Toughness, grit, hustle: Spartan culture well-known at Final Four

Xavier Tillman #23 of the Michigan State Spartans looks for the rebound against Naz Reid #0 of the LSU Tigers during the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS — Michigan State basketball is annually among the best programs in the country, and their accolades speak for themselves.

Aside from being known for the banners hanging inside the Breslin Center, MSU is known for its culture: being hard-working, mentally tough and doing things the right way.

On Friday, Red Raiders head coach Chris Beard praised the Spartans’ culture and defensive prowess.

“Just to be mentioned in the same question or a statement with our defense and Michigan State is a huge accomplishment for our program,” Beard said.

He also spoke glowingly of head coach Tom Izzo and all that he has accomplished in his 20-plus-year tenure.

“Talking to people who know Coach and kind of study him … I’m 100 percent sure that this is a coach who hasn’t changed from when he was a high school coach to an assistant coach, graduate assistant, then assistant, now head coach, and then NCAA coach, National Championship coach, Naismith Hall of Fame coach,” Beard said. “He hasn’t changed. Everybody around him says he’s the same old coach.”

Izzo’s teams are known for toughness, defense and rebounding — things Beard likens to a team’s success and identity.

“On the basketball court, everybody has an idea, kind of the way the game is played, and the way Michigan State plays is exactly how I kind of visualize the game, defense and toughness,” Beard said. “They have an identity. (Izzo) coaches his guys hard, but you can tell he loves his guys, and they love him.”

The Spartans’ identity isn’t just known in the coaching community, the players are well-aware of it too.

“In a lot of programs, you hear people talk about Michigan State and Coach Izzo’s program has been the idea of toughness as long as I can remember watching basketball,” Texas Tech senior forward Tariq Owens said. “Always know Coach Izzo’s teams are diving on the floor, being the first to the floor giving their all every possession and that is just what is expected of his program.”

MSU is also known for attracting high-caliber talent and helping those players improve during their time in East Lansing.

NBA-caliber talent is something Beard is familiar with — Zhaire Smith was selected 16th overall last year and sophomore guard Jarrett Culver is a projected lottery pick this season — and he says Michigan State is at the top of player development.

“If they get a 5-star (recruit), he’s a 5 1/2-star six months later, and if Coach gets a 4-star, they’re in the NBA two years later. Michigan State players get better.”

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