Dealing with tickets for the families of players can be the most stressful week-of task for any Final Four head coach. Just ask Tom Izzo, Final Four veteran.
Izzo, who will be coaching in his eighth Final Four this week in Minneapolis, had a big meeting with his Michigan State team about hotels and tickets Monday.
The Hall of Fame coach even warned Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, a Final Four rookie, about expediting the ticket discussions when they spoke by phone. Izzo joked that he was still “doing them at tip-off” his first time.
“I think that is pressure that builds on these kids as the week goes on,” said Izzo, who last coached in the Final Four in 2015. “I think I’ll be able to tell them about the media blitz and all that goes on when you get there. That will help. Even as a coach you’re just happy to be there. Sometimes I’m trying to look at what I can do better than what I did.”
A common theme among the Final Four coaches at Michigan State, Texas Tech, Auburn and Virginia is to make sure their players don’t get consumed by all the auxiliary happenings before living their dream of playing Saturday.
It will be easy to get caught up in the excitement. There are events at U.S. Bank Stadium and open practices viewed by thousands of fans. Each player on the roster from walk-on to star will go through countless interviews from locker rooms to news conferences. More and more friends and family members will ask for tickets and demand some of the players’ time — time that will be very limited.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett had a welcome-home event in Charlottesville to celebrate the program’s first Final Four since 1984. His team met thousands of Wahoo faithful at the Cavaliers baseball field. Bennett talked to his father, Dick, and Bo Ryan, former coaches who both went to Final Four with Wisconsin. They told him about letting his players enjoy the moment, but also making sure they “remain focused and prepare well,” he said.
“The fans wanted to show up, support and say thanks,” Bennett said. “… There’s even more excitement, and preparation steps up a little bit. But it’s still the same formula. You try to balance both. You get your rest and you prepare well.”
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who like Beard led his program to its first Final Four, said his team already is prepared for the big stage. The Tigers proved it by winning the SEC tournament in Nashville and beating blue-blood programs Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.
“How much bigger will the Final Four be?” Pearl said. “I hope not much. Keep focusing on the same routine. Knowing we got to win two games. Focus on the process.”
Spartans senior forward and former walk-on Kenny Goins shared his 2015 Final Four experience with his teammates. Goins redshirted but knows what to expect leading up to the game.
“It maybe will help a little bit with the distractions of the Final Four and that you have to go through,” Izzo said. “I may get together with Kenny today and we’ll brainstorm.”
Coaches lean on each other a lot. Izzo will call Villanova coach Jay Wright for tips. Beard called Izzo and he’ll chat with Kansas coach Bill Self and Kansas State coach Bruce Weber. Beard also is relying on his own staff with assistant Glynn Cyprien and his head coach adviser Sean Sutton being in the Final Four with Oklahoma State in 2004.
“I’ve gone to the Final Four every year of my career, I just never coached there,” Beard said. “If a coach’s job would be put into one sentence, it would be to do everything he can to help his team win. With that, it’s not just the X’s and O’s. It’s the Final Four, the event and how big this is. Just trying to give my guys all the information they need.”