On Friday’s afternoon’s Zoom press conference call with the media, Michigan State head basketball coach Tom Izzo and senior captain Josh Langford talked about the events of the week, starting with the cancelation of this Wednesday night’s highly anticipated game with the University of Virginia in the ACC-Big Ten challenge.
Josh Langford explained how the team had found out about the cancelation when at 11:15 p.m. on Tuesday night at the the hotel in Charlottesville they received a text about a team meeting. Lanford expressed how difficult the cancelation was on the team, coaches, staff, and even MSU fans.
Lanford went on to say “it definitely was tough, because you put in all the time to prepare for the game...once they told us that we weren’t going to be able to play anymore it was kind of a let down.”
But, Langford clearly viewed this latest bump on the road in 2020 as just another challenge. “That’s the nature of this year. You have to be able to adapt and overcome...and control the controllables.” Coach Izzo echoed those same words in his opening statements: “adapt and overcome.”
When asked about the potential to reschedule the game, Coach Izzo implied that both schools were trying to find a date, but that it was difficult, especially with Virginia’s program in quarantine. It seems more likely that MSU will try to find another opponent during the week of December 14th.
Coach Izzo felt that even though his players have final exams next week, MSU might be permitted to schedule a home game. “We stuck K.P. (MSU Associate Athletic Director Kevin Pauga) back in his cave and told him to put on that thinking cap that he wears” in order to find a new opponent. But, right now, nothing in guaranteed.
Was Duke Correct to Shut Down?
Duke University and head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski made the news this week by canceling the school’s remaining non-conference games over concerns related to COVID-19. When asked about this move, Coach Izzo refused to criticize the legendary coach, but also made his feelings on the matter clear.
Izzo commented that he respected Coach K’s decision if he felt that is what is best for his team, as every team is different and the situation in every state, county, and University is different. “I am not here to judge somebody else....especially people that I have respect for.”
But, Coach Izzo had this to say: “I really believe this. I believe that everyone has a right to their own opinion, but there is no way...that my players would be mentally safer, physically safer than to be right here with us.” Coach added, “Playing basketball...is a mental relief for them,”
Josh Langford seems to agree, “We are used to playing basketball and a lot of the time it’s tough on you mentally when you are not able to do something that you are used to doing. As humans, we are creatures of habit. When you break that habit or routine within you life, that’s when the struggle begins to happen. So I think that for us as basketball players, us having the opportunity to play basketball right now is definitely helping us mentally.”
Clearly, the mental impact of the global pandemic is an issue that Coach Izzo and his staff takes very seriously, as it came up multiple times in Friday’s press conference. Coach Izzo seems to be addressing this issue by keeping up a constant dialogue with his players and their families and by trying to spend as much time with them as possible.
Josh Langford said, “Coach Izzo is such a great leader..He also created the atmosphere for us to be able to communicate and see if we were on the same page...He realizes at the end of the day that we are people that are going to have differences of opinion...but he has created a space for us all where we can talk about how we feel about everything that is going on.”
As for Izzo, “For my staff we have really tried to tunnel vision and spend a lot of time with our kids and do a lot of things with them. I think that I can beat a couple of them at pool now, so I am getting better. Not at Xbox, not at Fortnight, I ain’t going that far...but having people wanting to spend time with people has been a savior for us.”
Hoops on the Holidays?
Related to the discussion of whether teams should be playing at all was a discussion about the impending holiday season. Instead of going home to visit family, the MSU basketball team will be staying in East Lansing over the holidays and will even be hosting a game against Wisconsin on Christmas Day at the Breslin Center. Coach Izzo implied that it was decided that keeping the team together in East Lansing was the best way to limit the spread of the virus.
As for playing on Christmas Day itself, Coach Izzo mentioned that he had discussed the holiday schedule with both his players and their families extensively. Earlier on, Coach Izzo even called University of Michigan head coach and former NBA player Juwan Howard on the topic. Izzo reportedly told Howard “the NBA isn’t going to be playing then, so let’s us take over Christmas Day...Our players were excited about it.” Note: the NBA is in fact now scheduled for Christmas Day games.
As for missing time with their families, Izzo commented, “It won’t be as good as being at home with Mom, but...we are going to try to do something for Christmas. If I have to dress D.J. (associate head coach Dwayne Stevens) up as Santa Claus...We are going to try to make it the best that we can make it.”
Izzo himself has an alternative plan for his family holiday, “I might have Christmas in May. I am going to find a way to still celebrate it...I’ll make up for it and have some fun with it. I could go back to the U.P. in June and still have Christmas because there will be snow on the ground.”
What Next for MSU... and for Izzo?
The next game for the Spartans is Sunday afternoon when the Oakland University Grizzlies come to Breslin Center for a noon contest. Coach Izzo said that since returning from the ill-fated trip to Virginia, “the focus has been nothing but Oakland.”
While the Grizzlies have yet to win a game this year, Oakland took the Michigan Wolverines to overtime and played Big 12 opponent Oklahoma State tough in their last outing. Coach Izzo said, “after watching film on them...this is the best 0-6 team in the history of the world.”
Coach Izzo was complimentary of Oakland head coach Greg Kampe and clearly expects a competitive game: “He is a hell of a coach and that is why I play him. He’s got a hell of a program... His team is much better than their record...I am expecting that it’s not going to be any different than 90 percent of the games that we have played. It’s going to be a dogfight.”
As for the future of Tom Izzo’s coaching career, COVID may have had an unexpected impact on Coach Izzo’s plans for retirement. “Coming from a guy who sat in a room for 11 days...um, retirement got pushed back 10 years. What I am going to do, sit in my basement? Not only did I not like it, I am not sure that my wife liked it...So retirement for me is way down the line.”
I think that I speak for all of Spartan Nation when I say that Coach Izzo can stay as long as he wants.