25 Apr 19
Santa Cruz Sentinel
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OAKLAND — Even if it required him to take a red-eye flight as part of a recruiting trip, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo would not want to be anywhere else.
Sure, Izzo presumably did not like what he saw when he watched the Warriors’ 129-121 Game 5 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday at Oracle Arena. Beforehand, though, Izzo relished his chance to speak with Warriors coach Steve Kerr in his office. Izzo also caught up with Draymond Green, who starred with the Spartans for four years before the Warriors selected him No. 35 in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Three NBA championships, a Defensive Player of the Year award and plenty of other accolades later, and Green still maintains a close relationship with his former coach. Hence, Izzo became reflective, nostalgic and honest about Green’s season, his argument with Kevin Durant and more. Below is a Q&A with Izzo, which is slightly edited for clarity.
How was your visit with Steve?
Izzo: “It was great. I love Steve. I love what they do offensively. I think they’re so much better defensively than they’ve given credit. It’s a fun team. When you’re a college team, you get every guy to share the ball, who does that? Nobody does that.”
How often do you talk to Steve?
Izzo: “I talk to Steve whenever Draymond struggles [laughs]. Steve has been great. Bob [Myers] has been great. I really have an appreciation as a college coach. They really care about their guys. Who reaches out to the college guy? When Steve got the job, he called me before he even coached. It’s pretty cool.
What perspective do you share with Steve about Draymond when he struggles?
Izzo: “Draymond is ornery all the time. But I love him. I think he’s back to playing his better basketball. He struggled a little bit early. But right now he’s passing it and setting the screens. His defense has been really good. In the last couple of weeks, I think it’s been his best basketball I’ve seen him play this year. He’s got to be that way if he’s going to be effective.”
(Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
How do you compare Draymod’s season to other seasons?Izzo: “He struggled midway through the season this year. He went through an injury last summer. I don’t think he worked on his shooting as much. He was laid up. That’s hurt him a little bit. But I think he’s getting back to realizing he can do what he usually does. When people were looking at him out of college and asked what he does well, I said, ‘Nothing. He’s not a great shooter. He’s not a great this, and he’s not a great that.’ But he’s a tough mother— that knows how to win. That’s still what he is. He knows how to win.”
Draymond’s playing with a wrist injury, but he said he can play through it. When he played for you, what was his pain threshold like?Izzo: “He’s smart and tough. He never would ever miss a game because of an injury. When the training staff would say ‘He’ll play tonight,’ I would say, ‘No [crap]. Are you crazy?’ He was so smart. Even his freshman year when we didn’t play as much, by the end of the year we went to a Final Four and he knew it was winning time. He was always a winning-time player. Of course, his conditioning got better. Right now, he’s in the best shape that he’s in. Some of that was the injury. Some of that was going through the KD thing and that was tough. But I love him, man. I wouldn’t trade him for all the tea in China. He gave me a hassle a lot of times, too. But he was about winning. When it was winning time and I needed him, he always came through.
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Draymond praised you about your help after his argument with Kevin. What did you tell him?Izzo: What I told him is, ‘You can do some things in public and you do some things in private.’ I think in some of our huddles, I’ve talked to Steve about it, I think some of our huddles today, I didn’t care either. That was right up my alley. If he wanted to argue, I’d argue. But when he left that huddle, I knew he was going to do what he needed to do to win. I think that’s what he’s getting back to. It was hard on him. It was the first public not criticism he’s gotten. But most people don’t do that and call a guy out in public. Then again, that’s what separates Draymond. Everyone wants a guy who will do that. But you have to pick and choose. That one was a little crazier than normal from what I watched. But they seem to be better now. I don’t know what that means. But at least they are focused on winning a championship.”
In your view, what did it take for Draymond and Kevin to move past it – at least enough to co-exist and produce together on the court.Izzo: “That’s one thing I don’t know. I don’t know the pro game. I don’t know how those guys work. But I think they have. First of all, Steph Curry is special with his demeanor. He, in his own quiet way, rallied everybody. Every family and every team goes through a situation. As they say, what doesn’t kill you usually makes you stronger. I think in a sick sort of way, maybe it welded them a little closer.”
Was this part of a recruiting stop or just to see the game?Izzo: “I was in Denver and I saw [Nuggets guard] Gary Harris and [Spurs guard] Bryn Forbes. I took my wife. Unfortunately, we’re here taking a red-eye back because I have to be on the road recruiting this weekend. But I try to take time out and see Draymond a few times [a year].”
What does your relationship with Draymond mean?Izzo: “It means the world. He’s one of the leaders. Magic [Johnson] is pretty good at it. He’ll go back to East Lansing a lot. But Draymond and my group have been the rallying guy. If we play badly, Draymond’s calling one of our guys. If we play badly, he’s calling me and saying, ‘I’m disappointed in you. How can you let that happen?’ He calls me out still. I love it.
What do you think of when he supported you when you on your outburst this year during a huddle?Izzo: “I know why. We had many of those [laughs]. But when you get to know him, he has a heart that is this big. He’s going to keep maturing. I think he’s doing that. I really do. Hopefully it will work out. I feel like a little bit of a coach, but I feel more of a friend to him. That’s cool, too. We maintain this. I’ll still take his crap if we’re not playing good. Every once in a while, he’ll take my [crap] if he’s not playing good. How can you ask for more than that? For me, I’ve had a lot of good players and a lot of special guys. But Draymond’s been that guy who is not afraid to tell me. He tells me stuff other people wouldn’t tell me. He watches and I appreciate it. If I can give it, I better be able to take it. That’s the way our relationship has been.”
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