Texas Tech’s Chris Beard knows exactly how hard he can be with his players to get them to respond — and he respects Michigan State’s Tom Izzo for being the master at that old-school, tough-love coaching style.
“I love coaching this game, and I love coaching it hard,” said Beard, who will coach against Izzo in the Final Four on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium. “In terms of Michigan State, he’s the pinnacle of that. Coach Izzo, to me, is everything I’ve always wanted to be. He’s a players’ coach. You see the hugs and he gets you emotional.”
Izzo took some criticism after a heated confrontation with freshman Aaron Henry during the Spartans’ NCAA tournament first-round victory against Bradley. The angry Hall of Fame coach had to be held back by his players near the sideline.
“He coaches his players hard,” Beard said. “He’s on them. He holds them accountable.”
Although he doesn’t personally know about the relationship Izzo has with his players, Beard said “there’s no doubt” that there’s a lot of trust involved, just like in his Red Raiders program.
“I’ve never coached a good player that didn’t want to be coached hard ever,” Beard said. “I can’t name one guy that I’ve ever coached who’s an all-conference player, a pro at any level I’ve coached that didn’t want us to bring it.”
A chatty Brandone Francis danced and smiled outside the team locker room, gamely taking questions after the end of the scheduled media session. The Texas Tech senior guard admired and posed with the giant image of himself on the wall with his teammates.
Francis said he was eager to see his pal, Karl-Anthony Towns, and had been in contact with the Timberwolves star earlier in the day.
He and Towns played together on the Dominican national team years ago. They were both mourning the death of rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was shot and killed less than 24 hours after he was spotted celebrating Texas Tech’s Elite Eight victory over Gonzaga in Anaheim.
“I was excited to tell everybody Nipsey’s coming, he’s coming to see me,” Francis said. “I was just like a little kid.”
Hussle had worked with Francis’ father in the music industry, so he sat next to him and Francis’ sister in the Red Raiders section.
“He was one of the best rappers in the world and he was over there cheering me on like he was a regular fan,” Francis said. “He definitely changed my energy. … For him to see me do that on that stage that was big. That’s something I will tell my kids one day.”
Senior forward Kenny Goins redshirted with Michigan State’s team in 2014-15, the last time the Spartans made the Final Four, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Goins has shared some advice with his teammates about what it’s like shooting in a big place like U.S. Bank Stadium.
“He just said, ‘You’re going to air-ball some shots because it’s different,” sophomore Xavier Tillman said. “And it was funny — he was the first one to air-ball today, so I was laughing at that. I was going, ‘Well, I didn’t air-ball yet, so that was all you.’ ”
Fan parties galore
Where are the official fan parties? Here’s an unofficial rundown:
For Virginia, the UVA Club of the Twin Cities is hosting a “Wahoo Welcome” Friday night at the Mansion at Uptown, and a pregame party Saturday at The Grand 1858 in southeast Minneapolis.
The Auburn Alumni & Fans Tip-off Party is Friday evening at Roseville’s Bent Brewstillery, which also will host a watch party for Auburn fans on Saturday.
Michigan State fans can attend a pep rally Friday at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis and watch the game in Minneapolis at the Office Pub and Grill or Sneaky Pete’s, or GameWorks at Mall of America.
The Texas Tech Alumni Association is having a pregame gathering at Lumber Exchange in downtown Minneapolis on Saturday, and Brothers Bar & Grill will host a watch party for Red Raiders fans.
Staff writer Matt DeLong contributed to this report.