April 4, 2000
By HARRY ATKINS
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS- Tom Izzo had the loopy smile of a man who hadn't slept. And he didn't seem to mind in the least.
Michigan State is the national champion and figures to be tough for years to come.
"Maybe as the days go by, I'll realize that we've actually done it," the Spartans coach said Tuesday.
Izzo returned to the team hotel following the 89-76 win over Florida on Monday night at the RCA Dome. He stayed up the rest of the night, quietly celebrating and talking with friends and family.
He put some of them, like San Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, on early flights to the West Coast, then headed downtown for the trophy presentation, where he hoisted the crystal ball from the Sears trophy.
"You want to enjoy it, right?" Izzo said. "Besides, I slept well the night before the game."
The loss of Cleaves, his first big-time recruit, will be especially hard.
Cleaves was the heart of this team, and that was abundantly clear Monday night. He scored 18 points and came back to finish the second half despite a sprained ankle.
"Anybody who has seniors knows how special they are," Izzo said. "But this one was really special."
Cleaves and Peterson could have left for the NBA after a loss to Duke in the 1999 semifinals. Cleaves, however, wanted more than anything to win a national championship - as his hero, Magic Johnson, had done. So he stayed, and Peterson, his best friend, stayed with him.
"Mateen got to live his dream," Izzo said. "This is what he wanted. That's how he played every day in practice.
"To see him have his one shining moment, to cut down the nets, was really special."
Despite the losses, the Spartans figure to be strong again next season - and then some. That's because Izzo, a superb recruiter, has quietly made Michigan State the college of choice for top recruits in Michigan.
Two of this season's starters, forward Andre Hutson and guard Charlie Bell, will be back. And junior Mike Chappell, a transfer from Duke who turned in some quality minutes while Cleaves was getting his ankle treated Monday night, could be a force from the perimeter.
"I don't feel very good about losing those three seniors," Izzo said. "But I do feel good about some of the guys we've got coming back."
Aloysius Anagonye and Jason Richardson, both of whom played significant minutes in the title game, are just freshmen.
And there is a top recruiting class headed to Michigan State in the autumn. That class will be headed by Marcus Taylor of Lansing Waverly, who recently was voted Michigan's Mr. Basketball, and 6-foot-9 forward Zach Randoph, from Marion, Ind. Both led their high schools to state championships this season.
Still, Izzo insisted his program is not yet among the elite.
"You've got to do it over a period of years," he said. "We've got a ways to go yet before we're up with some of the better programs in the country."
This was the Spartans first national title since 1979 when Magic Johnson led the Spartans past Larry Bird and Indiana State.
Can they do it again?
"Every time you think you've got it figured out, you get some new water to
tread," Izzo said. "I've never been here before. We'll just have to wait and
see how we react next year."