Izzo: Allen "on a short leash"
"Nothing has happened yet. He's on a short leash. He has some growing up to do. There were times I didn't know if he wanted to be here."
That's a quote from Tom Izzo about Chris Allen, given to ESPN's Andy Katz for this story today on ESPN.com. So I think that clears up Izzo's cryptic comments in early May about a potential defection. And it reiterates something that should have been clear from those first comments: This decision is just as much -- if not more -- Izzo's than anyone else's.
The interesting thing about Allen (we've talked about this before) is that he so clearly "bought in" last year on the basketball court. He got serious about defending and became reliable on that end. His overall game, including his shooting, made a significant jump. Izzo was gushing about that very transformation the day after MSU's Big Ten title-clinching win over Michigan -- and the day before he announced that Allen was suspended for the Big Ten Tournament game.
So yeah, this is off the court. As a reporter, Allen is one of my go-to guys because he gives great quotes. Nothing homogenized or cliche-ridden. He seems to say what he really thinks, which is not as common as you might think. And he's been very open about Izzo's demanding approach and the importance of listening to what he's saying, not how he's saying it. If you watch the bench during games, Allen has never been afraid to give it back in the heat of competition.
As we've discussed before, Izzo doesn't mind that -- as long as it's coming from someone who has earned the floor. Someone like, say, Mateen Cleaves. Or Travis Walton. Two guys who took over many a huddle. Two guys who put all they had into winning. Two guys who were close with Izzo. I'm not saying this has anything to do with Allen talking back, I'm saying he may be resisting Izzo's complete vision of what an MSU basketball player should do and be -- on and off the court -- and has to decide if he wants to buckle down/own up/insert cliche here for one last year. From the outside, it seems like an easy decision.
And that inspires the first Top Ten list: Top Ten Guys Who Made Izzo's Blood Boil (former players only and since 1997 only because I didn't cover the team before then, so apologies to Jon Garavaglia):
1. Goran Suton. It's tight at the top, but Suton gets the slight nod. His development over five years was nothing short of incredible, but he still managed to infuriate Izzo on a regular basis, in practice and games.
1A. A.J. Granger. It's very close between these two. Very, very close. Few college basketball players get to go out like Granger -- doubling his scoring average in his final game, helping his team win a national title.
2. Morris Peterson. Funny how Suton and Peterson may also be the most improved players under Izzo from start to finish. Peterson's career was more of a sliding scale -- things looked hopeless early, and he was a fully accountable star by his fifth year. Even that season, he needed a fiery speech every now and then.
3. Marquise Gray. Jason Colthorp does a pretty good Izzo impersonation, and these are the very fitting words: "Hey Quise! You better check somebody!" It should almost be a trademarked catch phrase.
4. Drew Naymick. Sometimes, having a high grade-point average can be used against you. Notice the preponderance of post players.
5. Paul Davis. An outstanding player for four years, Davis nevertheless frustrated Izzo and fans who thought he had "more to give" and wasn't always up for a brawl inside (although when he was ... remember Duke in 2005?)
6. Adam Ballinger. Sensing any trends? Big guys with finesse games will test and be tested.
7. Maurice Joseph. Joseph's lack of physical strength and defensive effectiveness (both improved a lot from year one to year two) made it tough on him.
8. Raymar Morgan. He didn't respond well to vocal badgering, so Izzo didn't give it to him often. But like Davis, he was an excellent player who drifted and disappeared at times.
9. Chris Hill. Another all-around fine career, and if MSU hoops were the A-Team, he'd be "Faceman." He was not always the most rugged defender, though.
10. Zach Randolph. All freshman bigs make Izzo's blood boil, but the guess here is that Randolph would have kept it bubbling despite his enormous amount of talent.
EDIT: As Stone quickly and correctly pointed out, A.J. Granger belongs high on this list. I was going to put him No. 1, then I decided on Suton ... then I totally forgot about Granger! So the first top-10 list is a bust! But I've added him as 1A, so let's just try to move forward. And by the way, just to clarify, these lists are purely my opinion from the outside looking in, others who were around MSU at the same time may have a completely different list (I've already heard the names Thomas Kelley, Jason Klein and Alan Anderson, all good ones).