can be cocky and arrogant. Once in a while that works, but not very often. I've been trying to plead with my guys a little bit that -- I keep asking you to do something you've already done, so find it. Find it. When you land in bed, when you're walking down the street, when you're listening to your music, find it, because you've been there, you've done it. It's not the same as begging someone to do something they haven't done.

Q. I know that you and Coach Howland are smart enough to realize this. I ask with all respect to the opener against UCLA and knowing that you have that game, but do you think the players on both teams are looking at third round Florida, put it down already, or is there a possibility that a Cinderella in UCSB could come out?
COACH IZZO: Well, I learned from maybe one of the best, Mike Krzyzewski, if you listen to him talk about why he's had so much success in the tournament, he talks about winning the weekend. We didn't prepare for anybody else coming in. I mean, we maybe took a few things that we think those other teams will do, if it would be pressing or playing more zone or this and that, because the object when you get your program to the point where Ben and I are, that winning the game doesn't really -- that doesn't excite you as much as winning the weekend and moving on.
So for a player, we make sure they don't look ahead. For coaches, I think we're looking at the whole weekend, and my assistants are preparing for the other teams. But this is a little bit of new territory for us, too. Not very often have we been a 10 seed, and usually you're hoping you are a better chance of winning the first game. This year we're the worse seed. So we'll put a little more emphasis just an UCLA and yet the objective of Michigan State is to try to win the weekend.

Q. You've had down years, you've had rebuilding years, and you still made it to the first or second round. UCLA had a down year last year and went 14 and 18, I think only the second or third losing season since 1948. Just knowing UCLA and Coach Howland, what went so wrong for that team in your opinion? And are you surprised that they've gotten back on the horse so quickly?
COACH IZZO: No and no, I'm not surprised. I talked to Ben about it last year, called him during the year. We talked a couple times. When you lose players -- every program is different, and sometimes we see someone lose a lot of players, and they just happen to be able to get great players. But 99 percent of the programs can't do that. And when you lose them early or lose them by surprise, which he's had a couple guys that -- yeah, could go but probably he'll stay one more year, then all of a sudden they'll go.
I think Westbrook was a guy I don't think anybody predicted he'd be out of there when he was, and rightfully so, look how good he is. But that rocks a program like 90 percent of ours, 95 percent of ours.
So that didn't surprise me that they had the dropoff. I mean, UConn had one, Syracuse has had them. You look at the other -- it has impressed me that he's gotten it back so quick, but then you look at some of the talent they've recruited. He can coach now. The guy can coach. I'd say no, it doesn't surprise me either way, one, that they fell off some because of what they lost, and that they're back quick because of who he is and his staff. He's got a very good staff, too.

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