Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Izzo Again Holding MSU Hostage

The legendary college basketball coach John Wooden, who we just lost, was never connected to any NBA rumors. Not once. He was the Wizard of Westwood and no NBA owner seemed to want to make him the Ace of Atlanta or the King of New York or the Prince of Portland.

NBA teams left Bobby Knight alone, too. Same with Hank Iba and Denny Crum and Digger Phelps.

All great college coaches, and not one of them a serious NBA candidate.

In college football, the pros never went after Bear Bryant or Ara Parseghian or Bo Schembechler. Or Woody Hayes or Bob Devaney or Amos Alonzo Stagg.

Texas A&M came after Bo in the late-1970s, and that was bad enough. Old Bo considered jumping ship at Michigan briefly, and later said such a dalliance would never happen again. And that was from another college.

The professional teams never dared to even place a phone call to these coaching giants because of a wonderfully simple reason.

The aforementioned coaches made it quite clear that their aspirations would always be about what they could do on Saturdays, not Sundays.

End of discussion. Bud, nipped in.

Tom Izzo would be a fool to leave Michigan State for the Cleveland Cavaliers, as has been reported that he might do. If he did, it'd be because he'd be blinded by the allure of that tiny question that can be mighty powerful.

"What if?"

"What if I left the college scene and tried my hand at the pro game? Could I do what so few have done before me---leave campus and be a success on the NBA circuit?"

I've written this column before. I've scolded Izzo, the great Michigan State basketball coach, and warned him not to look longingly at the NBA. That time, it was because the Chicago Bulls were rumored to want his services. This was a few years ago.

I'm writing this column again because Izzo makes people like me write it.

He won't do what the Woodens and the Knights and the Ibas and the Crums have done before him. Izzo won't keep himself joined at the hip with the college game. He'll never say never.

Because of that, here's what you're going to get every few years: a campus in East Lansing held hostage to its basketball coach's sadistic shell game.

Izzo won't slam the door shut on all this pro nonsense for good, because he lacks the humility that engulfed the truly great coaches before him.

Wooden would have turned beet red if this much of a fuss was made over him. And he's only the greatest college coach. Ever.

Izzo, I believe, has no serious interest in leaving his God-like status at MSU for the 82-game rigors of the NBA, with its three-games-in-five nights in snowy January in places like Minneapolis, Toronto, and Milwaukee.

He has no desire to leave his Izzone for a game where he can shout himself blue in the face and it simply won't mean a damn thing to some of these prima donnas being paid millions.

They talk about how he might like to do no more recruiting. I'll tell you this: Izzo would be BEGGING to go back to recruiting once he finds out how little influence he truly has in the pros.

Izzo was at his sadistic best during the Big Ten Tournament last March, when he all but rubbed his hands together and did a diabolical laugh as he described to reporters what he had in store for certain of his players, for poor play in the tourney.

You think that's going to hold any water in the NBA?

At MSU, it's about Izzo. His players come and go. He stays. And gets all the glory.

In the NBA, if LeBron James ever wins a championship, he'll do so with what's-his-name as the coach, tucked under LeBron's arm the whole way.

In the NBA, Izzo will be another cautionary tale---as if we need another of those.

Tim Floyd, Jerry Tarkanian, Lon Krueger, John Calipari---move over one seat. Here comes Tom Izzo.

But that won't happen.

Izzo is no more serious about taking this job in Cleveland than he is driving his car into a brick wall tonight.

But he won't say that, because he gets off on this stuff. It's enough for him to remind the people in East Lansing that he can crush them into a fine powder.

NBA teams keep Izzo's phone number on speed dial because they haven't been instructed not to---by Tom Izzo himself.

Izzo can end all this nonsense. He can come out and say, "Look, NBA, save your breath. I ain't never turning pro! And you can't make me."

The bona fide great coaches in the college game never had to deal with this hysteria. They made it quite clear: We're college coaches, son. Thanks, but no thanks.

Till death do us part.

John Wooden didn't have the insatiable need to be loved by his fans at UCLA. Thus, he never teased the NBA, never held his school hostage.

You want a difference between a legend like Wooden and a pretender like Izzo?

There it is.

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