AL HAMNIK: Spartans' Izzo willing to 'steal' success legally

2013-03-20T17:00:00Z 2013-03-28T21:32:37Z AL HAMNIK: Spartans' Izzo willing to 'steal' success legallyAl Hamnik Times Columnist
March 20, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

AUBURN HILLS, MICH. | Tom Izzo loves wearing a bull's-eye on his back and dodging hand grenades.

It's his morning cup of coffee that gets him going, season after season.

High expectations and the pressure to win. Michigan State's celebrated coach would have it no other way.

The third-seeded Spartans meet 14th-seed Valparaiso today in the Midwest Regional and Izzo, at his best in the postseason, is making a 16th straight appearance at college basketball's showcase event -- the most by any Big Ten coach.

"I think I can be a motivating factor, a calming factor, because I've been there," Izzo said of a program that features 37 NCAA tournament wins, a national title in 2000 and six Final Four appearances.

On Wednesday, Izzo fessed up, admitting he studies society's most consistently successful people. He steals from them, believe it or not, their philosophies, strategies and teachings.

He does it by reading their books, hearing their lectures, observing them in action or just hanging out.

"The best thing I've learned is I know nothing and I try to learn from everybody," Izzo said. "You steal from whoever you can, legally, and I've stolen from everybody who's been successful over time."

He's always admired those who are positive influences in all walks of life and have accomplished so much. Looking up to them keeps him humble.

"I've been there where you've got to get to a Final Four. We got there, we won one, and we've been to four others since then," Izzo said. "Then you hear rumors that you can get there, but can you win another one?

"I look at the Gene Keadys of the world and think of how many great, great, GREAT, great coaches have never gotten there. So I find myself in a balancing act of appreciating what I've had a chance to do and then be selfish enough to want another."

And with that comes a price to pay. 

"With the first one, everybody's cheering for you," Izzo said. "The second one, if you're a favorite, everybody's cheering against you. With the first one, everybody's excited for you. The second one, people are jealous of you.

"Now, we're one of the hunted instead of the hunter. You've got to understand everybody's throwing hand grenades at you. But that's what I live for. They want to get me, they want to get Michigan State. That's as big a compliment as you can get."

Coach Bryce Drew's Valparaiso Crusaders have their shot today.

Drew is coaching in his first NCAA tournament game, which provided Izzo with a walk down memory lane.

"(Bryce) has been around it," said Izzo. "The difference is he's played the game, he's played in it, he's played at another level, he lived it with his dad. I was from the U.P. (Upper Peninsula). It was different up there.

"Once you've grown up in it, it's easier to handle. He's done a great job with his team. They've won a lot of games. Am I gonna feel sorry for him? No. Do I have great respect for him? Yes."

In all 33 games, the Spartans still had a chance of winning with three minutes to go. Izzo believes there isn't a team in the country they can't beat.

Even if they have to steal one.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at

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