Few of Tom Izzo's players at Michigan State have been subjected to his verbal assaults as much as Goran Suton.
Even during the Spartans' Elite Eight victory over top-seeded Louisville on Sunday in Indianapolis, Izzo yanked the 6-foot-10 senior center to deliver this zap: Start shooting or sit in favor of a player who would.
As always, Suton thrived under the extra helping of motivation and led the second-seeded Spartans to a Final Four matchup against Connecticut in Michigan State's backyard of Detroit. Suton will be central in the game plan to try to contain the Huskies' 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet.
"Some people think he's my whipping guy, and he probably is a little bit," Izzo said of Suton. "But I understand what motivates him. At the same time, if there's issues on the team, I can go to him. He's a guy that I'm always on and I'm going to probably miss tremendously, if that makes any sense."
Suton has plenty of references for inspiration, his own biography becoming one to Big Ten fans and kids growing up in East Lansing.
Suton earned the Most Outstanding Player Award at the Midwest Regional after scoring 39 points with 19 rebounds in victories over Kansas and Louisville.
But growing up in war-torn Bosnia makes this experience even more meaningful to him.
"We kind of looked for a new beginning, for the opportunity for a better life," Suton said
When war broke out in 1992 around Suton's hometown of Sarajevo, about 250,000 people were killed and nearly 2 million were displaced, including the Sutons. They caught the last military airplane to Belgrade.
When they returned several years later, life was too difficult, and they decided to emigrate to Lansing, Mich., where they had relatives.
Suton knew nothing of NCAA basketball until he was 14, when his club coach in Bosnia informed him before his family fled.
"He was a huge fan of college basketball," Suton said. "He said there's a Michigan state university right in the city where you're going. He said they just won a national championship and maybe you'll get to play for them one day. I told him maybe.
"It's a dream come true, and it's amazing."
In Lansing, Suton played in Earvin Magic Johnson Gymnasium at Everett High. Johnson, who led the Spartans to a national title 30 years ago, often stops by the Spartans' games and locker room.
"I'll try to follow his footsteps," Suton said.
With one more step, the Spartans will be in the national championship game.
If Suton can draw Thabeet and the Huskies' looming front line away from the post with his long-range shooting — he made three 3-pointers against Louisville — the Spartans can open the lane for scoring from guards.
"He's a good post player," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "But he's extended his game now to make him an incredible high-post player. He puts pressure on you."
Suton is laying the tracks to success. He reshaped his body in the summer and, despite needing to recondition after a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery last fall, has improved through the season.
Izzo said Suton's passion for the game has intensified as well.
"I think he's learned how to love the game more and more," Izzo said. " I think he has sometimes a better perception of things than even I have. When I try to make things life or death, he's kind of gone through that."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun