Tuesday, April 20, 2010
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'If it doesn't hurt, you haven't done enough.'

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[April 20, 2010]  INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The best coach in college basketball doesn't bother with formulas.

One ingredient is all Tom Izzo needs.

Hardware"If it doesn't hurt, if it isn't painful to go through a practice, you haven't done enough. You're not going to this level. You're going to win your 20 games," he said. "Big deal."

Desire isn't the only reason Izzo is back at the Final Four for the sixth time in the last dozen seasons. Every coach wants to win just as bad, and more than a few are just as intense. Izzo's genius is teaching every kid who signs on at Michigan State -- one class at a time -- to want it more than they could have imagined.

It's not an accident the Spartans have won their four NCAA tournament games by a combined 13 points. Last Sunday, they came out a step slow against a hot-shooting Tennessee team and -- this is classic Izzo -- he started looking for someone to take responsibility. He settled on sophomore Draymond Green.


Words were exchanged, then glares. Finally, Izzo began ignoring him. By the time Green reached the sideline during the first time-out, he was steamed. Izzo wouldn't so much as look at him, so it fell to his assistants to calm the kid down.

"It was brought up in the huddle, and he says, 'OK, I made one mistake. Aren't I allowed?'" Izzo recalled in front of a room full of reporters Thursday. "And I said, 'No, not at this time of year, or you'll be over there sitting with the media guys.'

"No insult to you guys," Izzo chuckled, "but that's what I told him."

Thinking back on that episode, Green, who set up the game-winning play, would have been surprised if Izzo had acted any other way.

"Our relationship is: you go at me; I can go at you. But once it's all said and done, we know we're all on the same page, going for the same goal. Once we did that, everything started clicking," he said. "I went back in and played harder, and I think that's his way of getting me going if I'm not going.

"So," Green added, "I think it always works out for the better."

With four days to reflect, Izzo softened only so much.

"Draymond was right and wrong. Yeah, you should be able to make a mistake," he said. "Just not in this tournament, because it's one-and-done."

Izzo understands one-and-done because, like many of the kids who come to East Lansing, Mich., to play for him, he learned early on you only get so many chances. He grew up in a town of 15,000 that sits hard by the mines in Michigan's Upper Peninsula Menominee Iron Range. His great-grandfather was a miner, his grandfather a shoemaker and his father a handyman.

His best friend in high school was Steve Mariucci, who went on to coach the NFL's 49ers and Lions and now works as a TV analyst. Together they took Iron Mountain High to a regional final as juniors. But with their team trailing by one point and no time on the clock, Izzo missed the front end of a 1-and-1.

He still shoots 100 free throws in practice every day to remind himself not to let another opportunity slip through his fingers. Woe unto the player who doesn't figure that out fast enough.

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Last season, in the midst of a magical run that carried the Spartans to nearby Detroit for the Final Four, senior Travis Walton talked about what it was like to bear the brunt of Izzo's tough love for four years.

"He probably wants more for me than I want for myself," Walton said finally. "I love him. I'm pretty sure he loves me the same."

That much is affirmed to every one of his charges nearly every season, when Izzo's name is mentioned for vacant major college or NBA coaching jobs, and he says one more time he isn't going anywhere.

Soon after Izzo settled into mentor Jud Heathcote's office on the MSU campus 15 years ago, it became clear he was that rare talent who could take any team to just about every Final Four. That he committed to building a program that would rival North Carolina, Duke, Kansas and Kentucky without wandering too far from home is a lesson in loyalty that's impossible to miss.

As the Spartans were getting blown out of last year's championship game by eventual winner North Carolina, Izzo began wondering what he was going to say to his charges afterward. He started working on his speech right about the time the Tar Heels' Wayne Ellington drained a jump shot in front of his bench.


"I said, 'Damn, we're in trouble,'" Izzo said. "So I had a long time to think about what I wanted to say. That was three minutes into the game, and I had 37 minutes to think about it -- and the whole postgame, too.

"I wanted to say something good and I was so proud of those guys and yet I felt so bad that we didn't give them a game. That's when Draymond raised his hand."

Green picked up the story from there.

"I said, 'A year ago, North Carolina was in the same position we were, and they came back," he recalled. "'Why can't we do the same thing?'"

Don't bet against these Spartans doing exactly that.

[Associated Press; By JIM LITKE]

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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