February 1, 2011

Izzo on the lookout for another guard for '11 class

EAST LANSING - Michigan State will be on the recruiting lookout for a guard to add to its 2011 recruiting class, Tom Izzo said during the roundtable portion of Monday's press conference.

The Spartans inked four players for the 2011 recruiting class during the early signing period in November. Three of them are guards, and one, Travis Trice, is a point guard. But Izzo will take another one, if he finds a good match, he said Monday.

"We will be out looking for another guard," Izzo said.

Izzo has opened up point guard recruiting due to the probability that Korie Lucious will not be part of the Michigan State program. Izzo suspended Lucious for the year last week for internal reasons. Lucious told the Lansing State Journal last week that he had not made a decision on whether or not to transfer. Izzo said last Thursday that he was "not closing the door, and not leaving the door open" as to a possible return of Lucious.

The Spartans would be down to two players next year with the ability to play point guard next year if suspended junior Korie Lucious does not

"I'm not opening the door and I'm not closing the door," Izzo said about the Lucious situation late last week.

Next year, the Spartans will have combo man Keith Appling and incoming freshman Travis Trice in the point guard rotation.

On Monday, Izzo clarified that the new plans to hunt for an additional point guard candidate should not be regarded as a negative outlook on the Appling and Trice tag team.

"I'm not worried about our point guard situation between Keith and Trice," Izzo said. "Trice played very well in Chicago (recently) against very good competition. I don't want to put pressure on him and I don't want make him better than he is, but coming out of high school, (Indiana's) Jordan Hulls was a good player, but he has great skills and he has a great understanding of the game. This kid (Trice) doesn't shoot it like Hulls, but he can shoot it, and he has a coach's mentality. He just understands the game, understands skills.

"Sometimes we are looking for great players instead of a very good players that have all of those other intangibles. To me, when I saw him this summer, and just started to recruit him and signed him and hardly anybody knew him, that's what I saw in him."

Izzo prefers to carry three point guards on his roster, when possible. It served him well in 2008 when the Spartans had Drew Neitzel and Travis Walton while bringing along Kalin Lucas as a freshman. Same thing in 2009 when MSU had Walton, Lucas and Korie Lucious. Stockpiling Lucious in '09 paid dividends last year when Lucas went down with an Achilles injury and Lucious took over ably as the new starting point guard for MSU's second consecutive run to the Final Four.

Izzo has tried to keep a deep stock of point guards since early in the last decade when Marcus Taylor's early departure to the NBA left the Spartans without at true point guard in '03 and '04, basically until Neitzel arrived in '05.

Lucas will graduate after this season, as will current third-string point guard Mike Kebler.

"We have to realize that Russell Byrd coming back is really going to help us on the perimeter too," Izzo said. "We will be okay."

In the winter of 2002, Izzo recognized his program's over-dependance on Taylor, and Izzo signed junior college point guard Rashi Johnson after the Spartans lost out on the Anthony Roberson sweepstakes. Johnson, a Chicago native who attended Mott Community College in Flint, Mich., never earned an extended role at MSU.

Izzo has signed only two junior college players during his tenure at MSU. The first was center DuJuan Wiley, was part of Izzo's second recruiting class, along with Mateen Cleaves, David Thomas and A.J. Granger in March of 1996.

Would Izzo consider a junior college point guard this winter?

"It would have to be an extraordinary situation, because I'm not bringing anybody in here that I'm questioning," Izzo said. "That's not meant to be insulting to JCs. You don't want to throw a blanket over everybody that goes (to a junior college), but we definitely will be looking at some recruits this year."

As for high school point guards, Izzo spent a lot of time scouting and observing Flint Powers point guard Patrick Lucas-Perry last year. However, Lucas-Perry, went down with an injury, which sidelined him for the all-important AAU circuit last spring and summer. Izzo then discovered Trice. But it wouldn't be a major surprise if Izzo showed renewed interest in Lucas-Perry.

The 5-foot-11 Lucas-Perry has impressed Izzo with his leadership and ability to pilot teams to victory in the past, and he is at it again. Lucas-Perry and Flint Powers are 8-1 and ranked No. 4 in the state in Class B by the Associated Press.

On Friday, he scored 23 points in a 78-44 victory over Flushing.

Lucas-Perry told MichiganPreps.com two weeks ago that Boston College, Harvard, Penn and Oakland were his finalists.

Byrd In The Hand

With Lucious suspended, and Byrd sitting out the season as a redshirt due to an off-season knee injury, and the Spartans relying on walk-ons for reserve guards, Izzo has fielded many questions in recent days about Byrd.

"People ask me now that they have seen him practice would he have helped you? Of course he would have," Izzo said. "He can shoot, and he shoots it from long range, and he has size. We are always so small on that perimeter. And he has some toughness and athleticism. Does that mean he would have been a star? He doesn't have to be a star. He has to be a 15-minute player and help you hit a shot here and there.

"That's what you need out of subs is guys who can play their role. I think Wisconsin has done the best job, and Purdue a little bit, of getting their role players to play their roles. We've been so discombobulated, because of the injuries in the summer, of: Who are our role players, and what roles should they know how to play?"

Any Regrets?

Part of the reason for Michigan State's fall toward apparent bubble-team status in early February is the Spartans' lack of depth at the guard positions. In addition to suspending Lucious last week, Izzo also dismissed Chris Allen from the team in August. Allen was a part-time starter for last year's Final Four team.

On Monday, Izzo was asked if he regretted his decision to cut Allen.

"No. I don't feel any regrets with anybody," Izzo said. "Anybody who has left this program, I don't feel a regret because nobody ever leaves under one, two or three chances. So there is never a regret. The regret is that guys didn't grow up and understand what they had to do.

"Do I sit down at night and, like someone said last night, 'Do you have a better understanding of why you're in the position you're in?' Yeah. But I don't regret doing things because there are two things that I'm trying to do: I'm trying to have a good basketball team and program, and trying to have a better life. The next 50 years is a lot more time than the four that they are here.

"You do have to make mistakes growing up, as all of us did. You do have to grow up sooner or later. And if you make continuous mistakes ... I didn't suspend anybody or throw anybody off my team. They did."

More Mad Than Sad About Lucious

Lucious was one of the more popular players on the team. Current spartans Lucas, Delvon Roe and Draymond Green, among others, still profess a closeness with the deposed junior guard.

Knowing that, was Izzo concerned about how some of these key figures in the locker room would take Izzo's decision to cut Lucious loose?

"No, not at all and only because when you get to the point when major decisions are made, parents are contacted, assistants are talked to, former players are talked to, current players are talked to," Izzo said. "I won't say they make the decision but I would say they have had a big part in my keeping somebody or not, and sometimes it has worked out and sometimes it hasn't. And when it does, we talk about it. And when it doesn't, we talk about it.

"I actually love Korie to death," Izzo continued. "He is one of the nicest kids to talk to. He is loved by every manager, treats everybody great, he doesn't big-time anybody. But nice people make mistakes too and nice people have to be held accountable too just like bad people have to be held accountable.

"I don't think that affects Delvon and DayDay a bit because I think they have been in on the whole process of everything with every player, whether it be guys going to class or doing something else wrong. I don't think it affects those two at all. I think it affects them that we are losing a guy that plays 25 minutes. But as far as the emotional, I think for the most part, most of us that have attachments with everybody, which is what you do in this program, you kind of get mad rather than sad because you have an opportunity to do some special things, and why blow your opportunity?"

The 'Michigan State Packers'

Izzo loves football, and he has had a lifelong love for the Green Bay Packers.

On Monday, when asked about Michigan State's must-win status, Izzo seemed to delight in comparing his team to the Packers, who will play in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

"I call us the Michigan State Packers," Izzo said. "They had to win five games to get where they are at, and four were on the road and they were all must-wins. If they don't win their second-to-last game at home, they're out. If they don't win their last game, they're out. We are not in a must/must situation yet but our backs are getting closer to the wall where we are going to have to rely on some things."

Michigan State has made the NCAA Tournament in 13 consecutive seasons. That is the third-longest streak in the country.

At 5-4 in Big Ten play, and several challenging games ahead, the Spartans are seen as a bubble team for this year's tournament, with a little more than five weeks still remaining.

Izzo was asked if he has brought up MSU's bubble status to the players as a motivator or a reality check.

"One thing I have said is you have to win your home games and if you do not you put yourself in danger," Izzo said. "But right now I don't think this team needed more pressure. I'm trying to take it one game at a time with the big goal of: Hey, if you want to accomplish some of the things you want to accomplish, you can't lose games you should win.

"There haven't been a lot of games that we lost that we should have won. There's been a couple but it hasn't been like it's been of epidemic proportions."

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