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 Friday, November 5
Michigan State
Blue Ribbon Yearbook

LOCATION: East Lansing, MI
LAST SEASON: 33-5 (.868)
NICKNAME: Spartans
COLORS: Green & White
HOMECOURT: Breslin Center (14,659)
COACH: Tom Izzo (Northern Michigan '77)
record at school 88-41 (4 years)
career record 88-41 (4 years)
ASSISTANTS: Brian Gregory (Oakland '90)
Stan Heath (Eastern Michigan '88)
Mike Garland (Northern Michigan '77)
TEAM WINS: (last 5 years) 22-16-17-22-33
RPI (last 5 years) 15-78-70-11-3
1998-99 FINISH: Lost in NCAA Final Four.

ESPN.com Clubhouse

A decade ago, as Michigan State won the first of three Big Ten titles in the 1990s, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and finished 28-6 overall, a little-known assistant began to be noticed. Today, Jud Heathcote's protégé is the hottest head coach in college basketball. People are lined up halfway to the Mackinac Bridge to say they helped get Tom Izzo hired.

The Iron Mountain, Mich., native is a young Mike Krzyzewski with a better first four seasons. Izzo's Upper Peninsula work ethic and unassuming persona have made him one of the best recruiters in the game. When Izzo took over in 1995 after 12 years on Heathcote's staff, critics wondered if he could do the job. Now they ask if anyone can stop him.

After 16-16 and 17-12 rebuilding years with NIT berths, the first seeds of Izzo's persistence began to take shape. A Big Ten co-championship breakthrough, a Sweet 16 appearance and a 22-8 record in 1997-98 were merely a tease of what was to come.

Last season, the Spartans repeated by rolling to 18 straight conference wins (the last 15 games in the regular season and three in the second-ever Big Ten Tournament). Their 33-5 mark set a Big Ten single-season record for victories. And they reached the Final Four for the first time since a Magical ride in 1979.

Off-campus riots after a six-point loss to Duke in the NCAA Final Four were the only serious scar on what was no worse than the second-best season in school history. But if MSU students need to learn how to celebrate, they might have plenty of chances to party responsibly in the next few years.

The Spartans have gone from an afterthought in their state's sporting consciousness to a dominant position, at least temporarily, thanks in part to Michigan's plunge. Recruiting has never been easier after 21 appearances on national television last season. And, where it used to be almost impossible to find MSU apparel outside mid-Michigan, hats and shirts can be spotted from Maine to Maui faster than a Mateen Cleaves fastbreak.

Blue Ribbon Analysis

The Spartans could be a better team this season and not have quite as good a record. But they'll trade some wins in December, January and February for two treasured triumphs in April.

MSU will travel to North Carolina, Arizona and Kentucky, meet Kansas in the Great Eight and host defending national champion Connecticut in as difficult a non-conference schedule as any Big Ten team has ever played.

But Izzo's No. 1 objective is winning a third consecutive league title something only Purdue has accomplished in any current Spartan's lifetime. If that happens, he said he'll start to recognize what his program has accomplished.

Michigan State probably won't win 18 Big Ten games again. But its two-year total of 31 wins against conference teams, with just five defeats, is as good as any run since Indiana was 37-0 in 1975-76.

Depth has been as important to MSU as any individual player, with the possible exception of Cleaves. The Spartans don't just post numbers, they win with them.

With five of last season's top six scorers and four of its top five rebounders back plus a major infusion of new talent MSU should be in great position to make another Final Four run. This time, just being there won't be enough.

It all started in Flint, Mich., Izzo's adopted hometown. After signing power forward Antonio Smith and small forward Morris Peterson four years ago, Izzo landed point guard Mateen Cleaves in 1996 and shooting guard Charlie Bell the following seasons. "The Flintstones" have had a yabba-dabba-doo time in Breslin Center since Cleaves and Smith led Northern High to the Michigan Class A title in 1995. Their show is as popular as ever in East Lansing.

Opponents might play better than MSU on a given night, but they won't play harder unless they wear the football padding Izzo often favors. The Spartans fight the way Purdue did when Gene Keady's players led the nation in floor burns.

It starts with Izzo, a much more volatile personality than most fans would ever guess. And with Cleaves the ideal extension of his coach, that fiery attitude filters from one end of the bench to the other.

Top assistant Tom Crean left to become the head coach at Marquette. But Izzo was able to hire Northwestern aide and ex-MSU assistant Brian Gregory again, and do so without damaging their friendships with Wildcats coach Kevin O'Neill. If the Spartans are indeed the nation's best team, as so many have advertised, they will need to have one of the best coaching jobs. Izzo wouldn't settle for anything less.

He blamed himself for the loss to North Carolina in the 1998 Sweet 16, although the Tar Heels were clearly a better team. And when MSU lost at Temple and Wisconsin last season, Izzo was equally furious at the officials, his players and the man he saw in the mirror each morning. That demand for excellence and constant self-examination make the former Northern Michigan walk-on and Division II All-America the leader he is. It also makes him a prime candidate for burnout if he can't learn to relax.

For the second straight off-season, Izzo's contract was reworked. The five-year deal is still worth less than the standard for someone with back-to-back titles in the Big Ten and a future brighter than his recent past. But after a 20.8 percent raise, a $725,000 package could swell as high as $920,000 if Izzo's reaches seven incentives on and off the court. And there's another $100,000 per year on the table if he is still coaching the Spartans in July, 2004.

Unless he leaves for the NBA, Izzo will stay right where he is. And there is no sign of a possible departure with the arrival of high school All-America point guard Marcus Taylor from Lansing's Waverly High and his power forward pal, Zach Randolph, from Marion, Ind. Their August commitments gave the Spartans a lock on one of the top five incoming classes for 2000-2001 and were yet another sign that the best is yet is come.

(6-2, 195 lbs., SR, PG, #12, 11.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 7.2 apg, 3.7 tpg, 1.8 spg, 31.2 minutes, .406 FG, .292 3PT, .787 FT, Northern HS/Flint, Mich.)

He's not "Mateen Angel" by any means. And opponents have a devil of a time with a player who can get his teammates involved or grab a game by the throat and win it himself, as he often has the past two seasons.

But the start of Cleaves' senior season is off to a shaky start. A stress fracture in his right foot will sideline him until January. This isn't the first time the Flint, Mich., native has been sidelined with injuries. Cleaves' MSU career got off to a sluggish start after a rollover accident on a wild official visit to Michigan. A back injury put him in a brace for months, kept him from working out all summer and made his freshman year an exercise in frustration.

But he earned Big Ten Player of the Year honors from the coaches and the media in 1997-98, averaging 16.1 ppg and 7.2 apg. He was a first-team All-America, according to the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and had the greatest impact of any Spartan sophomore except Earvin Johnson.

Just when it seemed Cleaves would work on his deficiencies in the off-season and be even better as a junior, he suffered an ankle injury while playing for the USA at the World Basketball Championships in Greece. After that rehabilitation, he slipped down some stairs outside his apartment and injured his shooting shoulder, further slowing his progress.

Once Cleaves was healthy, he again became a consensus All-America as his team's No. 2 scorer and set a Big Ten record with 274 assists in 38 games, five more feeds than Magic had in 32 contests 20 years earlier. And it was Johnson who snapped Cleaves out of a mid-season funk with a simple order "Have fun!" before a win over Michigan in January.

MSU didn't lose again for 11 weeks, as Cleaves established himself as one of the NCAA's best clutch performers. His penetration and pass in the final seconds beat Illinois. And his last-chance baskets lifted the Spartans past Minnesota, Penn State and Northwestern. No one in college basketball was a better player at Winning Time.

Cleaves needs just nine assists to pass Scott Skiles for the top spot on his school's career list and is also within range to erase Bruce Douglas' Big Ten record of 765 at Illinois. His latest injury might keep him from joining Ohio State great Jerry Lucas as the league's only three-time MVPs, but Cleaves should return in time to make plenty of noise in Big Ten play.

For all the great decisions he has made, Cleaves' best move was probably the choice to stay in school and complete his degree. Erratic shooting had him slated to go in the middle of the NBA draft's first round. But he has worked on that deficiency and scored 60 points in a Flint Summer League game this summer.

He also got in a few more scrapes off the court and was charged with swiping a 40-ounce bottle of beer from a convenience store with Antonio Smith. If Cleaves plays half as well as he can, he can buy a 7-Eleven next year and leave with a more priceless NCAA championship ring.

(6-8, 230 lbs., JR, C, #34, 8.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 0.6 apg, 1.4 tpg, 0.7 spg, 25.0 minutes, .617 FG, .781 FT, Trotwood-Madison HS/Trotwood, Oh.)

MSU's silent assassin is far from the biggest post player in the country. But he is one of the biggest contributors to a championship team's success.

Hutson has started 60 games for the back-to-back Big Ten titlists. And his role could expand as a primary option with excellent accuracy from the field and foul line. He hit 13 straight shots over a three-game stretch and rose to the challenge against both Kentucky and Duke. In five NCAA Tournament games, he averaged 12.6 ppg and shot .710 from the field.

As Hutson continues to mature physically, the mobile left-hander has a chance to become one of the best inside players the Spartans have ever had. Look for Izzo and Cleaves to call more plays for him, especially if the team's outside shooting remains questionable.

Hutson fits the image of an Izzo recruit almost perfectly. He is still a bit undersized. He talks with his game, not with his mouth. And he plays harder than his opponent the majority of the time.

There is only one thing wrong with Hutson; he's not from Flint.

(6-6, 215 lbs., SR, SF, #42, 13.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.9 apg, 1.6 tpg, 0.9 spg, 23.9 minutes, .554 FG, .373 3PT, .814 FT, Northwestern HS/Flint, Mich.)

No one has come any further since 1995 than a low-profile recruit who was left home from the Maui Invitational as a freshman for failing to honor his academic responsibilities.

Peterson tested Izzo's authority at first. But he gradually matured into a solid citizen and one of the nation's best stories. When most players worry about minutes and shots, Peterson kept his trap shut and his ears open. That helped him become the nation's best sixth man last season and the first non-starter in any major conference to be a first-team all-leaguer.

After redshirting, then starting 18 times in 1996-97, Peterson made himself a player as a sophomore the following season. With a broken bone in his right wrist, the left-hander played with "The Club" on his right hand and became a defensive stopper and selfless, all-around contributor.

Last year, Peterson became the Spartans' top alley-oop threat since Gregory Kelser caught Earvin Johnson's lobs in 1979. But he also scored on slashes to the basket, pull-up jumpers and open three-pointers to lead a balanced offense. He had 30 games with double-figure scoring and was a key to MSU's dominance on the offensive boards. And he shot .653 from the field in three games as the MVP of the Pearl Harbor Classic.

By the time he was done scoring 39 points in two matchups with Duke, Peterson was every bit as good a pro prospect as Cleaves. His one-on-one skills and open-court game make him a cinch NBA lottery pick. But no one talked about his decision to stay in school and help MSU take the final step this year in Indianapolis.

With Cleaves sidelined, its' more likely for Izzo to turn him loose this season. That could give the Spartans a second All-America and take the pressure of Cleaves once he returns. Peterson could also give MSU the first national championship of the 21st century.

(6-3, 195 lbs., JR, SG, #14, 7.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.1 tpg, 0.7 spg, 22.7 minutes, .477 FG, .356 3PT, .754 FT, Southwestern Academy/Flint, Mich.)

If Hutson is quiet, Bell is Marcel Marceau. He runs the floor, plays great defense and does whatever the coaches ask. Now, it's time they ask him to score.

Bell was one of the most prolific point-producers in Michigan high school history, and he didn't have as much help in the prep ranks as Cleaves, a crosstown rival. He was the scourge of the vaunted Saginaw Valley Conference. Yet, at MSU, he has taken a back seat when he should be about ready to help steer.

When everyone else goes to post-game parties, Bell is just as likely to pull his stocking cap down over his head and head off to study. A little more ego might go a long way toward making him the player he can be. It could also make the Spartans a stronger team, although there isn't a whole lot of room for improvement.

It's easy to watch Bell and question his commitment to the game, though he often works as hard as anyone on the court. If his off-season work isn't always what Izzo would like, there's a trade off there, too. Bell is a true student-athlete, not an athlete who plays games in the classroom so he can stay in a game he can't do without.

(6-9, 230 lbs., SR, PF, #43, 6.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.6 apg, 1.2 tpg, 0.6 spg, 20.7 minutes, .532 FG, .500 3PT, .714 FT, Liberty-Benton HS/Findlay, Oh.)

Early last season, the argument in the media was whether Granger should be shooting the ball from the perimeter. Today the question is, "Why is MSU's tallest player its most dangerous outside shooter?"

It all turned around for Granger in December 1998 in Hawaii. His father, Joe, fractured two vertebrae in his neck while bodysurfing off Oahu. Hours later, the Spartans won the Pearl Harbor Classic crown and A.J. had a career-high 16 points.

MSU is 8-0 when Granger has scored in double-figures. And his efforts were never more critical than in the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Regional Final win over Kentucky. Granger was perfect with three three-pointers and kept the Spartans close enough in the first half that a comeback was still possible.

A lot of players look smoother than Granger, who actually runs very well for his size. But if Izzo's team is to reach its potential, it will probably need production from Granger at both ends of the floor. He won't ever be the rebounder Smith was; then again, he won't have as many of his own misses to rebound.

(6-7, 205 lbs., JR, G, #11, 3.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.9 tpg, 0.5 spg, 14.8 minutes, .469 FG, .533 FT in 1997-98, Notre Dame HS/Brantford, Ont.)

Thomas could be MSU's most versatile player and perhaps its most athletic performer after a redshirt year. Izzo will need that versatility, because Thomas will play point guard while Cleaves is on the mend.

Thomas showed flashes of that in two injury-marred seasons and made great strides in his switch from small forward to point guard. Expect him get to minutes at other perimeter spots when Cleaves returns. Thomas' long long arms and rebounding ability could be factors at four positions.

Thomas has added weight and strength, but has not sacrificed quickness. He would start in many other programs, as he did for the Spartans until being injured two years ago.

(6-9, 205 lbs., JR, G, #20, 7.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.8 tpg, 0.5 spg, 14.4 minutes, .464 FG, .434 3PT, .609 FT in 1997-98, Duke & Lathrup HS/Southfield, Mich.)

Chappell nearly signed with the Spartans in the fall of 1995, but could not resist the chance to play for the Blue Devils.

He started 21 of his first 22 games as a Duke sophomore, scoring in double figures 13 times and leading the team with .434 three-point accuracy. When Mike Krzyzewski made a change in his lineup, Chappell decided to make a switch, too, and has not regretted the move. He made that clear at the Final Four, and he has a better chance to get back there this season than Duke does.

Chappell struggled with his shooting on a summer tour with the Big Ten All-Stars. But he poses matchup problems for everyone as the tallest guard the Spartans have ever had -- yes, one inch taller than Magic was in college. If he plays with the toughness Izzo demands, Chappell might be tough to keep out of the lineup.

(6-9, 245 lbs., FR redshirt, C, #55, 25.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg, .637 FG, Bluffton HS/Bluffton, Ind.)

In the continuing quest for a true low-post center and not just another pumped-up power forward, Ballinger offers a different look that could prove very handy.

Before fracturing a fibula and even during his rehabilitation, some thought Ballinger might have made a difference for the Spartans against teams with big centers. He showed major improvement in his off-season workouts and could be the team's No. 1 surprise.

(6-8, 235 lbs., FR, F, #25, 16.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 4.1 bpg, DePorres HS/Detroit, Mich.)

"Big Al" plays even bigger than he is, with long arms and excellent timing. He has been compared to a young Antonio Smith, but with better offensive skills at this stage.

He could get quality minutes in a deep frontcourt rotation, or simply watch and learn until he makes the adjustment to stronger, quicker competition. Izzo wanted to sign Anagonye when he could have chased players with higher profiles. We might see why before the Big Ten season.

(5-10, 165 lbs., JR, G, #10, 0.2 ppg, 0.2 rpg, 0.4 apg, 21 appearances, Pittsford Sutherland HS/Rochester, N.Y.)

He appeared in 26 games at Coastal Carolina in 1996-97 and averaged 13.7 minutes before transferring. As an MSU reserve last season, his greatest contribution was driving Cleaves crazy with his aggressive play in practice.

(6-6, 190 lbs., JR, F, #22, 0.5 ppg, 0.4 rpg, 17 appearances, Coldwater HS/Coldwater, Mich.)

The fans' favorite reserve would enter the game to chants of "Cher-ry!" and prove life at the end of the bench wasn't necessarily the pits. He is a decent outside shooter now with two championship rings.

(6-3, 190 lbs., JR, G, #5, 0.8 ppg, 0.6 rpg, 13 appearances, Memorial HS/Wayne, Mich.)

He is the only member of MSU's football team to wear a Big Ten championship ring. Guess, a free safety, brings a football demeanor to the basketball court, which Izzo loves. He also had the perfect personality to put out every day in practice and put the team ahead of himself.

(5-10, 155 lbs., FR redshirt, G, #15, 23.0 ppg, 7.1 apg, Seaholm HS/Birmingham, Mich.)

He made the team as a walk-on a year ago, was redshirted and contributed in practice. That earned him an invitation to return and try to be the Steve Cherry of this season.

(6-6, 210 lbs., FR, F, #23, 25.3 ppg, 12.8 rpg, .550 FG, Arthur Hill HS/Saginaw, Mich.)

Michigan's "Mr. Basketball" was the MVP of the adidas Big Time AAU Tournament in Las Vegas and also Magic's Roundball Classic before and after a sensational senior year of high school ball.

In individual workouts on campus and in pickup games with experienced players, Richardson looked better than anyone imagined he would. His eligibility was in question due to the content of a ninth-grade English class, but he was cleared to play Nov. 5 after a third appeal.

Richardson, an honor roll student as a senior, had an acceptable standardized test score, but was misinformed about a core course before his transfer from Saginaw Nouvel High to Arthur Hill HS. A spectacular dunker and open-court player, Richardson will help soften the blow of Cleaves' absence.

"I think, as they say, justice has prevailed," Izzo said.

(6-8, 225 lbs., FR, F, #3, 23.0 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 3.5 bpg, South HS/Westerville, Oh.)

Wolfe wasn't as heralded as Richardson or Anagonye, but might have the greatest immediate impact if Richardson's appeal is denied. Kentucky saw him as another Scott Padgett. But the four-year starter impressed more people in an Indiana-Ohio all-star series, when he won the three-point shooting contest and showed excellent range.

Wolfe's role this season is perhaps the least defined on the team. He could redshirt, get mop-up minutes, crack the playing group or, if attrition becomes a problem, be a key contributor when it matters in March.

(6-9, 235 lbs., FR, C, #44, 14.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, .630 FG, Garaway HS/Sugar Creek, Oh.)

Andreas was only honorable mention All-Ohio and is likely to redshirt. But Izzo likes his attitude and long-range potential. He certainly has the right bloodlines.

Jason's dad, Dan Andreas, lettered at Ohio State from 1968-70. And his uncle, Bill Andreas, was a three-year starter at OSU from 1973-75.

(6-8, PF, 6.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.9 tpg, 1.5 spg, 29.1 minutes, .535 FG, .462 FT)

The first recruit of the Izzo era will go down as one of the most important signees of the past two decades. He started a parade of players from Flint and became MSU's first three-time captain.

Smith never developed offensively and actually regressed in that area until his senior year. His free-throw shooting was so bad he had to be pulled from games in the closing minutes. But he was No. 2 on the team in minutes and arguably its best defender.

Smith knew opponents' plays as well as any non-coach could. He disrupted cutters and made seamless switches on pick-and-roll plays. And he checked small forwards, power forwards and centers with the same enthusiasm.

With 1,016 career rebounds, Smith rose to third on the Spartans' career list behind Gregory Kelser and Johnny Green. He wasn't the best leaper in the league by any means, but he was great at establishing position and using his strength and timing to grab loose balls. And once he got his python-like grip on the ball, it was his until he threw a crisp outlet to Cleaves.

Smith was so good at inbounding the ball, he could shred most presses and trigger layups. And if anyone forgot to hustle, they had to answer to Izzo's favorite enforcer. Smith walked softly but carried a couple of powerful forearms.

He wasn't drafted by an NBA team, but signed as a free agent with the Toronto Raptors. If he can't make a pro team somewhere as an 11th or 12th man, defense and rebounding must have been banned.

(6-7, SF, 9.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.8 tpg, 0.6 spg, 23.1 minutes, .413 FG, .338 3PT, .766 FT)

Those who expected an offensive explosion in Klein's senior season are still waiting. He lost his confidence but never surrendered his starting job, as Izzo showed incredible patience with a player who is now headed to Europe.

Klein started 36 times in 1998-99 and had open shots on designed plays at the beginning of almost every game, even when teams should have known what was coming. But he seldom shot the way he did in practice and missed a lot of opportunities to give MSU a 3-0 lead.

He led the Spartans in scoring five times, including a 21-point effort against Minnesota and a 22-point game against Purdue. But he looked nervous from the time his feet hit the floor against Kentucky in the NCAA Midwest Final and wasn't much more comfortable against Duke in the Final Four, his 78th and final MSU start.

He can always say he was a starter on two Big Ten championship teams and their "go-to" shooter both seasons. It's just too bad the player who outplayed Shane Battier in high school couldn't find that consistency in college. If he had, the Spartans might have beaten the Blue Devils two nights before Connecticut did.

(6-2, G, 5.1 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.2 tpg, 0.8 spg, 15.0 minutes, .360 FG, .286 3PT, .833 FT)

He would have been a starter in 1997-98 and perhaps the team's leading scorer if he hadn't broken a bone in his right foot. Once he did, the last player left from the Heathcote years could never fully regain his scoring touch or defensive quickness.

Kelley led his team in scoring at East Tennessee State and against Illinois. And when it came to a last-shot possession at the end of a half, his one-on-one moves were still effective. But he was never a great point guard and did not get a full opportunity to develop at shooting guard.

(6-3, G, 1.9 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.6 tpg, 0.2 spg, 7.4 minutes, .391 FG, .371 3PT, .476 FT)

He always said he was a point guard. But Cleaves' backup and roommate might have made a better shooting guard, despite a terrible free-throw percentage. We'll never know, since Davis decided to transfer to Miami (Oh.) and sit out this season.

Let's hope he locks himself in the weight room and packs some muscle on a 165-pound frame. If Davis does that, he could be one of the best guards in the Mid-American Conference in 2000-2001. And, if Cleaves isn't able to come back at full strength and the backup point guards falter, the Spartans might miss him more than anyone knows.

Point guard? With Cleaves out until January, that means the Spartans will be without their leader for games at North Carolina, at Arizona, at Kentucky and vs. Kansas in the Great Eight. Thomas was being groomed for the spot in case Cleaves left early for the NBA, but he's untested at the point in game action.

Outside shooting? Unless Cleaves improves dramatically, someone else will have to deliver from the perimeter. Whether that person will be Bell, Chappell or Peterson remains to be seen. But it better be someone. Many a great team has gone home early in March due to a lack of shooters.

Chemistry? The whole was greater than the sum of the parts in 1998-99. It will have to be that way again, with everyone buying into Izzo's sweat-equity system.

Leadership! Izzo is as good as any college coach in the country. And Cleaves is the best floor general this side of the NBA, a clone of Izzo when it comes to competition and a respected senior.

Depth! When the Spartans practice, the bodies fly faster than in a lot of their games. That's the difference between Izzo's program and Heathcote's teams, which had more than their share of stars but often a splintered bench. Just look how the team's not panicking despite Cleaves' injury.

Confidence! MSU's success the past two seasons has everyone believing they'll win somehow, some way. If not, the Spartans would never have rallied from 10 points down in the final minutes at Minnesota.

The 19th edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook is on sale now. To order, call 800-828-HOOP (4667), or visit their web site at http://www.collegebaskets.com

 Dick Vitale previews Michigan State.
RealVideo:  | 28.8

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