Coach Tom Izzo fired up about 14th-ranked Spartans

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is pretty fired up about his

team’s chances this season.

It’s easy to see why.

Despite losing All-American forward Draymond Green, the

14th-ranked Spartans are deep and talented.

”We have a chance to put together a pretty good team,” Izzo

said, sounding perhaps as optimistic as he has before a season in

years.

Izzo has four of his top six scorers back from last season’s

team that won Big Ten titles in the regular season and conference

tournament and put the program in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16

for the 10th time in 15 years.

And what really pleases Izzo, is how hard his players are

working and what he heard from former Spartans guard Tim Bograkos,

who was a player in the program from 2000-05, after one of their

early workouts.

”He was here when those practices were like wars and he’s been

here when they’ve been like belly bumping, prom dancing

practices,” Izzo said. ”He said to me, `Hey, coach, looks like

old-time practices are back, huh?’ I said, `Hey, Tim, that’s the

best compliment you can give me.”’

Third-year guard Russell Byrd said the team can put together

drills and scrimmages that will prep the team well for what is

expected to be a demanding season.

”It’s crazy how competitive it is in practice,” Byrd said.

”Coach keeps saying it reminds him of the championship

season.”

Izzo – in his 18th year as head coach and 30th with the program

– led the Spartans to the 2000 national championship and is coming

off his 15th straight NCAA tournament.

Michigan State won its seventh Big Ten title under Izzo and

third conference tournament championship last season.

Green had a lot do that.

The do-it-all forward, who graduated and was drafted by Golden

State, leaves a void on the court as a scorer, rebounder, passer

and defender. He also will be missed as a leader Izzo compares to

former Spartans guards Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves.

”We have to keep in perspective that Draymond Green was a

once-in-a-decade leader, maybe once every 13 years,” Izzo said.

”Cleaves and Magic, they’re just guys that do things for you in so

many ways. You try to find someone that’s going to live up to half

that standard, not all of it.

”That’s going to be our job. I think leadership was the

strength of our program last year and I think it’s still a little

bit of a question mark right now.”

Players voted Byrd, whose career has been stunted by three

surgeries on his left foot, and Derrick Nix, who pleading guilty to

impaired driving charge that stemmed from an April traffic stop, to

be the team’s captains.

Izzo has decided not to suspend Nix for any games after making

his life ”miserable” during the offseason.

”This kid has made incredible progress,” Izzo said. ”He’s

made his mistakes, which can help him be a great captain.”

Talent can help highly touted freshmen Gary Harris and Denzel

Valentine earn a starting job, or at least a role as a key reserve,

on a team that will lean on returning players such as Keith

Appling, Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne and Nix.

”The freshmen give us so many options,” Dawson said. ”The fit

in quite well.”

Dawson has recovered remarkably well from having major surgery

on his left knee after getting hurt in Michigan State’s last game

of the regular season. The 6-foot-6 guard can run, cut and leap as

if was never injured.

”I’m able to go all out, doing everything the rest of the guys

are doing,” Dawson said.

Michigan State has scheduled its first of two exhibition games

for Tuesday night at home against Northwood (Fla.) – an NAIA team

led by former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino.

The Spartans will start the regular season with two road games

in consecutive seasons for the first time in nearly 100 years.

They’ll open against Connecticut on Nov. 9 in Germany and will play

No. 7 Kansas four days later in Atlanta a year after playing North

Carolina on an aircraft carrier and facing Duke in New York.

”It’ll be the same deal as last year,” Dawson said. ”We’ll be

ready for it.”

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