For any player who signs up to come play for Tom Izzo in East Lansing, they know what their next four or so years are going to bring their way. They are going to be coached extremely hard, they are going to work and play extremely hard, they're not going to be given anything and they're going to succeed because of it.
Denzel Valentine, in his four years at Michigan State, improved tremendously in his all around game and became the latest example to the idea that Tom Izzo doesn't care one bit about the name on the back of your jersey. He's going to coach each and every player as hard as the next one. He would just as quickly, if not quicker, lose his mind on Valentine for something that happened on the floor as he would towards anybody else. It made all these guys better players, and surely they would say the same thing.
Let's take a look at some of the team numbers these seniors put together. The trio of Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine collected 112 wins in their four years for an average of 28 wins per year. They went a combined 50-22 in the Big Ten over the past four years. They've got appearances in the Sweet Sixteen as freshmen, the Elite Eight as sophomores and the Final Four in their junior years.
Among many other things that I'll always keep with me about this class for Tom Izzo is how badly they all wanted to win. I suppose it's a constant with an Izzo coached team, but this group had a drive that you don't see from a whole lot of teams around the country anymore. And at the end of the day, none of them could care less who gets the glory on the stat sheet as long as the score was in their favor after the 40 minutes.
Denzel Valentine, first off, became probably the most complete basketball player in the NCAA this past year after four years of hard work. I still often go back to thinking of that triple double against Kansas in Chicago near the beginning of the year. In case you somehow didn't think this guy was near the top of the talent tree this season, he used a gigantic stage to show just how wrong you were. His vision and playmaking ability are second to nobody in the Big Ten and his versatility at the college level is what really set him apart. His ability to get a rebound and start the break himself was such a dangerous weapon for this team, and as he grew as a player and his decision making improved with time, that became more and more dangerous.
Bryn Forbes, what else can be said about Bryn Forbes other than "Don't even let him make one." Once he saw one shot go through the basket, you could be in trouble really quick as the opposition. The best percentage rate three point shooter in the B1G this past season, Forbes could absolutely catch fire and end a game by himself. With Valentine running the point, Forbes could work off the ball running off screens and cutting to try and create an open shot to stick a dagger in the heart of the opposing team with a backbreaking three. Then, of course, why not just come down three or four possessions in a row afterwards and do it again? If Forbes was spotted up from three on the fast break, just forget about it.
Man oh man, was Matt Costello just a flat out worker or what? While there were certainly guys around the conference and around the country that were bigger, stronger and more naturally talented than Matt Costello, you could guarantee that nobody was going to outwork Matt Costello. I'll always remember the Maryland game this year in East Lansing, as he's checking out of the game and he gives Tom Izzo THE biggest bear hug I have ever seen a player give a coach. You would've thought they had just won an NCAA Title and an NBA Championship at the same time.
Colby Wollenman, your resident genius, took a redshirt year in his sophomore year in 2012-2013 after joining the team as a walk on in 2011. Wollenman contributed just under eight minutes a game to this past years team and provided good leadership and just an overall good example to the younger players on the team. He was awarded with Michigan State's Scholar-Athlete award and was also the recipient of an Unsung Player award from Michigan State.
Going back to the Matt Costello bear hug of Tom Izzo, that was so symbolic in so many ways. That's the type of passion, emotion and winning desire that Michigan State basketball has been built on for so many years. While, yes, some critics might say they never reached their ultimate goal of a National Championship, this team accomplished a hell of a lot. So, a tip of the cap to you Sparty. Your class of 2016 played the game of basketball the right way and won many of our hearts, as so many of your other classes before them have.