Midway through a film session highlighting Michigan State's uncharacteristic lack of cohesiveness and communication on defense this season, sophomore Draymond Green approached coach Tom Izzo with an unorthodox idea to fix the problem.
"Coach, we have to do something off the wall," Izzo recalled Green saying. "I think we should have a sleepover."
The idea was so well-received within the program that every Michigan State player, coach, trainer and equipment manager showed up at the Breslin Center at 9:30 p.m. last Friday carrying pillows, sleeping bags and snacks. They stayed up until nearly 3 a.m. talking, playing video games and watching movies, Izzo and his young son Steven sleeping smack on the middle of the "S" at mid-court.
It was an unusual method of preparing for the biggest game of the season but also effective: The Spartans won at Purdue on Sunday, positioning themselves to earn a share of the Big Ten title with two wins this week.
"Was it good for us from a back standpoint?" Izzo said Monday. "Probably not. Was it good for us from a rest standpoint? Probably not. Was it good for us from a togetherness standpoint? Probably one of the great team-building events. And the best part, it goes back to my original saying that I've believed in my whole career here -- it was a player decision. I was just a participant."
There's probably a joke here somewhere about the Spartans painting each-other's nails or giving each-other makeovers, but it takes a coach with some creativity to agree to a team-bonding activity better suited for 11-year-old girls. At a time when college basketball is big business and other programs are emulating the pro game whenever possible, Izzo sometimes brings a high school mentality that keeps players loose by reminding them they're allowed to have fun.
In past seasons, Izzo has given his players football pads to wear at practice to encourage toughness and smashed the game film from a particularly discouraging loss to Iowa with a sledge hammer. It's all part of the reason that many former players swear by him long after they leave the program.
One night will not solve the chemistry issues Izzo has bemoaned all season with this team, but there's no denying that Michigan State played its best defense of the season in the 53-44 win at Purdue.
If that effort continues, the turnover-plagued Spartans take better care of the ball and star Kalin Lucas gets back on track, expect Michigan State to make another run in March and expect to hear plenty about the slumber party that sparked it.
- Michigan State