Tom Izzo will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend along with several other roundball legends, including Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming.
Izzo is one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history, but this honor – even for someone with his accomplishments – is a bit surreal.
“It’s hard to explain,” Izzo said in studio on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It’s unbelievable. I’m not sure it’s all hit yet. I can tell you how humbling it is to think of being in the Hall with some of the great coaches and players, and yet seeing so many great players and coaches not in the Hall, it makes it even more thrilling.”
Izzo is 524-205 in 21 seasons at Michigan State, during which he has led the Spartans to seven Final Fours and one national championship. With the possible exception of Mike Krzyzewski, Izzo’s excellence is unmatched in college basketball.
“I’ve done a couple things,” Izzo said, reflecting on his success. “I think relationships with players is big. If you ask me what I did best, I think it would be having relationships with players. I don’t think you can be hard on a player if you don’t have a great relationship with him. You’ve got to understand you’re both trying to accomplish something that’s real special. He wants to win a championship and get to the NBA. You want to win championships and get him to the NBA. To do that is very difficult. So I think the relationship part of it is a major part, and I think the players before the players that are here now have done a great job coming back and kind of selling the culture that we’ve developed.”
Interestingly, Izzo almost left Michigan State for the Cleveland Cavaliers several summers ago. Although Izzo decided to remain in East Lansing, there’s no telling what he would have done had LeBron James been part of the puzzle.
“I think it would have made it a lot harder,” Izzo said. “I only say that because (he’s) one of the best players to ever play the game. You’re not talking about just an average player. You’re talking about one of the best. Having Magic in our family, you can appreciate the Jordans and the Johnsons and the LeBrons and Kobes and KDs now, they’re kind of in a world by themselves. It would have made it more difficult. I do like college. I do enjoy it. But I do like pro ball too. I’m not one of those guys who says, ‘They’re not getting coached.’ There’s some unbelievable coaches in the NBA.”
While Magic Johnson is the most high-profile Michigan State basketball player of all time, the most high-profile Spartan still active is Draymond Green. The 26-year-old is one of the most polarizing players in the NBA, with some fans loving his intensity and others hating his dirty play – real or perceived.
Izzo is firmly in the love category.
“I didn’t appreciate his basketball IQ, which you would love,” said Izzo, who recruited Green out of Saginaw High School in Michigan almost a decade ago. “He has got an incredible basketball IQ. He’s got credible toughness. But I think he’s got one thing that few players have anymore and this is what separates him: He has an incredible, insatiable wanting to win. I think we’re in an era now here everybody’s worried about their brand and they’re worried about this and they’re worried about that and their image. He’s worried about winning.”
Unfortunately, he’s also had to worry about suspensions and run-ins with the law.
“This year, don’t read into everything,” Izzo said. “The incident in East Lansing – I hate to say this on air – was a joke if you ask me. I think it completely got out of control on what really happened. In the playoffs, the one incident to me was a little bit in the heat of battle. The next one, though, I don’t know if players can step over players, so I struggled with that. My favorite enemy is the social media just because of what I think it does to these kids. But I will say this: There is no better guy that I would want on my team than him. Great teammate, great competitor, great guy. (He’s giving) back $3 million to the university, and he’s flying in this weekend for me. I love the guy, personally.”