Izzo 'praying' for fans this season – but says players can learn from NBA bubble

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Tom Izzo likes to show his players clips of NBA stars doing the little things right -- a strong box-out, a timely screen. No one's too good for the dirty work. As he prepares his team for a season without fans, he's shifting the spotlight to the sidelines.

"What we’re telling our players is that there’s going to be a lot of things that fall on us," Izzo said Wednesday before the Spartans' first practice of the season. "To watch guys (in the NBA bubble) making $30, $40 million out there cheerleading on the sidelines, like LeBron was, or Jimmy Butler was, it was kind of fun to see.

"I think in general we’re going to have to manufacture some of the enthusiasm and some of the excitement."

The college basketball season can officially begin Nov. 25, about two weeks later than originally planned as the NCAA tries to determine the best path forward amid a global pandemic. As of Wednesday, Michigan State doesn't know when, where or against whom it will play its first game.

"The only thing we know for sure, about 99 percent, is that we’re playing Duke in the (Champions Classic), said Izzo.

That game is scheduled for Dec. 1 in Orlando, part of a showcase of early-season events being staged in the same bubble where the NBA just finished its 2019-20 season. There will be no fans in attendance.

There may not be fans in attendance anywhere this season. That will be especially strange for Izzo and the Spartans, who are used to playing in front of raucous crowds at the Breslin Center.

"It’s going to be different," Izzo said. "We’re going to have to bring our own energy. When you’re on the road and you got a couple-game losing streak — because in this league this year that could happen easily — I think you’re going to have to really rely on your leadership, on your togetherness.

"That’s where I’m pulling a lot of clips from the NBA to see how those guys acted like they weren’t (even) in college, they acted like they were in high school. And that was kind of a joy to see, to be honest with you."

The Breslin Center will also pipe in crown noise and music to 'spruce it up a little bit,' Izzo said. And he hasn't given up hope on the possibility of fans returning at some point this season.

"I’m still hoping and praying that as this thing moves forward we’re going to end up with some fans and media back in the stands before we’re done," he said.

It's unclear if that will be possible. While fans are slowly starting to return to stadiums across college football and the NFL, indoor arenas present different challenges and risks. The NCAA may decide it has no choice but to play games in empty gyms.

Asked if the absence of fans might benefit his team on the road, Izzo said, "I like when there’s fans everywhere. I like when there’s fans at home, I like when there’s fans on the road. I mean, there’s nothing better than trying to win at Purdue, even though we don’t do it very often. But I think Matt (Painter) would agree it’s not easy to win at Breslin either, with our students.

"So we’re going to try to come up with some things that give us some kind of an atmosphere, but at the same time, hope and pray that sooner or later we get people back in."