Tom Izzo has been vocal about the transfer portal and its downfalls, and his mindset may help him build a national title contender.
The transfer portal has been a hot topic around college sports and depending on your coach and team, your school has a different way of utilizing the portal. Michigan State is an example of this. The Spartans have a coach who has used the portal quite a bit to improve his team and another coach that has been vocally against the portal while still using it when he believes he has to. The latter coach is Tom Izzo and he has been right about his approach to building his team.
While this approach might not be the right one for every coach, Izzo has built a national title contender, proving those fans and people that say “you have to go out a get a big man” or “go out and get the best players available” wrong even during times when things did not seem to be working.
One of those times when things were not working was the Foster Loyer and Rocket Watts situation a couple of years ago. A lot of people wanted to find their replacements immediately but Izzo gave them a chance. While they did end up transferring, it wasn’t because Izzo kicked them or because he was bringing in players to replace him. Izzo is going to give players every change they can to prove themselves and if those players just don’t work out, they can leave on their own time for a better opportunity.
Three examples of this were Foster Loyer, Rocket Watts, and the most recent example, Pierre Brooks. While things did not work out with these players, Izzo didn’t go out and bring guys in that are to replace them for one year.
He brought in guys that he could build in his system. Those players were Joey Hauser and Tyson Walker. Another example could have been Micah Parrish, who Izzo was right about trying to bring in because he was a key member to the San Diego State team that went to the national championship game this year. Though he missed on Parrish, Tom Izzo still landed two key pieces to in Hauser and Walker over the past few years.
How does bringing in Hauser and Walker prove that Izzo has been right? It proves that while you can go out and get players, you can do it while staying the course of your plan. Izzo has been someone that has forever and will forever believe in having a great team culture and developing players. This is exactly what he did going into this past season and with Tyson and Joey.
When you look at the majority of players that transfer, they usually spend one — maybe two — year at their new school. This is not the case for Michigan State with Hauser and Walker. They both ended up at Michigan State for three years. People were saying even after year one of Hauser and Walker that they were not working out. You could have even said that for year two for Hauser but this was not the case with Walker. It took Joey three years in East Lansing to truly find his footing and he was a big reason that Michigan State was able to make the Sweet 16 this year. Not many people believed that Michigan State would get to that point but it was one play away from being in the Elite Elite without an elite big man and depth that people were calling for.
Fans wanted Izzo to go out and get another big man or more depth for this team because there were only 10 scholarship players. While, at times, it was frustrating, Izzo stayed the course and executed his plan which turned the Spartans into a Sweet 16 team. Izzo trusted his process and that is why Michigan State currently sits in a favorable spot.
This makes you ask the question: why is it working so well for Michigan State?
This is because Izzo believed in his plan and his team. We, as Michigan State fans, have seen several players go from guys that might not have been major contributors to fan favorites. A perfect example is Hauser who was talked about above. That belief in Joey worked for him and it’s the reason Michigan State is headed into the next season as a top-five title contender.
It’s because Izzo did not go get a transfer big. While again, people may not have loved the fact that he did not get a portal big, would we have seen the growth that Mady Sissoko made this year if he did? We probably wouldn’t have seen Mady progress like he did. While Mady might not be the best big in the nation, I do expect him to continue to take another step next year.
What if Izzo would have brought in more transfers? Would we be getting Malik Hall and Walker back? That answer would like be “no.” Belief in his guys also plays a factor in those players coming back.
The last point to be made about believing and building players for their future is Jaden Akins. He recently declared for the NBA draft while keeping his college eligibility and I believe this was the right move. This allows Akins to learn what he needs to improve on and he will be able to do so because he will get more opportunities with Hauser gone.
In the college landscape where using the portal is very common, Tom Izzo has not only used the it minimally, he has only used it when he knows that his plan and culture will stay intact, leading Michigan State to a top-five title-contending team for 2023-24, and possibly going forward for a few years. Michigan State is in this position heading into next year because Izzo has stayed his course from day one and it has and will continue to work for the near future.
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