The next time you find yourself asking, "How does Tom Izzo have just a consistently contending program year in and year out?" consider this:
Gary Harris became just the fifth player during Izzo's tenure at Michigan State to declare early for the NBA Draft. The fifth. Ever.
That's an awful lot of basketball players, and it's a stunning factoid when you consider the current landscape of college basketball, one dominated by the one-and-dones at schools like Kentucky, Kansas and others. Izzo recruits guys who stick around, and it's why up until a few weeks ago every single four-year senior had made a Final Four under the Big Ten's longest-tenured coach.
That streak is over, though, following the Spartans' elimination from the recently concluded NCAA tournament by eventual champion UConn. And, also, Izzo has watched another name added to the list of early departures. But it's something the coach is happy about.
"This is a happy day not only for Gary and his family, but also for Tom Izzo and the Spartan basketball program," Izzo said in a statement. "Seeing a player realize his dream is one of the proudest moments for a coach. I always say you get what you deserve, and no one has worked harder over the last two years to prepare for this moment than Gary Harris. He's done everything asked of him and more on the court, in the classroom and in the community. And although we all knew that there would be a decision to make regarding the NBA, his focus was 100 percent on Michigan State and his teammates.
"Not only do I fully support and celebrate Gary's decision, but after my information gathering process, I recommend it. I expect Gary to be a high pick in the draft, but more importantly, I know that he is well prepared for a long career."
Look at the company Harris joining. Fellow Izzo products to leave early: Zach Randolph, Jason Richardson, Marcus Taylor and Shannon Brown. That's a pretty strong starting lineup. And if Harris' NBA venture turns out anywhere near how it did for at least the first two of those four, it will be an applauded choice.
Harris is projected as a first-round selection after another terrific season in green and white. A year after he was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, the sophomore averaged 16.7 points per game and also ranked in the top five in the conference in steals and 3-pointers made, landing a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team.
While Harris' departure — teamed with the movings-on of seniors Adreian Payne and Keith Appling — means the Spartans will be breaking in three new starters next season. The loss of arguably the team's three best players will hurt, but Michigan State experienced playing without these guys quite a bit this season, fighting through injuries to this trio and other impact players.
"There's not a doubt in my mind that I'm going to miss Michigan State. There won't be a bigger Spartan fan than me next season," Harris said in a statement. "I'll be playing basketball somewhere else next season, but I'll always be a Spartan. This is my home, and I'm already looking forward to coming back to campus whenever I can, just like all the great Spartans and former players before me."