East Lansing, Mich. Tom Izzo is so driven to win another national title that he’s recruiting as relentlessly as he did a decade ago when he was turning a good Michigan State program into a great one.
The coach is hitting the road in a different way: Instead waiting in airports and flying to see prospects, Izzo is going to have somebody cruise him around the Midwest in a new van, so he can prepare for the next game by reviewing video on a laptop, call family, friends and coaches on his cell phone and get much-needed sleep in a bed.
“It’s silver,” Izzo said of the van Thursday in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. “It’s great.”
Izzo’s team should be, too.
The Spartans are ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press preseason poll, which was released Thursday. They finished well behind top-ranked Kansas University, but drew five first-place votes.
“They have their whole team back, plus some freshmen,” Spartans standout Kalin Lucas said. “We lost some key players.”
Yet Michigan State shouldn’t be too shabby.
Lucas, senior standout Raymar Morgan, five more of the team’s top nine scorers and Izzo are back from the team that lost to North Carolina in the NCAA championship game last season.
The Spartans will have a chance to live up to lofty expectations if Lucas and Morgan can become leaders who make their teammates better, and inexperienced big men provide some balance on a team with such a talented backcourt.
It’s early, but the hard-driving Izzo has been pleased with preseason practices.
“Kalin Lucas, Draymond Green and Delvon Roe have made a lot of progress,” Izzo said. “And the three big guys are better than I thought they would be. They all have a long way to go, but they’re going to have to play.”
Izzo is hoping freshmen centers Garrick Sherman and Derrick Nix along with 7-foot junior Tom Herzog can combine to play about 25 minutes a game to make up for the losses of three seniors inside.
If they can, a lot of problems will be solved because the Spartans are at least solid at every other position the court.
The lighting-quick Lucas returned for his junior season after winning the Big Ten player-of-the-year award and is a favorite to earn the honor again this season.
Morgan was Michigan State’s best player last season before a batch of illnesses. He bounced back well enough to score 18 points and grab nine rebounds in a victory over Connecticut in the Final Four.
Izzo is counting on Morgan to be healthy and happy, avoiding injuries and attitude funks that have slowed him in the past, because he needs him to help fill the leadership void created by the departures of Travis Walton and Goran Suton.