Spartans embody Izzo as he reaches milestone 400th win
Tom Izzo tried to hold it in. He tried.
Down the minute before he couldn’t hold it in anymore, he was coaching right in the attentive ear of Adreian Payne.
But it caught him, the emotion of the moment caught him. The grandeur of it all hit him — all 400 wins worth.
“It’s just a number, but I guess it’s a milestone so I’ll take it,” Izzo said in his postgame interview.
Just a number? Guess it’s a milestone? Coach … three is just a number, and guessing is for games like ‘Go Fish’ and ‘Guess Who?’
But Tom Izzo wouldn’t be Tom Izzo if he took credit for anything great. He credited his mentor, Jud Heathcote. He credited his players — Mateen Cleaves and Antonio Smith — as “the players who started this.” Heck, he might as well have credited the locker room attendants and the guys who wipe the sweat off the court.
That’s just who he is — and that’s why this team is exactly the team it is.
The Spartans embody their coach. In toughness, in unselfishness, in resilience, in dedication and in heart.
Izzo and his staff have everyone crashing the rim, fighting for rebounds. Austin Thornton seems to wrestle and win just about every loose ball near him. They are tough. Opponents do not want to get into a dogfight in the paint with an Izzo-coached team.
This team ranks in the top 20 in rebounds per game, but also in assists — it is an unselfish group.
None represents unselfishness than Keith Appling. A scorer his entire life, he has had to learn to play point guard for this team to be successful. He runs the point, and as Izzo said after the game: “Appling did an incredible job running our team and playing phenomenal defense.”
He is averaging four assists per game — about a quarter of the team’s average — and everything runs through him. He has figured it out, much to the delight of Izzo.
Remember when Derrick Nix was going to quit last season? He had enough, and he was ready to throw in the towel. Now, he is probably the most surprising player in the conference — maybe the nation. Why? Because he took the challenge to lose weight head on and conquered it.
He lost 30 pounds in the offseason and, really, who knows where this team would be without his contributions.
And what could be more fitting than the player who has most frustrated Izzo this season showing the resulted of discipline and hard work. Branden Dawson buckled down on defense and saw the court for 27 minutes — the most since the Duke game on Nov. 15.
All the film work, and time spent with Izzo and dedication to playing two-way basketball, he recorded two steals and four blocks against Minnesota. Oh, and the 16 points was a pretty good showing as well.
But it all comes back to Draymond Green. It always does.
He is the heart. Izzo’s right-hand man led the way. The all-everything forward/guard/star made the passes, the shots and the moment.
He recorded another double-double, with 22 points and 14 rebounds.
Really, Green represents all of the attributes Izzo has instilled in them. He is tough, he is unselfish, he is resilient, he is dedicated and he is filled with heart.
But then again, being a team defined by rebounding takes unselfishness, dedication, resilience and heart. So does changing positions. Losing weight? You betcha, as a yooper like Izzo would say.
And redefining your game by buckling down defensively, well that certainly qualifies as tough, unselfish, resilient and a whole lot of heart.
From top to bottom, those qualities are intertwined through the individuals that compose the Spartans — and it all starts with Izzo.
As Izzo is those things, so is his team. His persona has rubbed off on them and now, they embody their great coach.
So, while he says, “I’ll take it,” it’s safe to say he earned it. In the same way, this team is earning its way, too. If it keeps up, Dawson and his classmates Brandan Kearney and Travis Trice probably will be on the court when Izzo records his 500th win.
Good luck holding in the emotion when you hit that milestone, Coach Izzo.