January 11, 2012

DotComp: On Lucious, team chemistry & other stuff

EAST LANSING - Five things I was talking about at the bar, an hour or so after the press conference following Michigan State's blowout of Iowa:

1. What Izzo Said About Korie Lucious.

Let's put this in the proper context. A reporter from Iowa asked, as he called it, and "Iowa-centric" question about former Spartan guard Korie Lucious, who was dismissed from Michigan State's team at mid-season last year. Izzo gave Lucious a dishonorable discharge after Lucious repeatedly failed to adhere to the coach's rules and expectations off the court.

Lucious transferred to Iowa State, where he is sitting out this year as a mandatory redshirt.

Izzo has always said good and nice things about former Spartans who leave East Lansing and land elsewhere, whether he feels nice about the ex-Spartan or not. But not this time. Izzo was terse in his comments about Lucious, maybe because of the way the question was posed. Or maybe just because Izzo felt terse and is still frustrated by some of the things that made last season go sour.

The question went like this:

"Tom, As you look back, Korie could have been here and Appling could have been a two-guard. Just your thoughts on how quick he (Appling) has developed at the point:"

Pause right there. Izzo undoubtedly wanted to make it clear that he prefers the way it is now, and is not lamenting IN THE LEAST the reality that he is crafting this 15-2 start to the 2012 season without Lucious.

Izzo answered:

"Oh I wouldn't trade my guy right now for the guy I had in a million years. Everybody has their chances and if they don't make the best of it ... you know ... I'd take Keith Appling.

"Nothing against Lucious; he had his chance. And he didn't take advantage of his chance. So what happens in life is you move on, and just ironically the guy coming in is better than the guy going out. So that's a big plus."

**

Good, strong, honest, genuine comments by Izzo. In writing, those words aren't as pointed as they sounded when he said them live, with the terse voice inflection and so forth. You'll have to watch the video for the full impact.

But honestly, I have never seen Izzo on the record in this way, publicly, about an ex-player. It seemed to be cathartic for him.

Izzo has had a lot of hip to his hop this season, joyful about the fun he has had in molding this collection of team-oriented guys, headed by the second best leader he has ever had. With his comments about Lucious, in comparison to Appling, Izzo let off some of the remaining steam from last year. Real interesting.

2. What Izzo Said About Team Chemistry.

We all know Izzo has had some tight teams at Michigan State over the years. But this one seems to be right up there with the Cleaves team of 2000 in terms of total-squad togetherness.

Last week, the Spartans had seven days off, and school was not in session. The players went to two movies as a team, and went bowling as a team. All of them together. They didn't do this type of thing last year.

The year before, the Spartans manufactured some togetherness with a sleepover at Breslin. That kind of worked, for that year, for a little while.

This year, they don't have to manufacture it. Draymond Green has extended his considerable wings and gathered in all of these new young players, and they have followed in and under to create the biggest surprise story of the college basketball season so far.

The togetherness of this team has been a secret ingredient than none of us could have anticipated in the preseason. Team chemistry has led to an acceptance or roles.

"I can't say I've had a team with as many guys that are playing a role and still guarding people as this team has been," Izzo said. "It's why we have had some success with maybe not one of the more talented teams that we have had, but definitely one of the better chemistry teams that we have had."

Michigan State has a 15-game win streak, is No. 6 in the country, and headed to the top five due to No. 5-ranked Ohio State's loss to Illinois.

But is it really a surprise any time an Izzo-coached team crashes the Top 10?

Yes, this one time, it's a surprise. But now we know there is a Gene Keady side to this program that MSU has built. You can change the players, change the names, and dial down the expectations, but occasions like this simply allow Izzo to ratchet things back to the original elements of defense and rebounding. He can wring that stuff out of a willing roster as well as anyone who has ever coached the game.

This time, it's a surprise. From here on out, whenever Izzo overhauls a roster, we'll have to weigh the possibility that he has a Keady-like surprise in store for us.

This thing Izzo has put together in 2012 is just the latest single in a career or greatest hits.

3. What Izzo Said About The Izzone:

On Monday, he said The Izzone is as important as any player, including Draymond Green. Izzo called out MSU's student cheering section, demanding more.

For this game, they were louder, more lively, more choreographed. They took it up a notch.

Izzo appreciated it, complimented them, but you could tell he was a little concerned that if he complimented them too much that they might fall off a little bit for the next game, as has been the case for many of his players over the years. So he was guarded in his compliments.

"They're good," Izzo said of The Izzone. "I'm just looking for great. Tonight they took a step in that direction as our team did."

4. What Izzo Said About Appling:

This was after the press conference, in the hallway outside the locker room. Izzo was talking to Rico Beard and I about a few things Appling did in this game.

Remember the play when Appling gathered up a loose ball and accelerated with the dribble for a length-of-the-court lay-up, blowing past Roy Devin Marble?

That was some amazing speed. I Tweeted something about it being Iverson-type speed. That's the first time I've compared Appling's game to Iverson's since watching him on the AAU circuit in the summer of 2009. Appling doesn't play like Iverson within the MSU system, but he CAN play similar to an Iverson style when an offense relies on him to take the bulk of the shots. MSU doesn't have to ask that of him.

That's beside the point.

My point is this: None of us had seen Appling hit an extra gear quite like that.

And you know what? Neither had Izzo.

"After he did that, I called him over and I said, 'Where the hell did that come from?'" Izzo asked of Iverson, I mean Appling.

Izzo loved it.

We know Appling is athletic. What we forget sometimes is that he's still just 19-years-old, is still physically maturing and, yes, is still getting faster.

5. What Appling Did With Steve Smith:

Appling was answering questions in front of his locker after the game when he saw former Spartan great Steve Smith walking through the locker room, toward the door and out of the room.

"Hey, hold up!" Appling said to Smith from across the room.

Smith came over to Appling and said, "Naw, you're busy doing interviews. You do your thing."

Then Smith went outside the locker room, saw, Derrick Nix posing for a photo with some fans. Smith went behind Nix and nudged him on the head to mess up the photo. Then Smith stuck his face in the photo on the re-take.

What do these guys have in common?

They're from Pershing. Detroit Pershing High School, that is.

Smith keeps an eye on them. They try to impress him.

Smith on Appling tonight: "I like what he is doing. But I'm going to be hard on him ... just because. Because I think he has that potential to get even better and better.

"I think he is doing an excellent job. He is playing hard, playing well, but you can never tell him that because I don't want his head to get big.

"I have a special relationship for him, for one because of Michigan State obviously but because he went to Pershing. I've been knowing him since he was little.

"He is always going to have speed, but now being able to use different speeds. It's starting to come natural now. At the beginning of the season he was thinking too much, trying to figure out. Now he is starting to go. Then you add the film work and everything. He's getting there. He's getting there."

**

Side Note: No, I didn't actually go to a bar after the game. I have to help get kids on the school bus on Wednesday morning. But if I DID go to the bar, the above are things I would have talked about.

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