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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Once a coach...always a coach

On Friday, in conjunction with "ESPN Classic Michigan" (noon - 9 p.m. ET, Saturday), former Michigan St. head basketball coach Jud Heathcote dropped by to take your questions.

Heathcote spent 19 years at Michigan State, where he captured one national championship and three Big 10 titles. His record at Michigan State was 340-220, with a career mark of 420-273. He coached in nine NCAA tournaments and three NIT's. He retired in 1995 as Michigan State's all-time winningest basketball coach.

Heathcote also served as assistant coach for the United States team in the Pan American games in 1975 and 1987, and was a head coach at the U.S. Olympic Festival in 1989.

Jud Heathcote: I am a retired coach still in love with basketball.

Billy Bob: How close are you to the MSU program these days? Do you and Tom Izzo still talk?

Jud Heathcote: Tom and I talk during the season about every week. We talk about a lot of things. I watch all of the games on my satellite, and I go to all the NCAA tourney games. It was a great thrill for me to watch the Spartans in the Final Four and win the national championship.

Bob: Coach Heathcote,
Thank you for your service to the Michigan State basketball team. It was a pleasure to be a Spartan basketball fan during your tenure. Please explain the major responsibilities of a head basketball coach at the Division I-A level and what percentage of time is spent on these responsibilities. It seems coaches spend more time recruiting than anything else. If possible, also comment on what a coach does during the "off season." Thank you.

Jud Heathcote: When you talk about the responsibilities, I think a lot of people don't understand how involved the coaching is. The most important part of your job is your recruiting success. You can't win without the players. Game preparation during the season takes up all the time. You spend hours watching video of other teams. Plus, you have to spend a lot of time dealing with the media. The media has their nose in just about everything that goes on in the program.

Wolverine: Coach, what are some of your favorite memories of the Michigan/Michigan State hoops series?

Jud Heathcote: About the only favorable things are the games that you won. I think it's a tremendous rivalry and the interest involved was great. The memorable games were the Skiles domination, the games against the Fab Five, etc. But the overriding factor was the interest that fans had in that series.

Sparky the Spartan: Was Magic Johnson the greatest player you ever coached and did you advise him to turn pro after the '79 season?

Jud Heathcote: Magic was the greatest player I ever coached by a long ways. We had a lot of great guards, Sam Vincent, Scott Skiles, etc. We don't compare these players to Magic. Magic was the coach on and off the floor. He wanted to win. He was not selfish. He and I were always on the same page. He's a great player and personality.

Hoops guy: What's your take on the situation at Indiana? Did you and Bob Knight get along?

Jud Heathcote: Bobby Knight and I are close friends. We played 39 times. We won 18 and he won 21. It's disappointing to me. He is a great guy and great coach. And he is a credit to the game of basketball. He has a tremendous record that is being sullied by the actions going on within his program. I hate to see such a great coach go out with so many negatives when he was so positive for the sport of college basketball.

Ken '93: Eric Snow wasn't considered a tremendous talent during his time at MSU. Are you surprised to see him starting in the NBA?

Jud Heathcote: No I am not. Eric was a high school forward. It's difficult to take a high school forward and make them a college guard. He has always improved. He is one of the hardest workers I know. I said when he got to the NBA, he would be a impact player if he got the opportunity to play and he is getting it now in Philly. I am not surprised, but I am very pleased.

Jim: Coach, did you specifically mark Michigan as one of the games you have to win? We know your '79 team was probably your best, can you tell us who the best team and individual player you coached against were?

Jud Heathcote: There were some great players -- Micheal Thompson at Minnesota, Joe Barry Carroll at Purdue, Glenn Robinson at Purdue. The Michigan players don't stand out as much because there were so many (Webber, Rose,etc.) The Michigan players didn't beat you by themselves. But the Isaiah Thomas' and Glenn Robinson's could beat you by themselves. These are just some of the players that come to mind.

Jason Fields: How difficult was it to stop Larry Bird?

Jud Heathcote: We only played him once. We used a match-up zone against him. And we put a man and a half on Bird. We put Magic on the second team in practice acting as Bird and he could do everything that Bird could, so this gave us an advantage. Bird ended up with 19 points that game.

Cory H.: Coach Heathcote, what is your take on the state of college basketball today, in regards to underclassmen leaving for the NBA? What type of damage, if any, has it done to the college game and do you need to keep these players around for four years to win a national championship today?

Jud Heathcote: It's hard. I think teams need to keep players for their senior years to be a candidate to win a title. If you look at North Carolina losing Vince Carter, and Jerry Stackhouse, it's hard to replace guys like that. With the money that is available and players with the talent, they want to play pro basketball. I see nothing wrong with college players going early. There are enough basketball players for college hoops to survive. I don't like high school players going early. I think there should be a rule instituted. High school players are not mature enough.

Brett Miller: How do you feel in general about compensating players during their NCAA eligibility?

Jud Heathcote: I have always said that players should have spending money. There should be money available for what I call "incidentals."

Jason Fields: Who was the most underrated player you have ever coached?

Jud Heathcote: I can think of two. Barry Fordham, he played 84'-86'. He played amazing D and guarded people much bigger than him. Ken Redfield from 87'-90', always played amazing defense. He made it in the CBA, but not the NBA. When you say underrated, I pick the guys that played great D and didn't get credit for it.

Zach: Do you have any favorite players in college basketball right now? Thank you for your time.

Jud Heathcote: My favorite player for the last few years has been Mateen Cleaves,and I like Matt Santangelo from Gonzaga. Matt was a key player on that team. But Mateen Cleaves took Michigan St. to the promise land. I identify more with the guards than the inside players, because they control the ball and make things happen. A guy I like now is Marcus Taylor, and he will be a great guard for Michigan St. When he attended the MSU Hoop camp, he was in 6th grade playing with juniors and seniors and made the all-star team and was almost the MVP of the all-star game. He was a tremendous talent.

Beamer: What player are you most proud of since leaving MSU?

Jud Heathcote: I think the player is Mike Longaker. He was No. 1 at his medical class at Harvard and he is an expert in Pediatrics. Magic Johnson is a tremendous businessman. Scott Skiles is a great coach. These three guys come to mind.

Mark '92: What kind of NBA potential do you think Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson have?

Jud Heathcote: I think potential hinges on continued improvement. I look for Mateen to be a great leader but he must improve his shooting. Morris has talent, but if they play him at the four spot, he has to work on his ball-handling. They both have potential. You must continue to improve or others will pass you by, and I think that both these players will not let the competition pass them by.

Beamer: Coach, what would your all-time starting five be from all the Spartan players you coached?

Jud Heathcote: I have never picked an all-time starting five. When you do that, you insult other players. I have always said Magic Johnson and four other Spartan players.

John Mepos: What do you think of the job Coach Izzo has done and how does this championship team compare to yours in 1979?

Jud Heathcote: I think Tom has done a great job of coaching. He has had greater success than I thought he would and now he has established us as one of the best programs in the nation. I don't think you can compare the teams. Magic and I were down on the floor after the current Spartans won, and we said, jokingly, that we would win by 20. But the difference would be the Magic man. I don't know how the game would turn out, but I have to say that we would eventually win. It's been a thrill for me to follow MSU for the last 3 years and this is a great program that will continue to be successful at the top national level.

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