MSU hoops media day was today. Izzo talked a lot. Here are some things I found notable. It's a lot.
On the summer
it's one of those teams that's been exciting to be around. The chemistry this summer has been as good as it's been in a long time. What's that mean? It means it was bad other years? Not really. It just means we had more guys in the gym. We had our best academic summer. We had one of our best athletic summers. We definitely had our best injury‑free summer, so we got a little bit of that. Guys have made sacrifices with the Denzels and Garys, and Costellos, and guys that work out all the time. Keith and Branden Dawson really jumped in on that. We just had more and more guys spending more and more time.
On Branden Dawson
If you look at Dawson, he's healthy. There is no repercussion from the injury. He's had absolutely no issues with his knee. His ball handling has improved, his shot has improved, and his mental, I think, toughness of worrying about an injury is not there.
On Travis Trice
I think if there's a guy that's maybe one of my most improved players, it had to be Trice. He missed, I think, 13 games last year, maybe 12, maybe 14. But he's 25 pounds heavier than he was a year ago, all good weight. And it's something that I think he's in the best shape of his life. He's physically stronger than he was. He is‑‑ he's just had a heck of a summer. You don't know how much we missed him last year in some games. He was our second best three‑point shooter, and I think that's improved some. So with him, it's mostly his health and I think great improvement in his skills. But his strength makes him a better defender. He's dunking regularly, which doesn't mean anything except when you're his size and not a great dunker. It kind of shows that you've improved in that area.
On Gary Harris
Harris made, I think, a heck of a sacrifice this summer to stay and not play in all the USA events or the different events. As he stated to me, he wanted to just sit back, get healthy, work on his game and enjoy college. And I think he did that to the fullest. He's definitely better with his ball skills and decision making, and the shoulder hasn't been one issue at all. Late in the summer, he sprained his ankle in a pick‑up game, and it set him aside for a little bit. But that was about the only injury we've had and that one was of no real consequence.
Adreian Payne was I thought a guy that worked almost as hard as Valentine and Trice this summer. He spent a ton of time in the gym. He's improved his body. He's definitely stronger. He's gained six, seven, eight pounds, but a lot better at putting it on the floor, and his shot is becoming more and more consistent.
On Denzel Valentine
Valentine would get my hardest worker of the summer award. He's been here morning, noon, and night. He lived, eat, and slept in the gym. He's shooting the ball better, and I think his number one issue for me had to be to turn it over less. I think he's working on that.
On Russell Byrd
Russell Byrd, much healthier, much more confident. It's a matter of whether he can come back after the three surgeries and become the shooter that I recruited. You think back and those surgeries all came from his high school injury, and it's been tough on him. He's definitely shooting the ball better. But there is a thing called a 3 o'clock shooter, a practice shooter and a game shooter, so some of that we'll find out as the game comes.
The last three guys are all new. Ellis, Schilling and Kaminski, and Kaminski was red‑shirted last year. He's 35 pounds lighter. Still, as a lot of you saw at the end of last year, might be as good a pure shooter as we have. He must improve defensively. In fact, like my famous guy Morris Peterson, I tried to give him the same road map this summer to find somebody on campus that he could guard. If he can find him, then he's going to play, because he can shoot the ball. He's 6'7"; he can do some things. He's just got to improve defensively.
Alvin and Schilling have been surprises for me. When you sign kids late, you never know as much. They're both tough, they're both strong, they're both great athletes. Schilling is as good an athletic, 6'9" guy as far as quickness, speed, running ability and toughness. He's like an Antonio Smith with more skill maybe. But he's tougher than nails and he can run as well as anybody on this team in a race.
Alvin is a kid that committed to Minnesota. When Tubby left, Tubby called me on him. He's a guy that we are growing to love because he's just a great kid. Kind of a Jack of all trades guy. He does everything well. Maybe nothing great yet except compete, but I think his shot will continue to get better. His defense and everything else.
On the Final Four streak
I haven't talked about it much. I don't think that's something that a coach in a way should talk about. My former players come back, Mateen and Raymar Morgan were here yesterday. I love when players talk about it. Travis Walton, you know, he walked around all summer. I haven't had anybody like that yet. But I think Adreian and Keith are more than aware of it.
We've talked about it in a big picture thing, but it's not something I use every day. I mean, that's a streak that, you know, I don't know anybody that's had it. I guess John Wooden would have had one like that, but there are not many people that have it. Yet, like every other streak on record, it's one that's made to be broken; I just hope it's not this year because it is something that I'm very proud of. I hope they're proud of it, and understand how important it is to at least live up to or more than the players that played before you.
On chances of winning it all
I thought we had a good chance to get back to a Final Four in 2000 because of what we did in '99 and what we had back. In 2001, I thought we had a good chance to get back because even though we lost a couple key players, you bring in a Randolph and you had some players that were juniors and seniors around you. It was pretty impressive. Other than that, I don't think we've ever had as good of a chance.
We've gotten there three other times; we still haven't won another one. This year's team has a chance. Then you start looking on YouTube or something, and you see Duke's team or Louisville's team or Kentucky's team and you say, wow, there are a lot of good teams out there.
On Keith Appling
Last year you wonder, everybody was questioning why are you playing him at the point? And there were a variety of reasons. One of them was Trice was hurt. But that wouldn't have been the deciding factor. I think this year you'll see them playing together some which will give Keith a little ability to get off the ball once in a while. That constant grind of being on the ball, that can be good. But he spent a lot of time watching film. The only thing I can tell you is it's helped his decision making. He's throwing better passes. He's involving his teammates more at the right time.
Keith was not selfish. He wasn't out there taking 25 shots a game. But I think when he did pass sometimes, it wasn't where a guy could do something with it. I see him much better in that respect because our break's been better.
On the fifth starting spot
I think right now Costello would be. Still have two and a half weeks to go, I guess. Because both those guys are smart academically, I'd tell them they have to get a little smarter on the basketball court. Costello can really run too. It's funny. He does not have nearly the lateral quickness that Schilling has. Schilling is about as good laterally as any big guy, Andre Hudson‑ish, maybe a little better. He really moves his feet well.
On Harris and Payne spurning the NBA
The good news for me is I don't think it's affected either one of them. I thought it would affect AP, if you want the truth. I thought it would affect him. I told him when he said I'm coming back, I said, no, you're not. Not until me and you sit down. Don't tell me over the phone because I'm in Virginia recruiting, because that's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for you to be dying to come back or otherwise I would advise you to go.
You know, his high school coaches, as you know the story, were very involved and what happened, happened. I thought for a week I was a little bit like this. But, boy, after that week, he had one hell of a summer and has really matured as a person and it was fun to watch him grow.
I get accused of wanting my players to stay. I do. I get accused in recruiting of that, and it's such a joke. I mean, it is such a joke. Because if a player goes to the NBA gang, it's better than winning a National Championship from a recruiting standpoint. There is no question about it. So anybody that's good enough and I think is going to better his life, I'm happy as ten men for him. I really am.
I would have been happy for both those guys. I'm hoping that this year I'm happy for a lot of guys, because I think I've got some guys that are capable.