Little Caesar’s Arena
For the 21st straight year, #4/5Michigan State has been led by their Hall of Fame head coach Tom Izzo to the big dance. The Spartans secured a #3 seed and will play Bucknell in their first-round matchup in Detroit out of the Midwest regional.
Tom Izzo, Cassius Winston, Miles Bridges and Tum Tum Nairn spoke to the media today here in Detroit and you can watch that video above or read the transcript below:
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Michigan State student-athletes Cassius Winston, Tum Tum Nairn and Miles Bridges. Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Specifically for Cash and Tum, address this as point guards, what sticks out to you specifically from Bucknell?
CASSIUS WINSTON: Their guards have a lot of experience and they’re playing with a lot of confidence. They’re going to make and take tough shots. We gotta keep funneling them into tough shots. Don’t let them get their rhythm going and stuff like that early.
LOURAWLS NAIRN JR.: I think their experience, with so many seniors, makes them a really good team. Like Cash said, they have that experience, we’ll be fine.
Q. Tum, with Bucknell being such a senior-laden team, how exactly do you go broaching that to such a young core group of guys?
LOURAWLS NAIRN JR.: Just understanding that they’ve played together for a while. And in the tournament, experience helps but we’re a pretty young team but we have a lot of experience. Me being a fourth-year senior guy, a fifth-year senior and a sixth-year senior, but also our freshmen and sophomores, they have a year of experience under their belt, too.
Q. Miles, obviously you came back for another run at it. Why do you think you might be better equipped and ready to handle the run this time than you were at this time last year?
MILES BRIDGES: We have way more depth this year. We have a lot more bigs, and our guards have way more experience. We’ve kind of been through the wars last year. I feel that prepared us for this year.
Q. Miles, you’ve done a lot for McKenna, you’ve dedicated your season to her. She was actually a classmate of mine. What’s it like knowing that this is for her and she’s out there?
MILES BRIDGES: Man, that’s a great question. She’s inspired me a lot ever since the day I met her. And after her birthday, I dedicated the season to her. I wouldn’t thinking of any other way to send her out the right way than to win a national championship for her.
Q. Miles, for you attacking the rim, how important is that, especially if you guys are going to win six and get a national title? Do you have to be aggressive, thinking attack the rim?
MILES BRIDGES: Yeah, I definitely have to be aggressive. It’s going to open up the floor for my teammates and myself if I do that. And it kind of put me in the mindset to take over the game sometimes if I get going to the basket.
Q. Cassius, you’re playing in your home city once again this year. Just what are you most excited for as far as getting to play in Detroit again?
CASSIUS WINSTON: Like, the city has shown me a lot of love through my journey. So this is a chance for me to give back, and I know a lot of my friends and family are going to be there firsthand just to see how much I’ve grown, see how far I’ve came this year.
Q. What do you guys think it is that’s going to help you to move through the tournament if you do it well? And what is it that’s going to get you an exit if you don’t do it well?
LOURAWLS NAIRN JR.: I think consistency is going to help us in staying focused. They all count the same now. It’s win or go home. So, I think the teams that can stay consistent for the longer periods of time that helps them advance through the tournament.
MILES BRIDGES: I feel like also overlooking teams, like, if it’s a higher seed playing a lower seed, they tend to overlook teams. But everybody in this tournament is a great team. So we can’t overlook anybody.
CASSIUS WINSTON: Yeah, I would say our effort, how hard we play. If we play our hardest, eventually we’re going to meet a team that matches our talent level and things like that. So the harder teams, the harder-playing team is going to win those games.
Q. Tum, you’ve talked about Cash and your pride in his maturity and how he’s changed as a player. How have you seen him mature from where he was a year ago today?
LOURAWLS NAIRN JR.: I think in every way you can change as a point guard, especially in our league. He got better defensively, changed his body, shooting the ball extremely well, leads the Big Ten in assists. I think every area of his game has improved and especially him being vocal on and off the court.
Q. Cassius and Tum Tum, you guys won a game last year in the Friday game. So you know how to get through the weekend. Does that help you feel any more comfortable as you’re going for this first and second round?
CASSIUS WINSTON: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I still believe that all of last year and everything we went through was built for this point right here. This team’s been through a lot of ups and downs together, a lot of wars, things that tested us. And I believe now we’ve got the experience and the talent and our minds are ready to make this run.
Whatever happens things aren’t going to go perfectly every moment, but we’ve got what it takes to dig down, just put wins together.
LOURAWLS NAIRN JR.: I second that.
Q. I’m sure you heard by now that President Obama has picked you guys to take it all. Does that put any pressure on you?
MILES BRIDGES: Yeah, that puts a big bull’s-eye on our back. But, hey, we’ve just got to go out there and play and see what happens.
Q. It’s been about a week since you last played in the Big Ten Tournament in New York. How have you been able not only to rest up but still keep your edge coming into tomorrow night’s game against Bucknell?
CASSIUS WINSTON: I think this team, we’re always going to be motivated. We’re in our mindset where if it’s not a national championship, then it’s probably a bust for this team, just because of how many players, what we think we’re capable of.
So every game we’re going to be motivated to go out there and play our best just because we know we have that end goal in mind. That was a good week for us to get off our feet a little bit and then we came to practice and we got better. So it wasn’t — we didn’t really let up. We didn’t take our foot off the gas. We got better this week.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. We’re joined by coach Tom Izzo.
COACH IZZO: We’re excited. We had a good week of practice. I think the week off, you never know how it goes, but it was as good as it could go for me and for us. And I thought coming to this venue, which I think is gorgeous, having spent a little time here in December and coming down early on for a little tour to see the inside and outside, I think it’s one of the premier arenas in the country and we’re looking forward to playing in it.
Q. What do you think Bucknell does well as a team? What challenges might they be able to present for your team?
COACH IZZO: I said I looked at Middle Tennessee, not to bring that up, but I looked at Bucknell, and I kind of shake my head that they’re a 14 seed. And I mean that. You’ve got three seniors that can all put the ball in the hole. Brown is a very good point guard. They all shoot 3s. I think seven or eight of the nine players, I think seven of the nine all shoot 3s at a regular basis.
They have experience. They have some depth. They have some speed. And as I said, you know, when you play in games like this, if anything’s called an upset anymore — and I don’t know if it is — but the way upsets are made a lot of times is by the 3-point shot, and they have a lot of players that can make 3-point shots. And we’re going to have to defend that.
Q. For you, when you watch Bucknell, what stands out to you most from them that you just noticed really and think that’s an area that you have to concentrate on?
COACH IZZO: Well, again, they’ve got inside/outside — they’ve got a guard, they’ve got a forward and they’ve got a center. The center was MVP last year. The forward is MVP this year. The center is defensive player of the year this year. The point guard is quick and can do a lot of things. So they’ve got a lot of pieces right there.
Sometimes it’s easy to say, (indiscernible), if you’ve got a good inside game, sometimes it’s easy to press up if you’ve just got a good perimeter game. They really do have maybe the ultimate balance. And that center is, the way he can shoot it right hand and left hand, is effective and good and we’re going to have to do a job good on him.
They also get to the free-throw line a lot. And Thomas gets there seven times in their conference, I think nine times throughout the year, and that’s a lot of times getting to a free-throw line.
Q. You guys score big on the court, but you also score big off the court such as doing things like helping with the flood water crisis, helping with people with cancer. What’s it like to know you’re representing those people?
COACH IZZO: What a great question from the most well-dressed guy in the room. Don’t grow up to be regular writers, you won’t be able to dress that good. I would say it’s a privilege and an honor to be a head coach. It really is. And it comes with its goods and its bads, but the goods are you get to do things for other people.
I think it was Magic Johnson at our place who coined the phrase many years ago that good players play great but great players make other people play great. And I think that’s always been the theory I’ve had there. Our job is to be role models and to try to help out other people.
And going up to Flint a couple times like we did was great. And trying to be involved with a lot of things with cancer, a lot of things that regular people outside of our basketball family deal with, maybe as — I’m as proud of our players of that as I am of their accomplishments on the court.
Q. With such a short amount of time to practice today, what would you say is the most important thing for you guys to fine tune and work on before going into tomorrow?
COACH IZZO: We just want to get some shots up. I think when you get into — there’s always this myth that at pro arenas it’s kind of harder to shoot in. I don’t see why; the basket’s the same height and the diameter is the same and everything else.
I think that’s what a lot of people try to do here. Like we practiced this morning somewhere else and then we’ll try to come in here and 80 percent of what we’ll do is just get shots up, get the guys comfortable with the arena. And that’s really what we’ll do now as they kind of say, the hay is kind of in the barn. We’ve done everything here the last three, four days to get ready. And we’ll fine tune a couple of things. But I think the big thing is just feel comfortable with your shooting.
Q. Today, with the technology, it’s easy to get information on other teams. Since your tenure at Michigan State, is it easier now to just get video, get information quickly on a Bucknell so you don’t have to wait maybe a day or two to get some film or video?
COACH IZZO: Well, it is easier. We’ve always had an incredibly successful — we have a very good video program in our place, and, I mean, to the point where we’ve taped 16 or 1800 games a year. So we don’t rely on anybody else but ourselves.
So when that thing, we find out who we got, my managers are like a bunch of elves. And they had all the game tape we had immediately. And then you make some calls and you try to look at some teams — how did they play them, how did the Big Ten teams play them? How did North Carolina play them?
And you look at all those things I’m sure at the same way they looked at ours. But getting film is easier now, for them on us — or it’s easier for teams that don’t maybe spend as much money as we do on those kind of things. But all the technology, all the work you do, at the end of the day as they say in football you still have to block and tackle. And here you still have to defend and rebound and put the ball in the basket.
Q. Middle Tennessee State, you remember. Kansas is having a heck of a battle right now with Penn. Coming out right out of the gates, if a team gets a little momentum it becomes a struggle as you know from that experience. So is there anything you’re doing to prepare right at the beginning of the game to come out and hit them hard?
COACH IZZO: I’m preparing to come out and hit them hard. I don’t know if they’ll respond that way. But you’re right. It’s the underdog mentality that, first of all, everybody in the arena is always pulling for the underdog. And that’s one thing. And trying to convince your players to play the team, not the name on their shirt.
And sometimes they’re looking at the opposite. Maybe they’re sitting there at Penn saying, wow, that’s Kansas. So it can affect you one way or the other. But I just say that the parity in college basketball now is so incredible and I look at this team that we’re playing and I say, wow. I mean, they’re a 14 seed.
And I look at some of the other teams and some of these teams don’t get the credit. When you’ve got juniors and seniors, as I said, in the case of Bucknell, three seniors that are a thousand-point scorers that have been through the wars, that have played West Virginia, that are tournament tested, all those things, there’s an advantage to that.
And we just gotta make sure, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job. We had some players that played in that game. I don’t think we’ll take anybody for granted. But sometimes the difference between really ready to play and not is this small but it can make a big difference.
Q. You’ve played in Detroit in some of your runs in the past. How much of an advantage can your guys get from the fact that you’re playing so close to home?
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, it probably would be unfair to tell you that I think a lot. Unfair to the other teams. But then again I’ve played in North Carolina against North Carolina. I played there against Duke. And it seemed like every year they were in Greensboro or some of those places.
So a couple times it’s been in Detroit. And I really believe that when it was here in 2000 for the regionals, you know, we were down both games to Syracuse and Iowa State and found a way to win. And there’s no question that 18,000 or however many fans we had there — it might not be the same now because there’s more teams in the first round — but we had a lot of fans there and it helped. And I think it does.
Some people ask me the question: Are there going to be more distractions because you’re here with families and everything. It’s flip a coin. I think we make a lot of a lot of things. At the end of the day, this team has won eight out of nine Big Ten games on the road. We understand how to win on the road, too, when people are booing you and things like that. I think it’s going to be a little bit of an advantage; how much, I don’t know.
Q. You’ve been through so many of these tournaments. I just want to ask, you’re trying to win six games. How much more difficult are these games in the tournament compared to in the regular season or the Big Ten Tournament? Is there a different feel? Is it just the a regular game? Or how much more difficult is it to go out there?
COACH IZZO: No, it’s not a regular game, I can promise you that. Anytime you’re in a situation where you’re one-and-done. And that’s kind of, as I said, when we played Illinois at home, we kind of try to tell our players we’re kind of in one-and-done time now. If you win this game, the worst you can do is tie for the Big Ten. If you win the next game you win it outright. So one game makes a difference.
Then you get to the Big Ten Tournament, it’s the same thing. And I think that pressure, you know, everybody deals with differently. And there’s no secret that we’re still an awfully young team. Talent matters. But it doesn’t always matter over experience. And if there’s one thing that worries me a little bit it would be that.
We played in the tournament last year. But we didn’t really, we weren’t as competitive as you needed to be because we just had so many injuries and what we went through. I think we’re ready to play. So I’m excited about getting started.
Q. I know we’ve talked a lot about Cassius and his development on the floor this year. But I want to ask you a little bit more off the court about him, because from our perspective we’ve seen how he’s kind of taken this step this year. When everything was going on around the program, he’s a guy that kind of emerges this voice of the team. I was just curious, from your perspective, how have you seen him grow off the court?
COACH IZZO: That’s an exciting question. And it’s going to be interesting because he’s had a great week of practice. But he did kind of do that. And without us really saying anything. He handles himself, which doesn’t surprise me, he’s a very intelligent kid, as we all know.
But sometimes, last year, a quieter kid. And I think that’s the part of his game that he’s improving on. And as he grows in that area, I think you’re going to see the rest of his game blossom. And under some tough circumstances he did an unbelievable job of handling it without any direction from us.
And I think as he does off the court such a good job, if he continues to do that on the court, be more demanding and be the quarterback of this team, I think his progress is going to rise and I think our team’s going to get better. And he’s really had a good week. So I’m kind of excited to see how Cash does in this tournament.
Q. There are a lot of kids out there who admire you and there’s a lot of people who admire you. Any specific advice to them?
COACH IZZO: You got some good questions. Were you talking to my mother and my sister, or who are you talking to? (Laughter) you know what? Like everybody, I think all coaches and all people, you know, they try their hardest to do the right thing. And I’ve kind of withstood the test of time because I’ve stayed at a place that I love greatly. And when you stay at a place a long time, you gather friends and you gather people and you get to do things in your community.
I mean, I don’t look at myself as a basketball coach at Michigan State, I look at myself as a member of the East Lansing/Lansing community. And so when you go to church with people, when you go pump gas with people, when you take the garbage out and there’s people there, you get to meet a lot of different people when you stay in the same place a long time.
And for the most part, I think I try to treat people like I’d want them to treat me. And so if those people are saying that to you, God bless them.
Q. You mentioned about last year in the tournament and that was, Josh had a big game in that first game. I guess with him, what do you want to see a little bit more? Does he need to be more aggressive going to the rim, to set up the mid-range? Or does he just need to hit more shots?
COACH IZZO: He was shooting it really well from the 3. And I think he started looking, his mid-range game is as good as anybody’s. But I think he was looking for that so much he was forgetting that he was open at the 3. So we’ve really spent some time looking at film and saying: Boy, you’re open here. Are you seeing what you need to see?
And you know there’s no question that if I looked at this week — I mean, I think we had a great week. But I think in order, Nick Ward might have had the best week, Cassius and Josh. Those three guys. And I think those three guys are guys that needed to.
So we’ll see tomorrow whether that, what that does. But I think the time last week and this week to really look at film, we went through that seven games in — seven out of 11 on the road, and it seemed like we were just spending so much time on our opponent that the coaches didn’t do a very good job of analyzing what are we doing right and wrong.
And in saying that, we won some big games in tough places to play on the road. I just think we’re just off a little bit. And some of it was our shooting. And his shooting went down maybe as much as anybody’s over that six, seven games. But he shot it well recently, and I think he sees the difference.
So it’s hard to say how teams will play you. If they play up on you, you gotta take them to the basket; if they’re off on you and you’ve got 3-point shots, I think he’s just got to just shoot them. And that’s what we’ve talked about this week.
Q. How have you seen your guys kind of block out the noise over the last few weeks? And do you think having that week off maybe helped in that regard?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, I think we’ve had a great two weeks. I have no complaints about the two weeks. We spent some time together. It was a little freakish to have no games and spring break. Like I said, I know Michigan had it the week before. I think Purdue had it the week after. I don’t know what Ohio State had.
But you have a week off of no games and then you have spring break. It’s kind of strange. And yet I think we balanced it the best we could. We used some film. We used some individual workouts. We used some shooting. We used some practice. And then on Sunday we got right back on track.
And I was actually, even though it was a day longer, I was happy we’re playing Friday because I think the routine of school, practice, meetings at night is a good routine, and I think that routine has helped us this week piggybacking off of what we covered last week in the film part of it.
Q. Piggybacking a little bit, how close are you as a program to being back to normal, so to speak, after the turmoil around the season? And are you any closer to talking about everything? Or are you still sticking to the game plan, so to speak?
COACH IZZO: I’m definitely sticking to the game plan now. But how close are we? You know, that is a million-dollar question that I’m not sure that anybody will be able to answer. Only because anytime there’s any adversity of any — a loss, some people take it one way. Some people take it the other.
But when there’s noise and, I mean, no matter what it’s from, every player kind of acts differently and accepts it or doesn’t accept it. And probably of all the things that I’ve had to coach this year, that’s the hardest is trying to figure out, is it because of this, is it because of this or is it because of this?
And so there were times I was maybe a little harder on them. But probably more often than not I wasn’t. And I’m not sure that’s good either. But that’s the balancing act that you had to do. I mean, that was the situation we were presented, and I think, as I look back on it, whenever it’s all over, I’m going to appreciate how well our guys handled it but I will also say how probably difficult it was for them.
And so I’m just proud of the way they handled it. I’m proud of my team right now. I’m excited to start playing, and I’m looking forward to getting it going tomorrow night. So thank you.
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