It’s awfully hard these days to get a decent one-on-one player or coach interview without either “a scrum of 40 reporters standing around,” as Tony Biasotti wrote last month in the Columbia Journalism Review, or some media relations type breathing down your neck, tapping their finger on their invisible wristwatch.
However, recently we were able to get a few “alone” minutes with two visiting Big Ten basketball coaches.
Tom Izzo rebounds from recent losses
It’s been of late a rough patch for Tom Izzo. First, his team’s best player, guard Denzel Valentine, went down with a knee injury. Then there was the loss of his father at age 90.
“We are missing one heck of a player,” said the Michigan State coach on the senior guard, who was expected to return to action after missing nearly a month with a knee injury suffered in practice in December. “Some guys are great scorers or great rebounders. Some guys are great defenders. He’s a 6’-5” guy who can guard anyone from a power forward to a guard. He’s right now the nuts and bolts of our team.
“We miss Valentine a lot,” admitted Izzo. “It’s not just Valentine, but we need to get a couple of guys healthy.”
Then his father Carl Izzo died on December 28. Tom Izzo’s 95-year-old uncle also died last month.
“I feel lucky and blessed that I got to spend time [with his father],” noted Izzo, who left for his father’s funeral after MSU’s January 2 win at Minnesota. “The last 20 years I was able to do a lot of things for my parents — bought them a house. Took them to Final Fours. Fly them all over the world. That’s pretty awesome to be able to do that.”
Izzo also visited with Ryan Saunders, a Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach who lost his father October 25 last year. “He only got 60 years out of his father, and I got 90 out of mine,” said the longtime State coach.
Coquese Washington in a rare two-person post-game press conference
“Just you and me, Charles. Whatever questions you got,” said Penn State Coach Coquese Washington after her team’s January 3 contest at Williams Arena. Washington and this reporter have known each other for her entire nine years at Penn State and have talked one-on-one “off podium” after post-game sessions on several occasions.
We then asked her to comment on a proposed Missouri bill last month that would strip athletic scholarships from players if they boycotted games, in response to the University of Missouri Black football players who threatened to sit out games unless racial on-campus racial incidents were seriously addressed. The proposal was later shelved after complaints.
“Are you going to do that to everybody [who is on scholarship]?” responded Washington. “It’s not just athletics, but there are kids on academic scholarships, Armed Forces scholarships. You have a right to have an opinion and to deal with the consequences of the statements that you make. That’s part of the American culture.”
Washington supports her players’ speaking out when needed. “I think it is very appropriate,” she continued. “I think it is part of their education and the learning process in school. We don’t have them 24 hours a day in the practice facility and in the athletics facility. They spend the bulk of the day in classes.
“They are engaged in conversations on campus on local, national and global issues. Certainly issues that are pertinent to them.
“We want them to be true student athletes,” said Washington. “We want them to be involved in those conversations and those dialogues. I think it is fantastic.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.