Jayhawks associate Tom Izzo with toughness, success
Tulsa, Okla. — Tom Izzo’s intense sideline demeanor and the success that accompanies it this time of year has become synonymous with the NCAA Tournament.
The 22-year Michigan State head coach has navigated the Spartans to seven Final Four appearances and a national championship, so anyone who follows college basketball recognizes him and MSU as a distinct brand.
Before Kansas (29-4) attempts to send Izzo’s Spartans (20-14) home earlier than the young bunch from the Big Ten planned, several of the Jayhawks gave their impressions of the hall of fame coach and his history of March Madness victories (47-18 all-time).
“He’s a great coach,” said KU freshman Josh Jackson, who was heavily recruited by Izzo before he opted to play for Bill Self at Kansas. “He’s always gonna coach his guys to be tough. That’s why I think he’s always got a tough team year in and year out — and this year he does. And I feel like he really knows what he’s doing. He’s had a lot of guys come through his program, and I feel like just off of his coaching ability, any team that you give him he’s gonna find success and, you know, make the best of what he’s got.”
Jackson said he felt starstruck when he first met Izzo, as a young high school standout in the state of Michigan, around the age of 14. The legendary coach attended one of Jackson’s games.
“I’d been watching him for my whole life, basically,” Jackson shared.
A Portland, Ore., native, Kansas senior center Landen Lucas didn’t necessarily grow up in awe of Izzo. But the old school big man certainly enjoyed the tough style displayed by MSU’s many successful teams through the years. The idea of bruising in the paint versus the Spartans on Sunday night at BOK Center has Lucas fired up.
“It’s cool,” Lucas said. “I feel like it’s a school I would’ve enjoyed playing at, because of the way they play and their style. Their known for that kind of stuff — getting extra possessions.
“It’ll be fun for me to play against them. It usually is,” added Lucas, who also went up against Sparty in 2014 and 2015. “And I’m looking forward to it.”
A Cleveland prep who grew up in Big Ten country, KU forward Carlton Bragg Jr., too, is fully aware of Izzo’s impressive résumé.
“He has a great program, great legacy behind him,” said Bragg, a KU sophomore who at one point was offered a scholarship to MSU. “He develops his players really good, just like Coach Self, as well.”
MSU big men are associated with toughness in the paint, and Bragg expects nothing different this March, even if, like Self, Izzo hasn’t had his traditional lineup. Freshman Miles Bridges plays much the same role as his friend Jackson does at KU, in a four-guard starting lineup.
“They’re pretty aggressive,” Bragg said, adding the Jayhawks expect the Spartans to give KU their best shot. “Nick Ward (6-foot-8 freshman forward), he’s playing great basketball right now, coming off a big game versus Miami. He’s gonna be a challenge down low, and we’ve got to just keep him off the glass.”
The name Izzo, Kansas freshman Mitch Lightfoot added, conjures up images of grit and offensive rebounding.
“Doing all the little things, working their butt off,” Lightfood responded when asked to characterize Izzo’s Spartans. “You think of Draymond Green, stuff like that, players like that. Really athletic players. You know, Miles (Bridges) is super-athletic. But overall, really hard-working teams.”