<
>

Spartans build unity with sleeping bags

3/3/2010

Every year, Tom Izzo comes up with something different. Smashing game tapes. Hitting each other with football pads. Good, old-fashioned, run-till-you-can't-see windsprints. Every year, Izzo's teams experience some sort of defining off-court moment, like the scene in basketball movies when the team begins to trust their coach and each other and comes together around a well-defined purpose. Cue montage.

This year? Izzo's methods were even less conventional: The Spartans had a sleepover in the Breslin Center, sleeping bags included.

The idea came from his players. Draymond Green, Raymar Morgan, Isaiah Dahlman and Kalin Lucas were comparing game tape from the 2008-09 season with this year's version, and saw more "communication and togetherness" in last year's bunch. So the foursome -- led by Green -- approached Izzo with an idea. They wanted to have a sleepover on the Breslin Center's main court. And they wanted Izzo to join them.

Naturally, last Friday night, he agreed:

They played video games, checkers, ate pizzas and then went to bed around 2 a.m. in sleeping bags on the hardwood.

"It was one for my book if I ever write one 20 years from now," Izzo said. "I've never seen anything like that. In my high school, we all lived so close together it was like having a sleepover every night. Kalin right away jumped up and said, 'Yeah, that's a great idea.' And Zeke (Dahlman) said, 'Yeah, we'll have a tournament of checkers and Xbox and ping-pong.'

"Was it good for us from a back standpoint? Probably not. Was it good for us from a rest standpoint? Probably not. Was it good for us from a togetherness standpoint? One of the great team-building events, and the best part is it goes back to my original thing I've believed in my whole career here: It was a player decision."

Warning: What follows is entirely unoriginal, but I'm going to write it anyway. Ready? This is what makes Izzo such a complete coach. He manages to maintain that aloof, authority-figure aura while at the same time trusting his players to the point that he would agree to sleep at midcourt on a sleeping bag after a night of pizza and Xbox. College basketball games come down to what happens on the court; it's easy to put too much stock into things like this. But it's likewise easy to completely ignore them. Coming together as a team certainly won't hurt the Spartans' NCAA tournament chances. And if you see a rejuvenated Sparty in the next few weeks, well, you'll know why.

(Hat tip: The Dagger)