Big Ten coaches assert now is the time to build ‘programs’

CHICAGO — Most Big Ten men’s basketball coaches would agree they are now done building teams. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo asserted they are beyond that. With high expectations for the entire Big Ten Conference this season, many of the coaches at Big Ten Media Day on Thursday said now is a better time than any to start building “programs.”

The coaches discussed their programs much the same way Allen Iverson discusses practice.

“We’ve had success, but now can we sustain it?” Izzo asked of his Spartans, who lost last year’s NCAA Championship game to North Carolina. “I’ve had 50 coaches tell me that it’s harder to stay there than to get there, and I would have to agree with that.”

Izzo added he had about 200 former players return to watch his team compete in the Final Four last season.

“It’s not for one team, though,” he said of the reason for their return. “It’s for your program.”

Izzo, whose team this year will be led by the conference’s preseason player of the year in Kalin Lucas, wants to see Big Ten basketball programs evolve into ones similar to those of Big Ten football. Lucas wants to lead Izzo’s initiative, and therefore he will try to be more of a team player and hang around some of his younger teammates this season.

“It might not be anything important,” Lucas said of what he must do to lead the squad. “It might just be trying to be cool with everyone on the team.”

This season may provide the biggest chance to build a program for Matt Painter’s squad at Purdue. With all five starters returning from a team that made a Sweet 16 appearance in March, Painter said the team’s chemistry is what might put it ahead of Michigan State and put the Boilermakers on the national radar in the long-term.

Painter is just as concerned with the rest of the conference, though, as he is with his own team.

“We just have an unbelievable junior class in college basketball,” Painter said of the Big Ten. “There’s a lot of juniors in that class that are stars. We had some opportunities for guys to go in the (NBA) draft that stayed, and I think that really strengthened our league. I think we’ll have the opportunity now to grow and be one of the premier leagues, if not the premier league in the country.

Boilermakers center JaJuan Johnson noted that building the team’s depth to provide those five starters time to rest is what will turn Purdue into a marquee program like Michigan State.

“This is probably the deepest team I have since I’ve been at Purdue,” Johnson said. “We’re going to look for minutes from freshman Kelsey Barlow. We’re going to have two big guys come in and get some minutes for us and help me out a bit.”

Meanwhile, Illinois will be led by its trio of returning starters in juniors Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. With a highly touted 2010 recruiting class, head coach Bruce Weber hopes things will naturally fall into place like they did earlier this decade when the team contended for a national title.

Because of how deep the conference is this season and is expected to be in the near future, Indiana second-year head coach Tom Crean said he thinks now is the perfect time for a young team such as his to start a dynasty from scratch. The Indiana basketball program has been on the rocks since former head coach Kelvin Sampson violated recruiting rules and parted ways with the team.

Crean knows it will take a lot from him as a coach to have his current players help push the program in the right direction and begin a much-needed upswing in the Hoosier state.

“We are having a tough time of getting them to understand what Indiana basketball means to us and how we want them to be on the court, the style of play we want to have,” Crean said.

Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan was the only one who didn’t advocate building a program. The Badgers lost their leader in forward Marcus Landry, and Ryan is still searching for the direction he wants the team to take.