Michigan State’s Izzo learns to live with constant departures

by Jabari Ritchie

CHICAGO – When Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo learned two of the Spartans underclassmen were defecting to the NBA after losing to Arizona in the 2001 Final Four, he started looking for advice.

The three-time national coach of the year couldn’t find any.

“I talked to (Arizona coach) Lute Olson a little bit, but that wasn’t much help because he hasn’t gone through it before this year too,” Izzo said. “We’re kind of walking in uncharted waters together.”

The departure of sophomore guard Jason Richardson, freshman center Zach Randolph and seniors Charlie Bell and Andre Hutson left Michigan State with just one starter from last season’s Big Ten championship team.

Last year, the Spartans rebounded from several key losses to reach their third consecutive Final Four and win the conference title for the fourth straight season.

“I don’t think there’s been a program in the last 20 years that has lost what we lost in the last two years,” said Izzo, who won a national title in 2000. “I know a lot of guys that lost four guys in a year. I just haven’t seen many who have lost nine guys that played a lot of minutes in a two-year span.”

With the personnel losses, Michigan State isn’t the Big Ten favorite for the first time in several years. Coaches and the media attending last Sunday’s Big Ten media day both picked Illinois, Iowa and Indiana to finish at the top of the conference.

The Illini, a consensus Big Ten favorite, were even picked No. 1 in the nation by the Sporting News. But that doesn’t mean the Spartans’ opponents are overlooking Michigan State.

“I think we’re all still chasing Michigan State,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “You can talk about Illinois and you can talk about us or Indiana. But when a team’s won as many Big Ten (titles) as they’ve won and been to three Final Fours, I don’t care who’s graduated or who’s left. They’re not going to sneak up on anybody.”

Michigan State’s players remain confident about their chances for a fifth consecutive conference title.

“Everybody’s picking us to be, like, No. 5 in the Big Ten,” Taylor said. “I think we’re going to be No. 1.”

The Spartans return one starter, junior forward Aloysius Anagonye and sophomore Marcus Taylor is expected to play well at point guard.

The only senior on Michigan State’s roster, Mat Ishbia, is not a major contributor. He played just 35 minutes last year.

“A lot of people say even though we lost seven guys, we’re still a team to deal with,” said Taylor, who started nine games last season. “That’s true because we’re one of the hardest working teams in the country. Whether we have one senior or five seniors, it doesn’t really matter because we’re always going to try to make the best out of the situation.”

Despite his team’s optimism, Izzo is more cautious, especially since the Spartans face Virginia, Florida, Arizona and Stanford before the Big Ten season begins.

“This is the challenge of all challenges,” he said. “If we can withstand this – and that doesn’t mean to win a championship, unfortunately – but if we can withstand the schedule we have and the losses we’ve had in the last two years, then I’m ready to start saying we’ve developed something really special.”

ï Shane Schilling, who recently chose to transfer from Minnesota’s men’s basketball team, is wanted for questioning by Bloomington police, the Star Tribune reported Tuesday.

According to police, Schilling’s identification and passport were found in his father’s SUV after an unidentified man fled the vehicle Friday night. Police were told that the man was involved in a fight before leaving in the SUV.

Schilling, a junior point guard, has not been charged or arrested. He was suspended indefinitely Saturday, and his decision to transfer was announced Monday.