East Lansing, MI
The #8 Michigan State Spartans 20-4 (7-4) are in Indiana already for tonight’s game versus Purdue. Before you can look ahead to that game, we need to look back at Saturday’s blowout of the Michigan Wolverines. After the game UM head coach John Beilein had high praise for Spartan seniors Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine.
Beilein said, “When he (Matt Costello) was a freshman or sophomore, he wasn’t doing any of that. Its four years of hard work. Denzel Valentine wasn’t doing any of that four years ago or even three years ago. None of it. It’s like Yogi Ferrell. They stick in there and they keep getting better and better and all the sudden they become elite players.”
I mentioned to Tom Izzo what Beilein had said. Izzo is often ripped in recruiting because he has so many players stay four years, but he sees it like his counterpart at Michigan, a blessing for both parties, “We always look like it only helps us and I think that John and I are in the same spot in that. Both of us have had a guy leave early that maybe another year would have helped. I don’t know where (Nik) Stauskas is now, but would another year of strength and maturity and all of those things helped? I think we both feel the same about that. Does it benefit your program? Of course it does, but does it benefit the player? Of course it does. It isn’t just the NCAA that looks out for the student athlete, we do too. We want our guys successful as they leave and everybody talks about our program, but I told him after I told you guys that basketball is such a unique sport.”
Izzo went on to elaborate about how far Costello and Valentine have come in four short years, “Denzel and Matt have grown as much as anybody as I’ve had here. When I look at the maturation of them as a person, and as a player. Matt is starting to understand that basketball is important. I always say that big guys struggle with that a little bit more than guards do. And I’ve seen how he’s approaching games right now and there’s just a different sense of urgency. You wish you could get it out earlier. But you know, I’ve always said that we as a society screw up because we’re always trying to speed the process up and maybe that’s what John was talking about. There is a process to the whole thing, whether it be my kids, your kids or the players that we coach. I think sometimes we spend a lot of time speeding it up and maybe we should be slowing it down a little bit and it would be better for all parties. But those two guys have benefitted and I can’t take the credit for it. I mean they’ve benefitted, especially in Denzel’s case, I mean, he’s worked his tail off each summer. He’s gotten better at whatever he had to get better at. Early on it was his shot, then it was his ball-handling, then it was his decision making on turnover. Then it was his defense and I said the last frontier he’s taken care of has been his body. He always had a little sloppier body, I don’t mean that he was out of shape, he’s just really gotten into eating better and doing this and doing that. I think he’s just kind of hit every gambit of things you hit as you mature. That’s kind of fun to watch. The first guy that I’ve really seen do all those different things and it’s probably gonna help be become a better coach because now I’ll emphasize some different things earlier and I’ll have a statue of a guy there that has done it. Anytime you can put a guy that is in this era, it’s great to say Magic did this and Cleaves did that, but most of these guys are barely old enough, barely born when Cleaves played here much less Earvin. So I think Denzel, I think everybody likes watching a guy that improves and has improved over time. Yogi Ferrell is a guy in this league that has done that. LeVert has been cut short because of the injuries but I appreciate what he said and I appreciate that I’ve got two guys that are leading us right now that I think fit that bill to the T.”
Izzo has always had high expectations for Costello. For most of Costello’s career Izzo has had a higher ceiling for him than even he did. Izzo elaborated, “I think most of the other things that happen in sports, to me, is that everybody wants to be somebody who they’re not. I think Matt last year wanted to be AP. He thought, ‘this is my turn to be AP.’ I said, ‘Well Matt, you gotta be Matt. You don’t shoot it like AP.’ But he can shoot the ball, OK, but I said, ‘We’re gonna have enough shooters, we gotta get a post threat, and you have post moves. You do have a jump hook. You can shoot free throws so you gotta find a way to get fouled.’ “He was a strange shot blocker, because a guy that doesn’t have great hops you wouldn’t think of as a shot blocker. He’s got great timing. Did I see it coming? I saw it gradually coming, but I think he took a monster jump. It was almost like the light went on and he said ‘I’m going to get down there and do my work. I think too, in fairness to him, we started throwing it in there more. Players want you to have confidence in them without proving it, and coaches always want ‘You prove to me, and then I’ll go to you. This one, by necessity, we had to go to him some and he stepped up and it’s been a good marriage ever since. The second half of that game at Michigan I knew they were going to take away the 3, they were. Our whole game plan was just to pound it inside, and we scored more than a few. He had 13 points himself the second half, but we scored some in the post, and it was because it went in there. I think what we’ve got to do now is find that happy medium of doing both within the whole game, not by halves.”
Costello agreed with Izzo about needing to be Matt Costello and not trying to be Adreian Payne. “I think when I figured out I wasn’t trying to be on the perimeter as much, Austin Thornton really helped with that. He was telling me, ‘Fit in where you can. We’ve got shooters all over the floor with E, Bryn and Zel (and) Matt McQuaid.’ And that’s not my job to be out there and doing all that kind of stuff. We need somebody in the middle, and somebody to show DD how to do it. And so I was like, ‘OK, I guess I have just stay there.’ And it’s worked out well.”
Lastly it was UM head coach that kicked off this conversation. It isn’t often that your arch rival gives out that kind of praise. So I asked Costello about Beilein’s comments and he said, “I would see how we’ve improved, I think coach has set up a system where you get more responsibility as you stay in the program longer, so that gives you more opportunity to fail or succeed. I feel like Zel and I have grown with that responsibility and succeeded more. I don’t know where it would have been if we would have had our draft stock in the first round our freshman and sophomore year like Gary, if we would have left or not. But I’m happy with where we’re at right now, love being at Michigan State. It’s been a fun four years.”
Tonight Costello and Valentine will face their biggest interior attack at Purdue. This game tips off at 7PM and you can see it on ESPN.