Sept. 20, 2012
Michigan State will induct six new members into its Athletics Hall of Fame on Thursday, Sept. 20. In the last of a six-part series this week on msuspartans.com, online columnist Steve Grinczel profiles MSU's all-time scoring leader Shawn Respert.
The security of Shawn Respert's place among the greatest Michigan State student-athletes of all time can never be questioned. After all, he scored more points in Big Ten basketball competition than any other player in the history of the league and will likely hold the top spot in the Spartans' esteemed 1,000-Point Club for years, if not decades, to come.
So many of his markers rained down in the form of 3-point field goals from one side of the court or the other in what became unofficially known as "Respert's Corner." And no one will ever forget that Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor when Respert hobbled off the court in Crisler Arena with what appeared to be debilitating ankle injury, only to score 30 of his 33 points in the second half to lead MSU to a 73-71 victory.
The consensus All-America honors in 1995 put him in even more elite company, but who among Respert's peers deserve credit for starting a time-honored and beloved school tradition?
The way a handful of University of Michigan players disrespected the school's iconic logo at midcourt in a 73-69 victory over the Spartans at the Breslin Center in 1993 ate at Respert for the rest of his career until he figured out a way to right that wrong.
At the end of his introduction during MSU's annual Senior Day ceremony, Respert knelt down and kissed the block "S" in the center jump circle.
"When you're playing your last home game, you have all of these memories that start to come and go," Respert said. "You remember the good times, you remember the bad times, and that was one of lowest points at the time during my sophomore year. We started off with a good preseason, started off the Big Ten at .500 and then we hit a slump.
"For Michigan to come in and beat us in our gym and do the things they did after the game. ...
"Looking back now, you don't make it more or less than what it was - a lot of competitive nature between two rivals. But, you just hate to see guys one-up you and yeah, I remember stuff like that. So being able to get the two wins against them my senior year, and then walking off the court after my final game against Wisconsin with a win, that was just something that came to my mind.
"All the things we went through during those four years of competing, all the ups, all the downs, all the players who'd come and gone, the coaches, my teammates, my family, the fans - I couldn't think of a better way to show my appreciation for people giving me the opportunity to show what I could do."
Respert didn't tell irascible Spartan coach Jud Heathcote, who retired at the end of the season, his intentions, and the inaugural kiss almost didn't happen.
"If he'd know what I was going to do, he would have tied me up in the rafters with the retired jerseys and told me to stop profiling and being a big shot and go do my job," Respert said. "I can hear his words ringing in my ears right now.
"I'm just happy it came from goodness. There were no ill feelings and it wasn't a pre-planned thing. If you look back at the film, I almost kind of continued to walk and then right at the last second I said, `Golly, this is it,' and I caught myself in that moment and kissed the S."
Virtually every senior Spartan basketball player has followed suit ever since.
"It's a part of history now and what I feel my greatest contribution was," Respert said. "It doesn't matter how big you are or how little you are, every senior that had the opportunity to wear that uniform and finish up his last game has a chance to do that. I'm just glad we found something we can call ours and that's a part of Spartan tradition now."
Respert's other grand achievement is what some argue is his legitimate claim as the greatest scorer in Big Ten history, a title currently held by former Indiana great Calbert Cheaney.
It's true that Cheaney scored 2,613 points during his career from 1989-93 and Respert is second with the 2,531 he tallied from 1991-95. However, Cheaney played in 13 more games, including postseason tournaments, than Respert. In Big Ten regular season competition, where Respert and Cheaney played in a like number of games against comparable opposition, Respert still holds the conference record with 1,545 points, 139 more than Cheaney.
"As we've all gotten older and have continued to stick around the game, I've seen Calbert quite a few times and have had a chance to catch up," Respert said. "And the most satisfying thing about it was the respect that we gave to each other. I didn't have to worry about (trash-talking) him about what I did and vice versa. It was just a sense of acknowledgement.
"I tell him that I would have liked to have had the team success he had, and we were by no means a shabby team. And, we weren't losing to shabby teams, with Michigan going to the national championship game twice, Indiana winning the Big Ten championship two years, and then Jim Jackson at Ohio State."
Respert was paid the ultimate compliment earlier this summer while working the basketball camp operated by former U-M rival Juwan Howard. Howard told the campers that Respert took a back seat to no one of that era, which also included Glenn Robinson at Purdue, Wisconsin's Michael Finley, Kendall Gill of Illinois and Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Howard at Michigan.
"That was one of the biggest eye-opening experiences I've ever had," Respert said. "People now recognize Juwan as a great ambassador of the game and he said I was someone he enjoyed watching and competing against and respected. To have someone who was at the level of those guys acknowledge that I belonged somewhere in that group of great players that came through the college ranks left me surprised, thankful and humbled."
Completely recovered from the stomach cancer that limited his NBA career to four seasons, the former Big Ten Player of the Year continues to contribute to the sport he loves as the Minnesota Timberwolves player development coach. Respert posted a league-best 5-1 record as a head coach in the 2012 NBA Summer League, and while he sees himself wearing a suit and tie on the sidelines for years to come, he doesn't have a specific goal in mind.
"That makes me feel like I'm ready, but I just need to continue to do my role," he said of his summer success. "I remember what it was like when I was at the highest high and what it was like when I was at my lowest low. If these guys play this game long enough, they'll travel the whole gamut, too. I just try to be prepared to help them handle those experiences and to get the most out of it.
"I'm a suit guy now. I'm into my eighth season now back into basketball, and I'll let it determine itself. I never questioned the leadership and experience of some of the guys in the front office, and if they see where I'm supposed to fit, they'll put me in there. I just need to keep being me."
Respert called his days at MSU an incredible time for his family. He and younger brother Mike got to be Spartan teammates, and he provided inspiration for little sister Regina who played on back-to-back state high school championship teams. Respert's father, Henry, and mother, Dianne, reveled in his accomplishments while his grandparents, Willie Ben and Christine Byse, were exposed to a world they wouldn't have ever seen if not for his Michigan State career.
"That was the peak of his life," Respert said of his grandfather. "He really enjoyed the opportunity to see basketball on a bigger stage. Unfortunately, he passed away in '02. I know he would have been so overjoyed to come back to visit a place he called home and see me inducted into the Hall of Fame."