- Associated Press - Thursday, March 15, 2012

EAST LANSING, MICH. (AP) - Tom Izzo put his head back and his feet up, crossing his left ankle over his right leg on the corner of an airplane seat where his young son was sitting.

Almost instantly, the man who has guided Michigan State to six Final Fours was sound asleep _ mouth agape. The private plane had yet to even take off.

When you’re a guy like Izzo, you take a few winks when and where you can.

Those who know the Spartans coach say that, far from slowing down as the victories have piled up _ from the national championship in 2000 to a string of Final Four appearances and Big Ten titles _ he’s only driven himself harder.

His mission on this particular evening in mid-February, during a grueling five-games-in-13-days stretch _ when NCAA rules wouldn’t permit him to say more than hello to prospects _ took him about 370 miles by air and road just to see two recruits and be seen by them as they played a high school game in Chicago. Izzo allowed an Associated Press reporter to go along for the trip.

“The more success he has had, the harder he has worked,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean, who was an Izzo assistant from 1995-99. “After working with him early on as a head coach, I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.”

As Izzo prepares for his 15th straight NCAA tournament _ the top-seeded Spartans play Long Island University-Brooklyn on Friday in Columbus, Ohio _ he’s on the job more than ever.

“I think I’m so paranoid about being one of those people who they say, `He got satisfied,’” Izzo said Monday. “I vowed that wouldn’t happen to me and the day it does, I’m walking off.”

Part of staying hungry means, despite his stellar resume and $3.49 million in annual compensation, the 57-year-old Izzo makes a point of being accessible.

One of his longtime secretaries, Beth Marinez, jokes about how many “F-O-Ts” _ friend of Tom’s _ there are, especially this time of year when his countless number of acquaintances are calling for tickets. At Izzo’s weekly news conference, he usually spends an hour answering questions, a long time in college athletics these days.

Izzo has told people who have known him for decades to say something if he ever changes. So far, so good on that front.

Something people in the game are saying about Izzo this year, however, is that he has turned in one of his best coaching performances ever.

Michigan State started the season unranked, and justifiably so because just two of its top seven scorers returned from last year. Then the season started with losses on an aircraft carrier in San Diego against North Carolina and in New York City against Duke.

It’s gotten better ever since. The Spartans went on to share the Big Ten title with Ohio State and Michigan, win the conference tournament after losing standout freshman Branden Dawson and earn a No. 1 seed in the West region.

Now, Izzo is riding a burst of energy.

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