Draymond Green is poised for his biggest season yet as a Spartan. Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

 

Hi Hondo,
I have heard Coach Izzo say that basketball players improve during the off-season and basketball teams improve during the season.  What do our Spartan basketball players do to improve during the off-season?  I assume they all have individually designed strength and conditioning programs.  What do they do to improve their individual basketball skills ie ball handling, free throw shooting, defensive positioning, etc…without coaches being present?  Are scholarship players required to stay on campus during the summer to work on their skills and physical traits? John

Great question John.  They all have a workout program and they follow a lot of that on their own.  There are times that the NCAA allows the strength and conditioning coaches to do that with them.  In the summers 90% of the self-improvement comes from them working on their own.  It is really a time that a player proves his proverbial “Want to.”  Do they spend hours on end shooting free throws, or dribbling?  Are they involved in open gyms?  Do the older players mentor the younger ones?  Tom Izzo has talked about a player-led team many times and in the summer leaders emerge.  Sometimes upper classmen aren’t leaders and younger guys come to the forefront.  Sometimes they do.  Summer is a big dynamic for college basketball because so much is on the player.

 

Hey Hondo,
There’s been a lot of talk recently about Izzo’s ability to develop big men. I seem to remember that when mentioning the development of big men in recent years, Izzo has talked about Antonio Smith and Andre and how his big men don’t have the toughness that compare to how those guys always fought for everything (especially Smith). They were all fairly productive players in college, but just didn’t make a splash in the pros so he did develop them earlier in his career. Have today’s players changed? Has the game changed enough that that type of player is kind of gone? Adam
Great question Adam.  I think there are several things.  Smith and Dre’ got the most out of what they had and gave a lot to MSU.  Neither were top-flight bigs, although both were top flight Spartans.  Have players changed?  No.  I think the type of player Tom is going after has changed and even he has.  We know for sure that the staff has changed, but it isn’t on them that bigs have struggled here.  Tom hires his staff, so that rests on him.

 

Hondo, I was watching the NBA draft last night and I don’t count Kentucky, but I looked at the traditional old powers like Duke and some others and thought of something.  They always have guys drafted.  They always get guys in the league.  Coach Izzo has said it is hard to compete against them, but is part of the difficulty that they put a lot more players and prime time players in the league?  Is that why Tom can’t seem to get the big time recruit, or when he does, they don’t seem to pan out.  Terry

First, let me say that I am sorry you chose to watch the NBA draft.  Next, I would say that you bring up an interesting point.  I agree that Kentucky can’t be in the discussion, but Tom has set the benchmark of what he wants the program to be at the Duke, Kansas, UNC, UCONN and Arizona level.  When Mark Hollis was looking for a hockey coach he knew that to get the best players to come to MSU he had to get a staff that could get them to the NHL.  That is the dream of elite players in every sport.  The NBA is the dream of nearly every young player that can play college ball.  Let’s face it; Tom gets good players and wins.  Does he have the track record of developing and delivering NBA players as some?  No, but his job is to win at MSU.  Cracking that top-tier elite status isn’t easy.  I think he has taken this program elite. 

Hondo, I noticed that those players from the benchmark schools that Izzo wants to compete with that were taken last night weren’t necessarily from the region of the school.  Does the Izzo philosophy of staying close to home hurt?  Phillip

Phillip, I like his philosophy, and the guy has gone to six Final Four’s in 13 seasons, two title games, and won a national title.  Hasn’t hurt too badly.

 

Hondo, I know that it seems each week there is talk about big men and MSU basketball, but with the big Benson at Oakland getting set to be drafted how could MSU have missed him?  A pro player in our backyard?  Cory

Cory, I think it is fair to ask, but not to stand in judgment.  I was recently having lunch with Mark Dantonio, Lloyd Carr, and at our table was the starting (#1 draft pick) LT for the San Francisco 49ers Joe Staley who played at CMU.  It was not an on the record lunch, so I won’t get into details.  Not because they were juicy, but simply out of respect for being off the record.  I will say that at one point Lloyd Carr told us a great story about how Bo would react when they missed on players (MSU and UM both did) like Joe Staley.  We all had a good laugh, even Joe, but I don’t think it is fair of fans to expect in an imperfect science such as recruiting coaches to be perfect.  All programs miss.  It happens.

 

 

Thanks for all of the great comments and email for the Friday column.  If you aren’t aware, on Fridays I answer some of your email in a Q and A column about Spartan basketball.  If you have a MSU basketball question you would like answered send me an email at SpartanNationMail@yahoo.com and please put in the subject line Basketball question.