Tom Izzo on UConn, Kevin Ollie and his friendship with Jim Calhoun
COACH TOM IZZO: Well, first of all, I'm so excited to be here. I thought we beat a very, very good Virginia team. Very well coached team. And now it just turns right around. It seems like all the games I had against Calhoun over the years, who is a good friend, and now his protégé has taken over and has done as good or is on his way to the same kind of stardom that Jim had at UCONN.
I think that we go from two different teams, a team that was so physical and big, huge guards, to a team that has maybe the quickest guard tandem in the country in Shabazz and Boatright.
So it's going to be a good challenge, but I'm proud of these guys, too. They have been through a lot this year and have weathered the storm and hopefully we're into playing our best basketball down the stretch.
Q. Kevin Ollie had to be the guy that followed the guy, and that you were the kind of the guy that followed the guy. How hard is that? How do you make that work for yourself as a coach?
COACH TOM IZZO: Well, I'm sure just like Jud, Jim I'm sure has done a good thing. He was there to support Kevin in his first game over in Germany. I've known Jim for a long time, and he wanted Kevin to have the job. He told me that the summer before. I just think it's how the former guy handles it. We're going to have pressure on us to try to live up to certain things, but how the guy before us handles it. And in Jud's case, he's been so supportive. I got a call from him this morning, he's still coaching my team 19 years later. And I accept that and I actually enjoy that.
I'm sure, as I told Kevin when we played him over in Germany, and Jim was sitting there, I think he was doing the radio that day, I said, "Hey, and find a way to embrace it, because he's got a lot of knowledge and can really help you." And just like Jud did for me. He wasn't there day to day, but he was yelling at me still when we won, but when we lost, he was there for me. I think that's what's really critical.
So maybe not as much how we handle it, how they handle it. I've been very fortunate, my guy's been dynamite.
Q. Tom, all the talk about UCONN is about their guards. I was really impressed with their big guys last nights, especially defensively. Can you comment how we have to respond to that?
COACH TOM IZZO: Their big guys or our big guys?
Q. Their big guys.
COACH TOM IZZO: Well, what we have been is really balanced. Last couple games Adreian and B.J. have been so good, but for half the year when Keith was out it was Gary and Zel that was carrying us when these guys were out. So it's just finding that mixture now.
Their big guys are good. If you look at it, they get more scoring out of their guards than their perimeter guys, and we have gotten more scoring lately out of ours. But I think for the most part Gary and AP have been our leading scorers throughout the year, so we have maybe a little more balance.
But their big guys impressed me, too. Then when you take a kid like Daniels, who has an incredible, incredible night, doing it inside and outside, we got our work cut out for us. That's why we're in the Elite 8, a lot of good teams around the country.
Q. Tom, do you expect this to feel like a road game tomorrow? And do you think that will matter at all?
COACH TOM IZZO: I hope so, because I think it will be. But we have actually played better on the road than we have at home. We lost four home games this year, which is unAmerican and illegal. We played actually pretty well on the road. I thought last night Virginia brought a lot of people. They're closer. We had a good group following us too, but UCONN, it's as you say out East, it's just a little 20‑minute train ride, which who knows what that means, an hour, two hours. You guys do it different. We're on mileage where we're from. You guys do it a little different out here, but put it this way: They're a lot closer, a lot easier to get to.
And I wish the Virginia fans would have done like I heard the Louisville fans did, and that's, they tell me that Kentucky fans were trying to buy tickets from the Louisville fans, and Louisville fans wouldn't give up the tickets. They would rather lose the money than give them the advantage to going in the arena. I don't know if Virginia feels the same way.
But I'm sure it's going to be a road game for us. These guys, that's the advantage of having some experience and I think some toughness. I think you got to do that when you go on the road.
Q. After the game in Germany, you were one of the first, if not the first, coach to kind of call for Kevin to get a long‑term contract. He had the one‑year contract. I just wonder what you saw from him technically in that game, what you saw in him prior to that whatever experience you had, that kind of moved you to do that.
COACH TOM IZZO: Well, No. 1, like I said, I developed a closer relationship with Jim Calhoun as the years went on, and we played in different games. We played in that Final Four and I just respected the toughness he had with his program. I talked to him, I was on one recruiting trip, I think we were in Indianapolis when I first met Kevin, and it was through Jim, and I would say one of the reasons I did that is, A, they beat us, but B, I liked the way he handled himself and the way his team played. And maybe C, Jim Calhoun told me what an incredible coach he was going to be and what a great guy he is. I talked to some of my NBA players and that have played with him or played against him and the same words always came up: "Hard working", "classy", "good guy". I think he's been every bit of that. And he's going to have a phenomenal career here and keep that tradition that Jim built so well at UCONN, he's going to keep it going.
What he's going to find out is, it's so much easier, too, to keep it going from a standpoint of all those great players they have had, he's part of those guys. He played there and he's been part of them, and he knows them and he's never really left there.
So I think that he's going to enjoy as much as anything. There's been, I've been at Michigan State now this is the 31st year, from a graduate assistant on up. I think that's helped me with the‑‑ that's why the Magics fly in, you're part of both groups, the past, the present and hopefully the future.
Q. When you're going up against a team like Connecticut, where Napier is the guy that everybody knows, do you do anything differently getting the team ready, like, to make sure they don't overlook the other guys, a guy like Boatright or do you have to focus on that?
COACH TOM IZZO: I think Daniels took care of some of that last night, averaging 11 points a game and getting 27. But they played against Boatright and Napier, most of our guys have. So they know how good they are. And them being pretty solid on TV all the time, you get a chance to see them more than maybe some teams.
The kind of year they have had, I mean it's been phenomenal. They can score in a lot of different ways. And Shabazz is unbelievable on some of the degree‑of‑difficulty shots he can make. Can make them through contact, he can make them from the three, he can make them through penetration.
I think our guys know that you don't get to an Elite8 if you're a one‑dimensional team. But just to help us out, Daniels had one of those games last night that says, hey, don't forget the other guys. I think it's a great point you bring up. We're going to hit all players because we got to stop everybody, but there's definitely going to be some emphasis on not stopping him, but making him earn everything he gets, and trying to keep him where maybe his numbers might even be the same but he takes more shots to get there or wear him down a little bit by making sure he can't have free rein. He seems to be able to go where he wants when he wants against a lot of good teams in this league that he's played in. So that's going to be the challenge for us.
Q. You played UCONN to start last season in Germany, it was a while ago, obviously, do you have a lot of memories of that? Obviously it was Kevin's first game as head coach. Do you recall it being significant for them, that game in particular?
COACH TOM IZZO: Well, I think what I was most impressed with him and most disappointed with myself is his team came out and played within credible passion. Now we started a couple freshmen that game and Gary was one of them, and he had the proverbial deer‑in‑the‑headlights look. I remember he forgot the first three plays we were going to run. So they had a little more experience at that time.
But his team has changed, too, couple of those guys like Olander and Calhoun were playing a lot more than they are now. But the two guards, they're still staples. So I guess what did I get out of that game? Kevin's teams are going to play hard and will play disciplined. I don't think we have given them enough credit how they are defensively. This is a pretty good defensive team in UCONN, and it's just those guards are so dynamic that we kind of overlook that sometimes.