EAST LANSING, Mich. — “I’m pleased to say I am here for life at Michigan State.”
These words echoed across Michigan nearly four summers ago when Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo made it public that he wasn’t heading to the NBA – despite garnering arguably the heaviest interest of his career.
Michigan State fans across the nation were ecstatic, and college basketball connoisseurs expressed their excitement as well.
But was his loyalty to Michigan State the reason for his decision to continue to lead Sparty, or was the NBA situation that Izzo was seeking not available?
Regardless, fast forward four years, and the Michigan State Spartans have continued to be mentioned amongst college basketball’s elite. However, since Izzo’s decision to stay in East Lansing, the Spartans have failed to make a Final Four appearance. Also, Izzo’s pursuit of the top-tier high school players during this period has been hit or miss.
This year, the Spartans have seemed to be the consensus national championship favorites amongst pundits, and his current team may have more NBA prospects than it has had in recent years.
MSU senior big man Adreian Payne has really boosted his draft stock over the past two seasons. Senior point guard Keith Appling was playing the best basketball of his career prior to a wrist injury that sidelined him for several weeks, and it seemed as if he had a real opportunity to become a late second-round pick before the injury. But since being hurt, Appling clearly hasn’t been the same, both physically and mentally. Lastly, sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris has shown glimpses of a potential NBA-lottery selection throughout his two years of college, and it would be baffling if he returned for his junior year.
If the Spartans meet the expectations put on them by the media, Izzo will join a very prestigious list of college coaches with multiple national championships. If they lose, then he should really evaluate his team and the direction of college basketball, and strongly consider possible NBA opportunities.
Win or lose, he should go.
Like I said, if he wins, he’ll be placed on a distinguished list that would cement him as one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball. But in terms of accolades, that’s really all he has left to accomplish. I highly doubt he will be around long enough in the coaching world to pursue John Wooden’s 10 national titles. It’s almost impossible. So if he is able to capture that second national championship banner this year, what else does he have to prove?
While Michigan State has a cast of characters that have been pivotal in its current run for a national championship, do they have that guy in the coming 3-4 years that can get them to the Promised Land? With the departure of Payne, Appling, and probably Harris, that is a situation I believe that Izzo will evaluate whenever the Spartans’ season comes to an end.
Also, with the parity in college hoops, coaches are recruiting one-and-done players, and despite a stellar college coaching career, recruiting has been Izzo’s Achilles heel. Despite Michigan State being one of the more successful programs in the country in recent years, when it comes to recruiting, it doesn’t necessarily show. And if you look at Izzo’s incoming recruiting class, according to ESPN, he has one player in the top-100 – less than Purdue, San Diego State and Virginia Commonwealth, and as many as Northwestern.
Izzo’s teams have had the most success when he recruits players from the state, and if you look at the current make up of the Spartans, a good portion of their vital pieces come from Ohio and Indiana. And that’s not a knock on Izzo because the prospects in Michigan haven’t been as dazzling as years past.
According to 247sports, the top-seven players in Michigan are going elsewhere, and the top player, Jaylen Johnson (not ranked in the ESPN 100), of Ypsilanti, Mich., is going to Louisville.
Izzo has prided himself on being a “Michigan Guy,” and quite frankly, the talent might not be there in Michigan to make a serious recruiting run, and if it is, it doesn’t seem to be coming to Michigan State.
Recruiting has been frustrating for not just Izzo and his staff, but Michigan State faithful as well. And win or lose this season, if you look at just the state of the Spartans in the next couple of years, and Izzo’s evident recruiting woes when it comes to the top-tier prospects, you have to say that there might not be a better time than now to leave MSU.
Then there is the NBA factor. More importantly there is the Detroit Pistons factor.
It’s no secret that the Detroit Pistons have pursued Izzo in the past. However, while the Pistons and success haven’t been used in the same sentence in quite some time, there might not be a more appealing, and convenient, job out there for Izzo.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past six years, the Pistons haven’t lived up to the standards placed on them by fans and they’ve quickly become the NBA’s lost franchise, similar to the Oakland Raiders in the NFL. And not only has the on-the-court production been absolutely atrocious, but the decision making in the front office, primarily Joe Dumars, has been even more barbaric. There is no reason to go through all of the head-scratching decisions that Dumars and the front office have done since the Pistons won their last NBA championship in 2004 because all that takes is a quick google search and numerous articles on the topic will pop up.
But it’s clear that the Pistons and Dumars, whose contract is up at the end of the season, will part ways as soon as possible. Tom Gores, the Pistons’ new owner, will more than likely clean house, and guess what? He is very rich man , that clearly has no problem with spending, and he’s a Michigan State University graduate.
Not only could Izzo become the coach of the team in his home state, but he could be in prime position to become a decision maker as well because of the makeover that the Pistons will be doing this offseason.
If there is deal on the table that would make Izzo a coach and a major player in decision making, and there is no proof that it is, he could not only fulfill a dream that most coaches strive for, but he could set himself up with a position close to the game when his coaching career is long gone that would keep him in Michigan.
Despite what Izzo said four years ago, I’m not sold that he has closed the door on becoming an NBA coach. If he wins the championship this year, he really has nothing else to prove in the college ranks. If he loses, he will take a long, hard look at his current roster and the way recruiting has worked for him in recent years and make an appropriate decision.
There has been whispers that the Pistons are interested in Izzo, and with the transformation that is in the Pistons’ near future, Izzo could find himself coaching a young, promising team in his home state, and possibly becoming a major player in the front office decision making for years to come.