DETROIT – This year, the Michigan State Spartans won a share of the Big Ten regular season title, their third in a row, and they were primed for a post-season run. But that all ended just prior to the Green and White leaving for the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
Coach Izzo calls it the hardest day of his career when he had to tell his players, especially his seniors, that is was all over.
“There were some people who had us picked in those virtual things that at least go back in the Final Four and I think we had a chance, the way we were playing at the end,” Tom Izzo said. “It was one of those kind of years, it was so tough to have to tell Cassius and my seniors they were done for good. It was a very difficult time.”
Coach Izzo said his team overcame so much adversity this season with injuries and especially, with the tragedy of losing Cassius Winston’s brothers. Izzo said all of it bonded his team together and it reminded him of a team 20 years ago. One that had a senior point guard with something to prove in Mateen Cleaves and we know how that ended.
“It reminded of when Mateen got hurt his senior year, he didn’t play the first three months,” Izzo said. “And then he came back. And our record wasn’t quite as good, but we caught fire at the right time. I’m just dumb enough, and I thought about it a lot in the last three weeks of the season, we’re practicing better. I saw our guys making some progress. You know, I think we could have made a run and wouldn’t that have been poetic justice to be ranked first at the beginning and be one of two teams in the history of the rankings. I see Kentucky that moved out of the rankings completely out of the top 25 and then come back in and maybe we had a chance tomorrow night to finish it off. That would have been the ultimate story.”
Izzo thought two decades later after he did it with Cleaves, he might cut down the nets again with Winston.
But this year’s story had a different ending as we know now. The Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA tournaments were cancelled. Izzo said he’s been trying to keep in touch with all of his players past and present.
“I just want to make sure everybody safe and healthy,” he said.
The Spartans coach does not like technology, but when forces, even he is getting online more and more.
“I wouldn’t say technology’s my strong suit, but I would say I’m get a little better,” Izzo said. “I am learning how to Zoom, and I’m learning how to do a little bit here and have a few staff meetings this way.”
Izzo is spending time at home with his wife and two kids. He said he’s taking walks, he’s organizing his closet and he is watching old film.
Asked if he re watched that win over Duke last year that sent the Spartans to the Final Four?
“Yeah, I’ve watched that game,” he said. “I’ve watched the Final Four. I watched Magic Johnson in the Final Four. I’m a basketball junkie in general, but I’m also a sports junkie. So, I try to get up, do a little workout, a little cleaning, and watch a lot of film trying to prepare for next year.
Izzo finished our interview with a reminder to everyone in Detroit and in Michigan to stay inside, follow the rules and keep each other safe.
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