Can you imagine a head basketball coach at any major university walking into a recruits house and telling him, “If you come to my school I can guarantee you will play in a Final Four” and he is not just trying to pump up his program. If you can, then you can only imagine one coach in today’s collegiate game, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. Since Izzo took over for Jud Heathcote in 1995 every single player who has stayed all four years has reached a Final Four.
This recipe for success, building a program with upperclassmen, seems to go against the popular new trend of “one and done” made most famous by the University of Kentucky’s Head Coach John Calipari. If Coach Izzo is to keep his streak alive this season he will have to depend on the likes of seniors Adreian Payne and Keith Appling. The 6’10 Payne passed on entering the NBA draft last season where he was sure to be a first round pick, in pursuit of a Final Four and a national championship. Point guard Appling has increased his production in every major offensive category thus far this season as Michigan State reached the # 1 ranking in the polls (before losing to North Carolina) for the first time since the 2000-2001 season.
Payne and Appling are not alone in their pursuit of another Final Four. Sophomore shooting guard Gary Harris leads Michigan State in scoring at 17.7ppg and is considered a likely first round 2014 NBA draft pick if he declares early. Athletic, 6’6 junior forward Branden Dawson has returned from an injury plagued 2012-2013 season with more explosion, and leads the team in rebounding at 9.7 per game. Michigan State has appeared in six Final Four’s in coach Izzo’s 18-year tenure and if number seven comes this season you can be sure he did it his way; “ The Right Way”. He’s done it with hard work and tough love. Watching coach Izzo on the sideline you can see it’s about more than the wins and losses. It is about the journey and what you learn from that journey.
Derek LeFevre is a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball.