EAST LANSING — Tom Izzo and Michigan State basketball have been the nucleus of the Spartans’ athletic department for quite some time now.
Izzo, now in his 19th year as MSU basketball’s head coach, has led Michigan State to one NCAA championship, six Final Four appearances, seven Big Ten regular-season championships, three Big Ten Tournament championships and a Big Ten-best 16 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. You name it, he’s done it.
And with his lengthy list of accomplishments, it’s clear that Izzo not only understands what it takes to win, but how to build a program, something that Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio wanted to do as soon as he accepted the position seven years ago. Throughout the years, Dantonio has continuously mentioned Izzo and MSU basketball when talking about the epitome of a successful program. Also, he’s alluded that Izzo has not only been a friend, but a confidant and someone he’s looked to for advice over the years.
With a combination of factors far and beyond just Izzo’s advice, Dantonio is in the process of building a lengthy resume of his own, and with a 24-20 victory over fifth-ranked Stanford in last night’s Rose Bowl, the Michigan State football program is well on its way to becoming a nationally-respected team for years to come — if it isn’t already.
Now, with more than 24 hours removed from the Spartans’ victory in the 100th Rose Bowl, the tables have turned and Dantonio and the football program’s tremendous, yet uncanny, season has taught Izzo and his team lessons as they watched from close and afar.
“Mark always talked about him learning from us, and I guarantee you we learned a lot from him,” Izzo said. “The defense was the reason they won, but their offense kept getting better, too. Give their offense credit. I just remember back listening and talking about all of those receivers dropping balls. Poor Bennie Fowler, he’s out of the lineup, not even hardly playing, and then he’s back in and making a couple of the greatest catches we could make… It just shows if you stick to what you’re doing, your defense is solid, and you improve in other area (you can be victorious).
“That’s what we got to do now. Our defense is getting back to what it was, for the most part. Our rebounding is starting to improve, and in fairness to our guys, this has been the first week, week and a half, that we’ve had everybody practicing, and I think that’s making a difference.”
With the team finally at full strength, and Big Ten play underway, Izzo mentioned after Thursday’s practice that it’s important for the individuals on his team to learn their roles and learn how they best benefit the team, and during that process, still making sure that they stick to their guns, something that was key in the football team’s success this season.
“Everybody’s got a role, and the best players got to really embrace their role, and to be honest with you, do their role,” Izzo said. “You can come up with a lot of things in that football season we had, kind of the way it ended. We had some of our best receivers not even playing at the end. Some guys that were benched early became the stars later. A walk-on who never played ended up making the biggest play.
“The meat and potatoes of things was our defense was good at the beginning of the year and it was good at the end of the year. You need certain stability things.”
Speaking of stability, Michigan State junior forward Branden Dawson is someone that Izzo is looking for consistency from on a nightly basis. When dialed in, Dawson quite possibly makes the Spartans the best team in the nation, and when he’s not, the Spartans struggle with team’s that they should dominate.
His energy and athletic ability separates him from many players across the country, and ever since Izzo called him out after a poor performance in MSU’s lone loss to North Carolina he has responded. And after watching his fellow Spartans bring home a major championship last night, Dawson realizes the importance of stepping up, no matter who you are.
“I took out a lot (from the victory),” Dawson said. “Max Bullough, you know, he wasn’t able to play, and I thought that was going to drag the team down, but that focus was still the same. Darqueze Dennard, Tony Lippett and all those guys picked it up, and Kyler Elsworth did a great job and didn’t let adversity get to him and made the last play of the game. They really stepped up at the end and they stayed together as a team.”
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