Michigan State Basketball Coach Tom Izzo Focuses On Integrity

The Michigan State basketball team is in a familiar place this March. This year marks the 18th consecutive season that the Spartans have made it into the national college tournament, and that consistent level of success is due in large part to the qualities that head coach Tom Izzo instills in his players.

Izzo is known as much for his direction off the court as he is for his coaching ability and prowess. Named national coach of the year once and best coach of his conference three times, he’s universally respected by his competitors. However, in a time of public NCAA scandals, it’s Izzo’s integrity that has earned him his highest praise.

A guy like Tom Izzo, he’s (in the tournament) every year because you know what his program is about, and so do his players,” said one coach in an anonymous survey. “There’s a consistency and an integrity.”

Honesty in a Competitive Environment

College athletics is big business. Recruiting talented players is highly competitive, and while the Michigan State basketball program is a big name, that’s not always enough to bring in the best prospects. The NCAA has strict rules regarding recruitment, as well as how school programs are run. Money or other perks are prohibited for recruits or those associated with them, and players must meet academic standards off the court. Violations can be met with harsh punishments, ranging from fines and suspensions to entire programs being shut down for a season or more.

Izzo’s insistence on following recruitment rules has earned the MSU basketball program its reputation of being one of the cleanest across the nation. Some even feel this has been to the team’s detriment: While many coaches ignore players’ off-court misconduct, Izzo has continually risked his talent by not hesitating to dismiss key players for rules violations. Because of this, “Izzo suffered several high-profile recruiting losses in the 2013 and 2014 classes,” reports the Detroit Free Press.

High Hopes

Regardless, MSU enters the tournament after a hard-fought season. Although the squad only has two seniors, expectations remain high because of the legacy the school has created over the past decade-plus. As junior guard Denzel Valentine told The New York Times, “We make it to the tournament every year. It’s about what are you going to do once you get into the tournament.”

Coach Izzo keeps it in perspective: “We haven’t been a great team,” Izzo said. “But I’ve taken good teams far into the tournament that weren’t even as good as this one.”

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