I spent two seasons as a member of the men’s basketball support staff at Michigan State University from 1999-2001.
Here are 10 things I learned while working for Tom Izzo and to this day, utilize in my coaching journey (in no particular order of course):
1-Work Ethic: Nothing positive gets accomplished without it. Spartan players are expected to punch the clock as well as the coaching staff, team managers, and staff personnel. On some days the coaching is in the office as early as 6:30 AM and as late as 3:00 AM. I’ve seen players in the practice facility at 1:00 AM working on their game. I have also seen them at 6AM. You need to have a worker’s mentality if you wish to achieve any success representing the Green and White.
2-Accountability: Everyone has to carry their own weight. No one can hide. No weak links. Best example was video coordinator and managers always had the hotel ballroom set up for watching film on the road. It looked like Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. Plus, not to mention the amount of tapes on the opponent available to view. Scouting reports had to be studied and memorized. Even strength and conditioning coach Mike Vorkapich gets after it to have the Spartans ready to take on the demands of a long season.
3-Passion: You have to bring it every day, every night. There is no down time during the season. You come to work and you give all you have. 100% effort, nothing less was acceptable. Back in 2000, the slogan was P.P.T.P.W. (Players Play Tough Players Win). Spartan basketball players are expected to ‘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.” Izzo once said in a meeting. I’ll never forget those words. At basketball practice everyone is lifting each other up. I’ve never seen so much chatter at one practice. It’s electric and alive.
5-Recruiting: You have to be relentless. You’re recruiting non-stop (rules change all the time though so know the rules). Writing letters, phone calls, evaluations, on-campus visits…always have to be working. Potential recruits are invited to football games in the Fall enabling the coaching staff at MSU a chance to spend time with recruits. It’s vital 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 basketball camp during the summer. Coaches meeting coaches. Campers meeting campers, etc. Working camp in the summer gave me an opportunity to meet some great basketball 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 a young man at MSU. “Get to know the person next to you that you don’t know,” says Izzo.
7-Rebound and Defense: If there’s two ‘on-court’ traits that sticks out in my mind about Michigan State it’s rebounding and defense; the Spartans pride themselves on crashing the boards and pursuing the ball. Everyone hits the glass. Everyone rebounds. You learn to battle at MSU. At the defensive end of the floor you never relax. If you don’t check someone at MSU, you can sit on the bench. Izzo is famous for his “war drill”. It’s all out, no holds barred. I once saw two players go at each other for four straight possessions and rip each other’s jersey and draw blood. Bottom line is you have to possess a warrior’s mentality to rebound and defend at Michigan State.
8-Character: 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.
10-Opportunity: Izzo gave this young coach a golden opportunity to become a better coach. Sure there were obstacles and bumps along the way. Now, when I experience a tough situation, I look back on the time spent in East Lansing and always utilize what I learned while at Michigan State to get me through. Players and coaches that arrive in East Lansing get an opportunity to help sustain a great tradition. Winning games the right way and going to the Final Four; not to mention 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 MSU but managers make the most of their time under Izzo too. Eight former support staff members from MSU 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.”