Raftery: Izzo on Mount Rushmore of coaches

March 20, 2013

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Bill Raftery took notes at court side Wednesday while he watched Michigan State coach Tom Izzo put his team through a practice at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Raftery, in his 29th year of broadcasting the NCAA tournament for CBS Sports, treasures the game’s great coaches and is close friends with many of them.

So when asked to place the four best going today on his Mount Rushmore of college basketball coaches, it was anticipated that he would decline or at least hesitate to answer. There were going to be some pretty great coaches left out.

But Raftery leaned back and fired away with the answers.

“I’d put Tom up there,” Raftery said, looking over his glasses at Izzo sprinting down court with the Spartans. “Mike Krzyzewski and (Jim) Boeheim.”

Raftery paused. This last one was going to be tough. But in a few seconds, Raftery said, “Bill Self. There’s my four, and I’m leaving about eight great coaches off the mountain.”

What does he like best about Izzo?

“He doesn’t mind me drinking wine,” Raftery said with a grin. “But when it comes to his coaching, it’s his player relationships. He coaches the way most of us were coached.

"It doesn’t matter what he says to you on court or how much he pushes you because you know that, deep down, he cares about you. He’s got a lot of Chuck Daly in him.”

Raftery, who coached 12 seasons at Seton Hall beginning in 1970, knew Daly when he was a college coach out East, long before he led the Detroit Pistons to a pair of NBA championships. What about Izzo reminded him of Daly?

“That the game is played beyond the court and he knows it,” said Raftery. “So much goes into getting a team ready for the game before the game. And how he gets a team to play together and sacrifice.”

Izzo, 58, begins his quest for a seventh Final Four and a second national championship at 12:15 p.m. EDT Thursday, when his Spartans take on Valparaiso. Before practice, he waxed nostalgic a bit, noting how Krzyzewski has influenced him and how he has always enjoyed picking the brains of the great coaches he’s met: Al McGuire, Daly and others.

Said Izzo: “Once in a while, I go to the mirror, slap myself a couple times and say, ‘You know, you better realize where you are and what you’re doing.'

"It gets harder, but it’s one of the reasons I do. Without sounding corny, I do look up to the people (who came) in front of me.

“You’ve got to appreciate it and realize that’s what you’re striving for, and not take it for granted.”