From 1999 to 2001 I spent time as a member of the men’s basketball support staff at Michigan State University. Here are 10 things I learned.
1-WORK ETHIC: Nothing gets accomplished without it. Spartan players are expected to punch the clock as well as the coaching staff, team managers, and staff personnel. Show up early; leave late. I witnessed players work on their shooting at 1:00 a.m. I have also seen them in the gym at 6 a.m. One summer morning Draymond Green was in the gym with Travis Walton at 6:00 a.m. – working their butts off.
2-ACCOUNTABILITY: Everyone has to carry their own weight. No one can hide. No weak links. Best example was the video coordinator and managers always having the hotel ballroom set up for watching film on the road. Scouting reports have to be studied and memorized. Your best ability at Michigan State is your availability. Hold others accountable too.
3-PASSION: You have to bring it every day and every night. No such thing as “down time” during the season. You come to work and you give all you have. 100% effort, nothing less is acceptable. “Players Play Tough Players Win.” Leave it all on the court.
4-COMMUNICATION: Everyone talks. Everyone cheers. Everyone inspires and encourages. “Every day you should think about and talk about how the practice went,” Coach Izzo once mentioned in a meeting. I never forgot those words. At practice everyone is lifting each other up. I’ve never seen so much chatter at one practice. It’s electric and alive. Lots of energy.
5-RECRUITING: One word, relentless. That’s what it’s all about at Michigan State. You’re recruiting non-stop (within the rules of course). Writing letters, phone calls, text messages, evaluations, on-campus visits, AAU events, high school games, individual skill development workouts…always have to be working if you expect to get it done at Michigan State. Recruits are invited to football games in the Fall enabling the coaching staff a chance to spend time with them. It’s important you learn about a kid off the court.
6-RELATIONSHIPS: At Michigan State you build and nurture relationships. Every day you can meet someone new. You build friendships that last forever. Coach Izzo is big on relationships during summer basketball camp. Coaches meet coaches. Campers meeting campers. Working camp in the summer gave me an opportunity to meet some great people; to this day, years later I still have contact with guys I worked with at camp. One day in the summer I watched Draymond Green work out. After the workout he came over to me and introduced himself. That gesture says a lot about him. “Get to know the person next to you that you don’t know,” Coach Izzo once said.
7-REBOUND AND DEFENSE: If there’s two basketball attriubtes that stick out in my mind about Michigan State it’s rebounding and defense; the Spartans pride themselves on crashing the boards. Everyone hits the glass. Everyone rebounds. You learn to battle. At the defensive end of the floor you never relax. If you don’t defend at MSU, you sit on the bench. Michigan State is famous for their war drill. I once watched two players go at each other for three straight possessions, ripping each others jersey, drawing blood.
8-CHARACTER: Coach Izzo looks for guys with character, not characters. You come to Michigan State to improve your game and to graduate. You attend class and you give all you have in practice. You don’t bring attention to yourself. It’s about the team, not you. You arrive in East Lansing as a boy, you leave a man.
9-INTEGRITY: Do things the right way. Don’t cheat. Tell the truth. Be responsible on and off the court.
10-OPPORTUNITY: In the Spring of 1996, when I arrived in East Lansing from Brooklyn, New York Coach Izzo gave me a golden opportunity to become a better coach and a better person. When I experience a tough situation, I look back on the time spent at Michigan State and always utilize what I learned to get me through. Players and coaches who arrive in East Lansing get an opportunity to help sustain a great tradition. Winning games the right way; and a chance to prolong their careers whether in the NBA or playing professional basketball over seas (or an assistant coach getting a head coaching job) It’s not only players and coaches who are given the opportunity at Michigan State but team managers make the most of their time under Izzo too. There are a handful of former support staff members from Michigan State that currently hold positions with NBA teams.
“Coach Izzo taught me the fundamentals of the game so that I could become a better player. When he recruited me, he promised me a chance to play in a championship game to become an all-American. Because of him, my dreams became a reality.”