Turning The Page And Looking Ahead - With Toughness, Class, And Integrity

Turning The Page And Looking Ahead - With Toughness, Class, And Integrity

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Turning The Page And Looking Ahead - With Toughness, Class, And Integrity

Tom Izzo is digging in and preparing for another determined march.  He’s ready.

Contact @crowleysullivan

I’m still convinced they’re gonna figure out the 2-3 matchup zone and pull away late.

I’m waiting.

People have told me that it’s not gonna happen.

I have faith, though.

Tom Izzo is going to figure out the trick to beating Boeheim’s zone and the Spartans are going to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, beat a couple of teams without fate on their side, advance to the Final Four, and cut down the nets late on Monday night.

That’s what is supposed to happen.

That’s why Miles Bridges came back.

And Izzo knows Boeheim runs that 2-3 matchup zone thing – Izzo’s been coaching for 75 years and he has this whole thing planned out perfectly.

And then I snap out of the daydream.

It never happened, the “figuring out” part.

Jim Boeheim and his Syracuse Orange stymied Izzo and the Spartans and the season that was destined to be a magical one ended prematurely.

It’s nearly impossible to think of a Spartan season that featured a 30-5 final record and a Big Ten regular season championship as unsatisfying – but, even Izzo would probably agree with that type of description.

The party that was supposed to last all season a year ago actually felt more like five months of tension that never was released.

It’s okay to say it now that it’s over with – last season for the Michigan State Spartans really wasn’t all that fun.

It was kind of like one, long Tuesday morning when you’re hung over after a night that really wasn’t all that memorable and you have to sit in traffic and it takes you 90-minutes to make your 20-minute drive to work.

The accomplishments are undeniable and should never be diminished – a Big Ten Championship, 30 wins, two stars being selected in the NBA Lottery, a few great moments, players, as usual, representing Michigan State with class.

The fact that Izzo, the Spartans, and the fans of the team had a taste of disappointment when all was said and done says just about all that needs to be said for the standard that Izzo has set in East Lansing.

And now the question becomes, What happens when Miles Bridges isn’t around to be the second coming of Magic Johnson?

It might sound like an unjustified rationalization but it’s possible that this year’s team might be more relaxed, might not feel like the season is on the line with every possession, might benefit from being a tad under the radar, and might have a better shot at cutting down the final nets since the entire universe isn’t expecting these Spartans to do that.

There might be one Spartan who still does expect to cut down the final nets – Tom Izzo.

Izzo enters his 24th season as the head coach at Michigan State – and, as is often left out of the story, it will be his 36th year coaching basketball for the Spartans in East Lansing when we include all those years he sat at Jud Heathcote’s side and learned how to do all of this stuff.

The 2017/2018 season might have been Izzo’s most challenging ever.

For one thing, when Miles Bridges announced he’d be coming back for his sophomore year rather than running off to the NBA, the entire process (i.e. the season) of the journey became merely the preamble.

And the Spartans never got out of the preamble.

Izzo was in a tough spot in that he was expected to waltz to what has been more elusive than everyone thought fifteen, eighteen years ago – that second national championship.

Then, just when the season was starting to feel like it might turn into a party, the sky fell on Michigan State as the Larry Nassar crimes became front page news all over the nation.

Izzo was surrounded by pressures – some of them he could control, some of them he couldn’t.

And he wasn’t ever comfortable.

Izzo coached the hell out of his team – but, perhaps for the first time in his career, he wasn’t himself in front of the media.

He’s always had moments of agitation.

But he’s never been uncomfortable in his own skin and he’s never been at a loss for words.

It was unchartered territory for a guy who really thought he had seen it all and knew how to deal with just about anything thrown his way.

He wasn’t fully transparent – or, at least he didn’t appear to be – in the immediate aftermath of ESPN’s much-debated coverage of the Nassar crimes and the allegations of potential mishandling of sexual assault complaints related to the Michigan State football and basketball programs.

Mark Dantonio, as we’ve noted many times here at SpartansWire, was forceful, firm, and professional in the way he announced flatly and loudly that the allegations being made against him and his football program were unfounded.

As a result, the ESPN allegations related to Dantonio’s program seemed to, justifiably, wash away.

Izzo, meanwhile, had a hard time finding the right words.

And he never really found them.

And the narrative never seemed to disappear.

The release of the NCAA’s “clearing” of Michigan State of any mishandling of sexual assault cases exonerated Izzo and his program – and he’s spoken a bit about the entire situation as recently as Big Ten Media Days.

But Izzo never really stood up at a podium and spoke with full-throated clarity, directly to the entire Michigan State community to make himself as abundantly clear as possible about the integrity of his program.

Perhaps it’s true that Izzo has earned the benefit of the doubt due to the way he’s represented Michigan State with class, dignity, and integrity for all these years and he doesn’t owe the Spartan Nation anything other than what he gives it every single day – his best effort.

And perhaps with all of this now, for the most part, in the rearview mirror, Izzo will be able to enjoy this season more than he thought he was going to  enjoy last season.

Izzo has spoken often about how much he loves Michigan State University and how he’s going to work hard to contribute to the university’s efforts to overcome all of the challenges the Nassar crimes introduced.

It’s not at all a stretch to say that the past year has been the most difficult in the history of what is a very proud university.

Perhaps Izzo’s greatest legacy is still yet to be created.

His leadership, his toughness, his commitment, his dedication, and, of course, his success as the steward of the program that Jud handed to him have all established him as, perhaps, one of the top three or four most significant Spartans of all time.

And the idea of him not ever earning that second elusive national championship seems hard to accept – he’ll get it one of these years.

But, perhaps the greatest legacy he’ll leave is one that he’s only just starting now.

Helping the university that made him who is recover and grow stronger from the most difficult of circumstances by being there, by working hard in whatever way he can, and by showing that his somewhat awkward inability to articulate himself properly last winter was because his actions are always more important than his words.

And so, Izzo is about to embark on yet another journey that makes him who he is.

Each year, he hunkers down and begins a march to March.

Recent Marches haven’t been typical for Izzo – early exits have kept Izzo at home for the second weekend of the tournament the last three years.

The drive and the grit and the talent and the potential are all there.

He’s rolling up his sleeves.

His voice is already familiarly hoarse.

He’s digging in.

He’s ready to go.

He’s always ready to go – and after having gotten through the most difficult year of his career, Tom Izzo is ready for it all…

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