Aaron Henry, Rocket Watts and Joey Hauser spoke up after their coach Tom Izzo announced that the team’s Saturday game against Illinois would be postponed due to additional COVID-19 cases within the program.
“Can we shoot today?” the trio asked.
So did Gabe Brown, who Izzo said would probably get the shakes if he went a day without shooting, wanted back on the court too.
“I think that tells you a little bit about them,” Izzo said. “I think they’re handling it pretty well.”
It was a conversation that Izzo described as “a struggle.” One that disappointed the team as it would mark the third consecutive matchup where the Spartans would have to wait until a potential later date to play.
It’s things like this that Izzo, or anybody for that matter, don’t have control over. After identifying three positive COVID-19 cases last week and an additional three on Sunday, the Spartans aren’t shutting down but instead proceeding with caution to keep their season on track.
But the athletes give up more time than the 40 minutes during their games. In a press conference Monday afternoon, Izzo asked reporters to think back to the time they were 20.
“You think about being 20 and having some coach tell you every night to stay in your apartment and don’t talk to your friends and don’t mingle with the new students that are coming back and tell your girlfriend you’re on a little time away,” Izzo said. “That’s difficult. I can’t say I know how difficult because I never went through it. But it is hard on these kids. Like I said, I’m going to say it 15 times during this press conference, I am so proud of my guys.”
To check in on his players, Izzo said that he texts and calls his athletes almost every night.
Sunday evening he brought those fighting COVID-19 dinner.
Earlier this season Izzo shared that the Breslin Center recruiting room had been transformed into a game room for athletes, meant to keep them busy during times like winter break when many students went home but his athletes stayed in East Lansing to avoid exposure to the virus.
“I think athletes are geared to not show any weakness and that’s what I worry about,” Izzo said. “I tell my staff we got to continuously call them, we got to spend time with them, we got to talk to them, we got to have the uncomfortable talk …Talk about things that aren’t comfortable (like) ‘How are you really feeling? How’s your mental health?’”
MSU’s next scheduled game is on Jan. 28 at Rutgers. If that matchup continues as planned that means 20 days will have spanned between the last time MSU took the court on game day and that matchup.
Regardless, Izzo is confident that the season will end positively. He said that he believes there will be a championship and that continuing to play, under safe protocols, is the best thing for the mental health of his athletes.
“I still think the safety and mental health of my players is best with what they’ve done, I really believe that and I’m proud of them for how they’ve handled it,” Izzo said. “Is it difficult? Yeah. I’ve been through some difficult things here over the years and this ranks right up there with one of the most difficult because it’s unknown, I’m fighting an invisible foe.”
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