Michigan State’s crisis affected Tom Izzo and his program
DETROIT (AP) — Tom Izzo walked into his final news conference before a game this season and saw Michigan State’s interim president conducting interviews.
The Hall of Fame coach sat down and gazed toward the back of the room, essentially expressionless, as John Engler was with a handful of reporters.
Izzo had plenty on his plate at the time, trying to prepare the third-seeded Spartans for Syracuse. Izzo wasn’t particularly concerned with the conversations Engler was having with a handful of reporters and said he wasn’t bothered by it, figuring he was there to show his support.
But it was another sign, showing the crisis on campus related to Larry Nassar has affected Izzo and his basketball program. And perhaps the next sign played out for all to see in Sunday afternoon when the 11th-seeded Syracuse eliminated Michigan State with a 55-53 win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
The toll of the turbulent season likely led to Izzo tearing up as he talked about perhaps the toughest season of his career when it seemed set up to potentially end with his second national championship.
While an ESPN report raised questions about how Izzo and Michigan State football coach handled sexual assault allegations within their program, their faces were on display on a TV set alongside Nassar, a former doctor at the school, who was sentenced to decades in prison for molesting young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.
As part of the fallout, Lou Anna Simon resigned as school president and Mark Hollis, who is very close to Izzo, retired.
Izzo felt compelled to tell his team before a game he wasn’t going anywhere as questions swirled about who might also be caught up in the wake of the scandal.
Instead of being frank at news conferences, Izzo repeatedly said he always cooperated with investigations and always would relating to allegations made against his players. He would grit his teeth and stayed largely silent when pressed with non-basketball questions at postgame news conferences.
The usually frank coach appeared to be in a no-win situation, getting criticized for not addressing allegations made in ESPN reporting and knowing he probably wouldn’t have all the answers wanted if he did choose to say more.
Miles Bridges, meanwhile, went from being hailed for staying in school instead of making millions in the NBA to being ruled ineligible briefly before the final regular season game. The school found out his family had a meal with an agent last winter without his knowledge, committing an NCAA violation. Bridges was reinstated and bounced back to play well at times, but the pressure of performing and the off-the-court issues may have had something to do with him missing 14 of 18 shots against the Orange.
“Everything that was thrown at us, we still had fun,” Bridges said after what was likely his last college game. “And, I love every guy that’s on my team. That’s why I’m so hurt right now.”
Freshman Jaren Jackson is projected to be a high pick — even before Bridges — if he chooses to leave college as expected.
The Spartans may have three juniors to depend on next season led by point guard Cassius Winston, shooting guard Joshua Langford and forward Nick Ward along with seniors Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins. Xavier Tillman worked his way into the lineup as a freshman and next year’s class will have plenty of opportunities to play.
Michigan State signed five standouts in November: Six-foot point guard Foster Loyer, Michigan’s Mr. Basketball; 6-10 forward Marcus Bingham Jr., 6-7 forward Gabe Brown and 6-8 forward Thomas Kithier.
Izzo insisted he will be back for a 24th season as coach to help the school and community bounce back even though he could probably land an NBA job if he wanted one after turning down at least a couple offers to jump to the league in the past.
“I took too many bullets this year not to be here,” he said. “So, I’ll be here and we’ll be back knocking to win a championship.”
By this time next year, though, Michigan State may not be in the clear and the lingering effects could continue to carry over onto the basketball program. Between Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament games, Engler was talking to reporters about his desire to reach a financial settlement with Nassars’ victims, adding the passage of sweeping child abuse legislation in the state is interfering with the process. State Attorney General Bill Schuette is reviewing how Michigan State handled the allegations against Nassar and the candidate for governor said the investigation would put a bright light on every corner of the university.
Even though his title is basketball coach, Izzo is a leader on campus and vows to stay to help it heal.
“If somebody would give me a chance to bring Michigan State back, I can’t think of anything I would rather do,” Izzo said. “I think its been punched and kicked. Some of it for mistakes, rightfully so. Some of them, not rightfully so. I’m going to be hopefully part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
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