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Notes & Quotes: Tom Izzo gives updates on Michigan State’s struggles with COVID, and speaks about importance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

“I hope every race spends the day to honor a man who stood for, and still stands for today, as I’ve said, it’s been over 50 years, to try to make a dream come true. We always tell our guys ‘dream big,’ and he tried to make a dream come true.”

NCAA Basketball: Western Michigan at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo met with the media today to discuss what is currently going on within the program as it relates to COVID-19 issues. He also took some time to speak about the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Izzo called for today’s Zoom press conference himself — something he said he rarely does — and reported that the game scheduled for this Saturday between Michigan State and Illinois will be postponed, following three more positive tests within the MSU program.

Izzo told the media that freshman walk-on guard, Davis Smith, son of former Michigan State great, Steve Smith, tested positive for COVID-19 this past Sunday. Izzo also announced that two non-players within the program had also recently tested positive. This is in addition to three other players who have also recently tested positive for the virus — Joshua Langford, Mady Sissoko and Steven Izzo.

Michigan State later announced in a press release that MSU strength and conditioning coach Marshall Repp and graduate manager (and former Spartan basketball player) Lourawls “TumTum” Nairn Jr. are the other two who tested positive Sunday.

“First and foremost, I talked to (Illinois head coach) Brad Underwood today,” Izzo said. “Him and I spoke, and following the advice of our medical personnel and theirs, and the safety of our student-athletes, we will be postponing that game on Saturday, too, because we had three more positives yesterday.”

While the COVID issues are currently abundant within the program, and are causing multiple games to be postponed, Izzo mentioned several times how proud he is of his guys for the way they’ve handled this season, followed protocols and essentially said goodbye to their social lives. Unfortunately, the virus still hit the program.

“What happened the other day shows the power of this virus because my guys have done an unbelievable job (of following protocols), and I want to make sure I state that,” Izzo said. “They wanna play. They’ll play with six guys, hell, we’ll play four-on-five if we could. That’s what we want to do. But there’s a reality of coaching right know you gotta understand,” Izzo added, alluding to COVID-19.

Izzo later added that the team was extremely disappointed, but has handled the postponements well. He mentioned that the first question asked by players such as Aaron Henry, Joey Hauser and Rocket Watts was if they were allowed to go into the gym and shoot, and he also said that Gabe Brown “gets the shakes” when he isn’t allowed into the gym.

“My guys wanna play,” Izzo said. “My guys are gonna play...our guys are playing for the love of the game, because they wanna play, because that’s what they do. They’re playing because they wanna provide entertainment for people. They wanna keep our job market. They got all of those things on their back...there’s a lot on the plate here.”

As for the athletes who are currently affected with the virus, Izzo says that symptoms have varied from player to player, with some feeling better than others. Izzo said there is a person who has had very mild symptoms, while his son, Steven, was coughing so much he could barely speak to him on the phone. Izzo also said he delivered food to each of the sick players, in an extended effort to help them out in any way he can.

“It goes in phases, unless you’re the non-believers, then I guess that everything’s all cool,” Izzo said sarcastically, seemingly sending a message to COVID deniers. “They’re all doing decent. We’ve had a couple of them that have struggled more than others.”

Izzo also mentioned that eight players have contracted the virus previously, prior to the start of the season. Izzo, of course, caught the virus himself in November. So, with the four players and two staff members who have recently tested positive, the program has had at least 15 players and staff members combined contract the virus.

“I think personally, we keep playing, as long as it’s safe as can be,” Izzo said. “I think people need sports, I think our country needs (sports) and I know our players do.”

Izzo says with the COVID vaccines now becoming more available and people hopefully following the protocols more closely and doing the right thing, he does believe that MSU and fellow college basketball programs will get through the season. Of course, there are a lot of unknowns.

“I do think we’ll get through the season,” Izzo later added. “And I do think we’ll have a championship. I do think we’ll be playing games...I’m voting that I think we’re gonna make it, I think we’re gonna play it. We’re going through a rough time right now for a week, other schools have gone through it. We just got to do our best to make it a week or 10 days, not three or four weeks like some have gone through.”

Currently, though, the basketball team is still operating and not actually shut down. While players are out due to the virus, Izzo has continued to hold individual workouts and training sessions with the athletes who are available. The team will practice as a full squad when it is safe and allowed to do so.

“As of right now there will be no shutdown here,” Izzo said. “I can’t even call it a pause. We had to postpone a couple of games for the safety and wellbeing of our players and of the players on the other team.”

Izzo also says that you won’t see another basketball program in the country be as transparent as MSU will be, related to COVID issues.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of the utmost significance

Izzo also wanted to make sure to recognize what today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, signifies and how important it is to him and his team. Izzo had a clear message for today: unity.

“Let’s not let the negative news cause us to forget the importance of the day — it is Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” Izzo said. “It doesn’t matter white or black, it doesn’t matter what race you are, if there was ever some time that our country needed to have some unity and equality, it’s now. As I watched different (documentaries) on Dr. King, I’ve been so impressed by his message about love not hate. The things he talked about and through adversity and what you have to go through, and a lot of people do a lot of things in the world, not many give their lives for a cause, and that’s kind of what he did.”

Izzo said that there was going to be a big TV set up in the gym and he was going to watch some of those Martin Luther King Jr. documentaries with the team, in an effort from the staff to educate their players further on what MLK fought for.

“I hope every race spends the day to honor a man who stood for, and still stands for today, as I’ve said, it’s been over 50 years, to try to make a dream come true. We always tell our guys ‘dream big,’ and he tried to make a dream come true.”

Coach Izzo’s Full Remarks