MSU's Izzo visits Heathcote to start NCAAs
They are the only two coaches to win NCAA championships at Michigan State. And they still compete - with each other.
When Jud Heathcote got word Tom Izzo was coming to Heathcote's hometown to begin the Spartans' 13th consecutive NCAA tournament, the mentor had a message for his protege.
``He said, 'Do me a favor,''' Izzo said of the man he replaced at Michigan State before the 1994-95 season. ``'Do you mind if you bring your whole team out here?''
Heathcote has tired of watching an uneven season full of angst in East Lansing. Izzo suspended a couple of players, kicked one out of practice and benched another.
Yet here are the Spartans, in the NCAA tournament for the 13th consecutive time. And Heathcote's joining them for team dinners as their host.
All of this season's ups and downs will be forgotten should fifth-seeded Michigan State (24-8) beat fast-paced New Mexico State (22-11) in Friday's first round of the Midwest region. It's the start of the Spartans' follow to last spring's run to the national championship game.
``I had a lot of people (talk to) me about, 'Well, your team is dysfunctional ... not as smooth as I would like to be,'' Izzo said Thursday.
``These suspensions seem to be like eight or 10. There was one suspension and a 5-minute sit out. I can't call Kalin Lucas missing practice a suspension, or he would have had 813 suspensions.''
When the laughter died down, the $3 million-a-year coach with a 31-11 record in NCAA tournaments said ``right now, I like where we are.'' That's even though Michigan State is coming off a five-point loss to Minnesota in last weekend's Big Ten title.
Maybe he feels that way because Lucas, recently named first-team All-Big Ten for the second consecutive season, has extra motivation against the Aggies.
Earlier this week Jahmar Young, who leads New Mexico State by scoring 20.5 points per game, answered a question about Lucas with ``Who? What's his name?''
Young explained the apparent slight Thursday, saying he didn't know Michigan State because he and his team had yet to study film or get a scouting report.
Yet Young didn't curl up and hide, either.
``What am I supposed to do, bow down?'' he said. ``That's not going to happen at all. ... There was no disrespect. ... but we're coming in with an assassin's mentality. We're not backing down.''
Presto! If the Spartans needed any more motivation after months without fulfilling their potential, there it is.
``I think he was disrespectful for saying that,'' Lucas said. ``We'll go out there and see what's up.''
Heathcote will be there to watch.
The 82-year-old who coached Magic Johnson to the NCAA championship in 1979 wasn't planning to make his annual trip with the Spartans during the NCAA tournament because he didn't feel up to it. Then the selection committee brought the Spartans to him.
Heathcote was a longtime high school coach in Spokane and an assistant at nearby Washington State. He retired here and has become a fixture at Gonzaga basketball, where he mentors coach Mark Few. He hosted some MSU boosters Thursday and is expected in the arena Friday.
The Spartans went out to dinner Wednesday night with Heathcote at a seafood restaurant overlooking Spokane Falls.
``We needed some togetherness,'' Izzo said, drawing more laughter. ``To get some chemistry we went out to dinner with Jud. Chemically, it was a good move.''
Friday will prove if it was yet another good one for Izzo and his Spartans in March.