Tom Izzo has dealt with players leaving Michigan State early. His team has had five players leave before their eligibility ran out during his time with the Spartans.
He knows the potential of top-flight players and the perils of taking them along with the pressure to win.
“The cheating is getting worse,” Izzo said Wednesday before he attended at the Big Brothers/Big Sisters 35th annual Gourmet Dinner at Fort Wayne Country Club. “Everyone is feeling they have to get a player for a year and try to win big. We’re in this profession where you’re hired to be fired, too, and because of that, I think nationwide, cheating is getting worse.”
Recent transgressions by Kelvin Sampson making illegal phone calls at Indiana along with reports of former USC guard O.J. Mayo receiving payments during and before his time in college have highlighted a rough stretch for the integrity of recruiting in college basketball.
It is why Izzo and other coaches are starting to call for a change in the NBA draft. They look to the model baseball uses, where players can be drafted out of high school, but if they attend college, they are required to stay for a certain number of seasons before becoming draft-eligible again.
It isn’t up to the coaches or the NCAA. Much of the change would have to come from the NBA and from the NBA Players Association. Currently, the rule forces players to attend college for one year before declaring for the draft.
“Let the LeBron James’ come out but then the rest of the kids stay for three years,” Izzo said. “It’d be better for the kids, forget us. I’ve always felt that way. I think it’s hard for them to have fun in college where there is constant pressure to come out.
“All in all, I’m not sure it’s great for basketball the way it is right now. I’d like to see it change. The one year they added, I’m not sure it does more damage than good at times. It should have been two or three.”
The rule changes have made an already-murky world of college recruiting even more treacherous.
“No one is naïve in our profession,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said this month. “With the really super ones, that culture of agents and influence has been around for a long time.”
This leads to fewer coaches being able to be honest. One coach Izzo said he doesn’t need to worry about is one of his best friends, IU coach Tom Crean.
Izzo and Crean coached together at Michigan State under Jud Heathcote, and when Izzo was hired as Heathcote’s replacement, the first person he called for his staff was Crean.
One Final Four and a stop at Marquette later, Crean was hired at IU, and the two friends will now face each other on the court and in recruiting.
“Nothing’s perfect,” Izzo said. “But I’d rather go against someone who is going to be honest and upfront and not cheat than go against some of the people we have to go against in this profession.
“I think he’ll do a great job, and it’s an interesting state now with Mike (Brey) doing well at Notre Dame and Matt (Painter) has done a great job at Purdue, it makes for an interesting deal around here.”