Senior leadership is something most coaches deem essential for success. Tom Izzo is no exception, and he sees its absence as one of his flailing team’s problems. Perhaps one of its biggest problems.
After a stunning 72-52 loss Feb. 2 at Iowa — the Big Ten’ last-place team — the Spartans found themselves sitting at 13-9 and slipping off the NCAA Tournament grid. This from the nation’s preseason No. 2 team.
And Izzo found himself calling out his senior guards, Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, without coming out and saying their names.
“I’m gonna make some changes probably,” he said. “There’s some guys that are gonna have to grow up. I’m very disappointed with the leadership of this team. I mean, (junior forward Draymond Green) is trying to do it, but you’ve got to have seniors that do it, and I’m struggling with that a lot. … I think usually throughout a year, a season, a lifetime, usually if you don’t do the things you’re supposed to do on a day-to-day basis, which is defend and rebound and carry yourself and do the things you’re supposed to do on and off court, things happen.
“And right now we’re not, we’re just not buying into that you’ve got to run a team if you’re a point guard, that you’ve got to make shots and guard people if you’re a two guard. Because most teams’ best players are that. So I’ll say I haven’t done a very good job of getting that through to guys.”
Before Michigan State’s 82-56 loss Feb. 6 at Wisconsin, the Spartans had a three-hour meeting in which the players signed a board committing to each other. But sophomore center Derrick Nix openly agrees with Izzo’s assessment that Lucas and Summers need to step up in performance and vocal presence.
“I’m close with them,” Nix said of Lucas and Summers, fellow Detroit natives, “but when you’re a senior, you’ve got to play better. … They’ve got to look in the mirror. … You can’t (lead) when you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to do, so how can a senior say something to me if they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do? I’m not trying to throw them under the bus, we’re close friends. But we’re losing.”
Lucas, for his part, disagrees with Izzo that leadership is the problem, and he took exception to Nix’s comments.
“I think Derrick said that because it’s something coach Izzo said,” Lucas said. “Derrick needs to grow up a little bit, he’s still a little bit immature.”
That’s where the Spartans were entering the Wisconsin game. Despite another lopsided loss, though, Izzo was much happier with what he saw from his players.
He said the effort was “10 times better” than in the Iowa game, and he said Lucas responded as he had hoped.
“I think he’s really made a commitment that he’s gonna finish this thing out strong,” Izzo said of Lucas. “So I was probably happiest with him.”
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