Izzo Builds Men, Not Just a Program| View Comments
Many fans love Tom Izzo for the program he’s built at Michigan State.
His seven Big Ten Titles, six finals fours and national championship deserve every fan’s respect and admiration.
But my favorite Izzo quality goes far beyond the X’s and O’s or the wins and losses.
He cares about his players.
He bends, but doesn’t break, unless absolutely necessary. Even if that means he doesn’t do the popular thing in the court of public opinion.
He does what he believes is right.
And again, this was evident on Thursday afternoon when Izzo reinstated Derrick Nix following his arrest nine days ago. Izzo has not suspended Derrick for a set amount of games - and he may not when all is said and done - but he did promise to make Nix’s life difficult as he works his way back into good graces with Izzo and the program.
“I sure don’t want anybody walking away here thinking that there’ll be nothing done, because there will be,” said Izzo.
And that's not just tough talk from a coach. You can trust Izzo because he’s had players in similar situations in the past and he’s stuck by them just the same.
“I think this program over the years has proven that players we’ve stuck with, boy, I could count on one hand the ones that let us down,” Izzo pointed out Thursday. “When you think of hundreds and hundreds of players, that’s impressive.”
Mateen Cleaves and Antonio Smith immediately come to mind as players who had public run-ins with the law as well, yet Izzo stood by them. Today, those two are regarded as the main cornerstones of this Spartan Basketball program.
“Role models aren’t people that never made mistakes ,” Izzo would later say. “Role models are the people who learned from (mistakes) and moved on.”
For that reason - among others - Derrick Nix is still a part of this program and Izzo still believes that he can be a positive role model regardless of whether or not he is captain on next year’s team.
Nix, fighting through a tearful apology on Thursday, showed that he understood his coach’s sentiments. He apologized to his coaches, teammates, friends and family…plus…
“I want to say sorry to little Steven Izzo because that’s somebody who looks up to me,” a regretful Nix said. “He’s a big part of my life.”
Former players such Mike Peplowski, Tim Bograkos, David Thomas and Anthony Ianni were in attendance on Thursday. So too were a pair of Big Ten POY’s, Mateen Cleaves and Draymond Green. Not only were they there to show their support of Nix, but also of Izzo’s decision to keep him apart of the Michigan State program.
“When you go to war, you never leave a soldier behind,” Izzo said. “These guys are making sure nobody’s left behind…there are many players before that have made mistakes here or there. Some public, some private. It doesn’t make them better. It’s a part of growing up.”
No doubt Derrick Nix has made his share of mistakes at Michigan State. But he is growing, as Izzo mentioned. Behind the scenes, Izzo is the first person to see it, as are his teammates. Even I, as a member of the media have seen the center’s growth.
Like a father, Izzo is treating Derrick like one of his own children. Through some tough love and discipline he’s banking on his surrogate son to grow as a leader in spite of this unfortunate situation.
“I’m hoping that this is the year that the boy starts to become a man.”