DES MOINES, Iowa — Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo said he was surprised by the negative public reaction over his animated screaming at freshman forward Aaron Henry in the Spartans’ first-round NCAA tournament win over Bradley.
“To me it was ridiculous the way it blew up,” Izzo said Friday, a day before the Spartans’ second-round game against Minnesota. “There’s a 10-second soundbite and a two-year relationship (with Henry). I just think people don’t understand that. This coach relies on relationships with his players I think more than any coach in the country. That’s an egotistic or selfish statement, self-proclaimed. But I think it’s been earned and it’s been talked about.
“You’ve got to appreciate there’s a year and a half of recruiting. There’s a year he’s been here now. There’s hours and hours and hours spent on, ‘What do want to accomplish? What do you need to do accomplish that? What do you need to do to help our team win?’ If you don’t do those things, what do you think my job is?”
Izzo’s hard coaching style became an issue in Thursday’s 76-65 win over Bradley. Upset at Henry for what he believed to be the player’s less than full effort in retreating on defense, Izzo approached Henry on the floor during a timeout and yelled at him so intensely guard Cassius Winston had to step in to separate the two. Later, during the same timeout, Izzo appeared to lunge at Henry with Winston again intervening.
Former Spartans star Draymond Green took to Twitter on Friday to share his thoughts on why his former coach needed to be restrained.
Just an FYI. Being in those huddles for years. Cassius and Matt grabbed Iz so he could shut up and move on… after a while you’re just ready for him to draw up the play. Just giving perspective from someone who’s been apart of those huddles.
— Draymond Green (@Money23Green) March 22, 2019
Heated exchanges during games between Izzo and his players are not uncommon.
“That’s the territory we’re playing in in Michigan State basketball,” Henry’s teammate Xavier Tillman said. “If you make a mistake, you’re going to get chewed out about. That’s nothing new. Everybody knows that. All the freshmen know that if you make a mistake, you’re going to get coached. That’s what you’re here for. You’re going to learn from your mistakes. Our best thing to [Henry] was you respond on the court. Aaron had a key bucket and he made those two free throws.
“(Izzo is) a very emotional guy. For us, our jobs at those points are to really bring the team together. OK, this is what he’s saying, and now you have to go out and do that. I learned early on in my career here that it’s not about how he says things, but it’s about what he says. Even though it’s hard when he’s emotional, you have to pick out the things that you want to learn from.”
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston said it’s a “badge of honor” to be a recipient of an Izzo rant.
“It can be tough at times,” Winston said. “He’s hard, but once you figure out what the message is and what he wants for you and from you, it gets a lot easier with him yelling at you. It’s to challenge you to be the best player that you can possibly be. Once you figure it out in that sense, him yelling doesn’t bother you.
“People outside looking in probably don’t know all the stuff that’s going on behind us and all that goes into this team. In this locker room, we know, and we know how much he cares and how much he loves us. Stuff like that is all out of him caring and him wanting the best for you. We giggled about it taking such a negative turn [nationally].”
“It was a good point for Michigan State,” Livers said as the Wolverines prepared for Saturday’s second-round game against Florida, also in Des Moines. “My parents and I thought I didn’t need to go somewhere I was going to be babied. It was a hard decision I had to make.
“I respect his style so much. Coach (John Beilein) won’t do that in front of the cameras but he will definitely do that behind closed doors. It’s just tough love. It’s college basketball. If you’re not getting yelled at, it means the coach has kind of like given up on you.”