East Lansing — Dressed up in a spacesuit as he addressed the crowd, Tom Izzo was in his element as a college basketball coach.
A few months after deciding to stay at Michigan State instead of going to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers, Izzo was in an upbeat mood Friday night during the Spartans’ Midnight Madness. He even mentioned his big offseason choice while promoting Saturday’s football game against Illinois.
“Tomorrow at noon, at Spartan Stadium,” Izzo said. “There is nothing like that in Cleveland.”
The Spartans then showed off their Final Four banner from last season and scrimmaged a bit. Guard Kalin Lucas, who ruptured the Achilles’ tendon in his left foot in the NCAA tournament last season, was back on the court.
It feels like the Spartans are always a threat to reach the Final Four, but Izzo insists it’s not that easy.
“It’s very difficult to get back,” Izzo said earlier this week. “We lose a little bit more than you think … but we’ve got seven players back that have started and that’s good news.”
The Spartans enter the season with high expectations, and there was plenty of excitement during Midnight Madness, which included a visit from actor Gerard Butler.
Michigan State reached the Final Four last season for the second consecutive year, and the Spartans have six Final Four appearances in their past 12 seasons. They haven’t won a national title since 2000, though, which is something this group hopes to change. Three of their top four and seven of nine scorers are back from last season’s team that won 28 games.
“They have to come back with a different mindset about how we can finish the job,” Izzo said. “That will be the battle cry — finish better.”
So far, his players are taking that attitude to heart, knowing another Final Four trip could feel a bit empty without a national championship.
“We’ve tried to learn from what other championship teams have done and one of the things we’re trying to do is spend more time together away from the gym, hanging out together and spending time together when we’re not practicing or working out,” guard Durrell Summers said. “I think that is going to help us build a better bond as a team.”
Summers, who could have skipped his senior year to enter the draft, was slowed over the summer by a sprained knee. Delvon Roe, coming off surgery on his right knee, is working out without pain for the first time since high school.
Lucas expects his surgically repaired Achilles’ tendon to be healthy enough for him to play in the season-opening game Nov. 12 at home against Eastern Michigan.
“He has done an incredible job getting back, but he’s still got a long ways to go,” Izzo said. “He doesn’t have all of his speed back, which has almost helped him because he’s slowing himself down and he’s been a better passer and shooter.”
After that Eastern Michigan game, the Spartans host South Carolina. They then head out to Hawaii to play in the Maui Invitational, which includes Connecticut and Kentucky, among other teams.